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What Are the Different Chinchilla Breeds?

Meg Higa
Meg Higa

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.

Only two breeds of chinchilla still live in the wild.
Only two breeds of chinchilla still live 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.

Chinchillas have become popular house pets.
Chinchillas have become popular house pets.

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.

Chinchilla are native to the Andes.
Chinchilla are native to the Andes.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many breeds of chinchillas are there?

Chinchillas are typically categorized into two species: the long-tailed Chinchilla lanigera and the short-tailed Chinchilla brevicaudata. However, within these species, enthusiasts often refer to "breeds" based on fur color mutations, which number over 30 varieties. These include Standard Grey, White, Beige, Black Velvet, and Mosaic, among others.

What is the most common chinchilla breed kept as a pet?

The Standard Grey chinchilla is the most common breed found in captivity and kept as a pet. This breed closely resembles wild chinchillas in appearance with its dense, soft grey fur and is favored for its classic look and generally robust health.

Are there any health differences among chinchilla breeds?

While all chinchilla breeds require similar care, some color mutations may be prone to specific health issues. For instance, the Pink White (also known as Wilson White) can have a higher incidence of dental problems and the Beige breed may be more susceptible to seizures. It's important to research and understand the needs of each breed.

Can different chinchilla breeds be interbred?

Yes, different chinchilla breeds can be interbred, and this is commonly done to create new color variations and patterns. However, responsible breeding practices are essential to ensure the health and well-being of the chinchillas, as some combinations can lead to genetic health issues.

What should I consider when choosing a chinchilla breed?

When choosing a chinchilla breed, consider the animal's temperament, care requirements, and any breed-specific health concerns. Additionally, think about the ethical considerations of breeding practices and the potential long-term commitment, as chinchillas can live up to 20 years with proper care.

Are certain chinchilla breeds more expensive than others?

Yes, some chinchilla breeds can be more expensive due to their rarity and unique coloring. For example, the Royal Persian Angora chinchilla, known for its luxurious fur, can command a higher price. The cost can also be influenced by factors such as lineage, quality, and the breeder's reputation.

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    • Only two breeds of chinchilla still live in the wild.
      By: Vibe Images
      Only two breeds of chinchilla still live in the wild.
    • Chinchillas have become popular house pets.
      By: Serhiy Kobyakov
      Chinchillas have become popular house pets.
    • Chinchilla are native to the Andes.
      By: Photofollies
      Chinchilla are native to the Andes.