Chinchillas and their relative’s viscachas are small, twilight rodents native to the Andes Mountains in South America. They belong to the family Chinchillidae.
Chinchilla fur is considered the softest in the world and is thirty times softer than human hair. Chinchillas must regularly bathe in dust or volcanic ash to remove oil and moisture that gathers in their thick fur. They have the highest fur density of any land animal with more than 20,000 hairs per square cm. Their fur is so dense that skin parasites (such as fleas) cannot live on one or they suffocate.
In their native habitat, chinchillas live in burrows or crevices in rocks. They are agile jumpers and can jump up to five feet above their head. Predators in the wild include hawks, skunks, felines, and canines. In the wild chinchillas have been observed eating plants, fruits, seeds, and small insects.
In nature, chinchillas are gray, while other colors have been developed in captivity. The major color mutations are white, beige, ebony, violet and sapphire. Variations of these mutations also exist.
In nature, chinchillas live in colonies. Chinchilla females are significantly bigger than males. Chinchillas can breed any time of the year. At 111 days, they have a very long gestation period compared to other rodents. Due to this long pregnancy, chinchillas are born fully furred and with eyes open. Litters range from one to seven babies. Its yearly average litter size is 1.45. In the case of a miscarriage, the fetus is frequently absorbed into the body of the mother.
Prone to excited sounds, chinchillas will also emit chirps and calls according to their mood. Over time an owner will hear a multitude of these sounds. These sounds indicate the animal’s personal state. A soft cooing might indicate playfulness and comfort. A very quiet chirping can be heard while the chinchilla is exploring a new place. Some sounds will originate from the grinding of teeth, which they will sometimes do after eating. They do sneeze out loud. This is sometimes from the fine dust in their bath. If a chinchilla feels threatened, a high and loud bark will be heard. This is much like a squirrel bark. Its last resort will involve the chinchilla standing on hind legs and emitting both a bark and a stream of urine. Sometimes, chinchillas will emit a series of loud, hoarse barks that serve to warn other chinchillas of potential danger. They nearly always use this vocalization if they feel nervous, rather than in response to a specific threat. Many will make this noise in response to bad dreams or even loneliness.