We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Chinchilla?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
AllThingsNature is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At AllThingsNature, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The chinchilla is a rodent native to the Andes mountain range in South America. Its name derives from the Chincha tribe of native South Americans. The Chinchas wore the fur of the animals and are credited with introducing Chinchillas to the Western world in the 1500s. The chinchilla is appealing, which explains its popularity as a house pet. It is described as looking like a small rabbit with mouse ears and a long furry tail, or like a squirrel with extra large ears.

Despite their appeal, from 1500-1900, in their natural habitat, chinchillas became nearly extinct because of over-hunting and trapping. Along with the Chinchas, Westerners were enamored of the remarkable thickness of their fur. Chinchillas have the highest fur density of any land mammal.

These foot long (.30 m) creatures were saved from extinction partly by Mathias Chapman in 1923, when he brought eleven chinchillas captured in the wild to the US. The Chilean government also noted the near extinction of the animal and created laws to protect it. Chapman's efforts eventually produced enough chinchillas to offer them as pets. They gained great popularity in the 1960s as house pets, and owing to several South American governments, the species has recovered in the wild.

In its natural setting, the light gray chinchilla makes its home in rock crevices or burrows. The chinchilla must use such cool places as a home because it cannot sweat and can suffer death from heat stroke. Given the varying temperatures of the Andes range, the animal's digging adaptation makes a great deal of sense.

The chinchilla is a fantastic jumper, able to jump about five feet (1.52m) in the air. The species is omnivorous, eating insects, seeds, fruit, and berries. Because of its relatively small size, the chinchilla is the natural prey of cats, skunks, dogs, and hawks.

Chinchillas take dirt or ash baths once a day to clean their coats, and these substances are amply provided for in their habitat. Chinchillas avoid the more traditional wet bathing, probably as a survival instinct. Moisture will stay in their coats and can cause fungi such as ringworm to develop. Unlike other rodents though, the thickness of the chinchilla's fur tends to prevent flea infestation.

In the wild, the chinchilla remains one of the few monogamous species, and unlike most mammals, females tend to be slightly larger than males. The animals share burrows in pairs, but also reside in a larger colony, which aids in protecting the whole group. They have no set breeding period, but gestation is quite long for rodents, a little under four months.

Litters have an average of two babies (kits), but a mother can have up to seven. Because of the length of pregnancy, kits are born fully haired and capable of sight. They can live for up to 20 years, though the average is closer to 10.

A pet chinchilla will probably have a longer life expectancy if cared for properly. However, chinchillas are nocturnal, and this can create problems for those who value their sleep at night, because the animals can chirp and bark quite loudly. Chinchillas that are bred in captivity also exhibit many other color markings than the traditional gray. Red, salt and pepper, violet, and black are all common colors. Pure white chinchillas that do not carry a recessive gene for another color are generally not viable.

The chinchilla loves to chew, and hence must be kept in a cage to prevent it from chewing on furniture or electrical wires. It also must be provided with things to chew on. Since chewing is how it explores, it will chew on new owners. A chinchilla can be trained, with a great deal of patience, to do simple tricks, but it cannot be litter trained.

An important consideration in owning a chinchilla is whether its cage can be kept in a temperature-regulated room. If one lives in a hot climate and does not have air-conditioning, only purchase temperature-controlled cages. Also, while a same sex pair can live together harmoniously, given enough space, putting one female and two male chinchillas in the same cage will result in constant territorial battles over the female.

Because of the pet's popularity, there are many websites and books which provide information for one purchasing a chinchilla. These rodents require more adaptations and closer observation than other species. Owners, however, cite their endearing appearance as a great inducement to taking on the extra care they may require.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a chinchilla and where do they come from?

Chinchillas are small, nocturnal rodents native to the Andes mountains in South America. They are known for their incredibly soft, dense fur, which has made them popular in the pet trade and historically for fur products. Chinchillas live in colonies at high elevations, often above 12,000 feet, where they have adapted to the cool climate.

How long do chinchillas typically live?

Chinchillas have a relatively long lifespan for rodents, typically living between 10 to 20 years in captivity when properly cared for. Their longevity is influenced by factors such as diet, environment, and genetics. In the wild, their lifespan tends to be shorter due to predation and harsher living conditions.

What do chinchillas eat?

Chinchillas are herbivores, and their diet consists mainly of hay, pellets, and occasional treats like dried fruits or nuts. High-quality, Timothy hay is essential for their digestive health and to maintain their teeth, which grow continuously. It's important to avoid feeding them too many treats, as this can lead to obesity and dental problems.

Can chinchillas be kept as pets, and what care do they require?

Chinchillas can be kept as pets, but they require specific care to thrive. They need a spacious, well-ventilated cage, a dust bath for fur maintenance, and a cool environment as they can suffer from heatstroke. Social interaction, either with their human owners or a chinchilla companion, is also important for their well-being.

Why do chinchillas take dust baths, and how often should they do it?

Chinchillas take dust baths to absorb oil and dirt from their dense fur, which cannot be cleaned with water due to the risk of fur fungus and hypothermia. In the wild, they roll in volcanic ash to stay clean. Pet chinchillas should have a dust bath 2-3 times a week to maintain their coat's health.

Are chinchillas endangered in the wild?

Yes, chinchillas are considered endangered in the wild. Overhunting for their fur has drastically reduced their numbers, and habitat loss has further threatened their populations. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), both remaining species, the long-tailed and short-tailed chinchillas, are listed as "endangered," with conservation efforts in place to protect them.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a AllThingsNature contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By mybooks — On Mar 31, 2013

I'm researching chinchillas and so far these facts are very interesting. I love Wisegeek for a search engine. I just signed up and already I love it! I'm an animal reseacher, and I approve this site!

By mybooks — On Mar 31, 2013

I asked my mom for one. She sad no. I also asked her for a bunny, hamster, goldfish, and a bird. She said five dogs and two cats are enough. I don't believe her.

By anon179938 — On May 25, 2011

I've got a chinchilla. He is 12 now and a year ago he had a stroke. He is now left with his head on a tilt to the left and runs in circles. His cage had to get a make over to a single story with to jump blocks. He is happy and still eats and plays and still loves to annoy us at night. Still left wondering why did he have a stroke? is it old age?

By anon109253 — On Sep 06, 2010

or you could get a parrot that in captivity has a life expectancy of 125 years. 125, not 12, or 15, or 25.

By anon64376 — On Feb 07, 2010

chinchillas can actually be litterbox trained, since my dad did it himself.

By snappy — On Dec 20, 2009

Chinchilla's are the softest things on the planet! Their fur feels like what you'd imagine touching a fluffy cloud would feel like. Their daily sand bath can get kind of messy though. They are playful but can also be very timid and easily scared. If you've got the room, (or live in a warmer climate)have the patience and the energy, get a ferret instead. Not only are they MUCH cheaper but they are very playful, always interactive and have big personalities!

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a AllThingsNature contributor, Tricia...
Read more
AllThingsNature, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

AllThingsNature, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.