Chinchillas are squirrel-like rodents native to the Andes Mountains of South America. One documented species was hunted to extinction; the remaining two are in jeopardy. Energetic and eager to interact with people, they have become popular as house pets. As a result, their survival is not only assured as a domesticated animal, but they are thriving with the pet market’s proliferation of different chinchilla breeds.
There are two species in the family classification Chinchillidae. At one time designated Chinchilla brevicaudata but since renamed, Chinchilla chinchilla is a stocky, short-tailed chinchilla with short ears. The other species Chinchilla lanigera is long-tailed with larger ears. Both are endangered in the wild.
To survive the cold of the Andes, chinchillas have very thick, warm fur with the texture of brushed velvet. They have been hunted to near extinction for this fur. Though they’re now protected, illegal poaching continues to threaten these creatures. Meanwhile, descendants of Chinchilla lanigera are being commercially bred for two industries: fur clothing and the exotic pet trade. Like many rodents, their breeding is not seasonally constrained and a gestation period of 111 days for a typical litter of twins translates to a sustainable farming operation.
In response to the two industries, stable chinchilla breeds have emerged primarily differentiated by fur color. Its natural color is an even gray. By selectively propagating mutations, chinchilla breeds in white, black, beige, violet and shades in-between have been established. Most of the breeds were created by individual hobbyists driven by an affection for these cute animals.
Organizations such as the Mutation Chinchilla Breeders Association maintain a list of recognized chinchilla breeds, their lineage, and a database of the results of cross-breeding them. Some of the dominant colors include “Wilson White,” “Gunning Black,” and “French Blue.” Less common color breeds include “Stone White,” “Larsen Sapphire,” and “Sullivan Violet.”
For the most part, different chinchilla breeds do not differ in temperament or other behavioral traits. Chinchillas, as pets, all have the same basic characteristics and the same uniquely demanding requirements for diet, health, and care. They are very energetic and mainly crepuscular, which is to say that they are most active during the twilight hours of dusk and dawn. Having evolved for cold climate, they are prone to become stressed from heat exhaustion. Once acclimated to a person, they are sociable pets.