Chinchilla
Overview
 
Chinchillas are crepuscular
Crepuscular
Crepuscular animals are those that are active primarily during twilight, that is during dawn and dusk. The word is derived from the Latin word crepusculum, meaning "twilight." Crepuscular is, thus, in contrast with diurnal and nocturnal behavior. Crepuscular animals may also be active on a bright...

 rodent
Rodent
Rodentia is an order of mammals also known as rodents, characterised by two continuously growing incisors in the upper and lower jaws which must be kept short by gnawing....

s, slightly larger and more robust than ground squirrel
Ground squirrel
The ground squirrels are members of the squirrel family of rodents which generally live on or in the ground, rather than trees. The term is most often used for the medium-sized ground squirrels, as the larger ones are more commonly known as marmots or prairie dogs, while the smaller and less...

s, and are native to the Andes
Andes
The Andes is the world's longest continental mountain range. It is a continual range of highlands along the western coast of South America. This range is about long, about to wide , and of an average height of about .Along its length, the Andes is split into several ranges, which are separated...

 mountains in South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

. Along with their relatives, viscacha
Viscacha
Viscachas or vizcachas are rodents of two genera in the family Chinchillidae. They are closely related to chinchillas, and look similar to rabbits...

s, they make up the family
Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

 Chinchillidae
Chinchillidae
The family Chinchillidae contains the chinchillas, viscachas, and their fossil relatives. They are restricted to southern and western South America, often in association with the Andes. They are large rodents, weighing from to , with strong hind legs and large ears...

.

The animal (whose name literally means "little Chincha") is named after the Chincha people of the Andes
Andes
The Andes is the world's longest continental mountain range. It is a continual range of highlands along the western coast of South America. This range is about long, about to wide , and of an average height of about .Along its length, the Andes is split into several ranges, which are separated...

, who once wore its dense, velvet-like fur. By the end of the 19th century, chinchillas had become quite rare due to hunting for their fur
Fur
Fur is a synonym for hair, used more in reference to non-human animals, usually mammals; particularly those with extensives body hair coverage. The term is sometimes used to refer to the body hair of an animal as a complete coat, also known as the "pelage". Fur is also used to refer to animal...

.
Encyclopedia
Chinchillas are crepuscular
Crepuscular
Crepuscular animals are those that are active primarily during twilight, that is during dawn and dusk. The word is derived from the Latin word crepusculum, meaning "twilight." Crepuscular is, thus, in contrast with diurnal and nocturnal behavior. Crepuscular animals may also be active on a bright...

 rodent
Rodent
Rodentia is an order of mammals also known as rodents, characterised by two continuously growing incisors in the upper and lower jaws which must be kept short by gnawing....

s, slightly larger and more robust than ground squirrel
Ground squirrel
The ground squirrels are members of the squirrel family of rodents which generally live on or in the ground, rather than trees. The term is most often used for the medium-sized ground squirrels, as the larger ones are more commonly known as marmots or prairie dogs, while the smaller and less...

s, and are native to the Andes
Andes
The Andes is the world's longest continental mountain range. It is a continual range of highlands along the western coast of South America. This range is about long, about to wide , and of an average height of about .Along its length, the Andes is split into several ranges, which are separated...

 mountains in South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

. Along with their relatives, viscacha
Viscacha
Viscachas or vizcachas are rodents of two genera in the family Chinchillidae. They are closely related to chinchillas, and look similar to rabbits...

s, they make up the family
Family (biology)
In biological classification, family is* a taxonomic rank. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species, with family fitting between order and genus. As for the other well-known ranks, there is the option of an immediately lower rank, indicated by the...

 Chinchillidae
Chinchillidae
The family Chinchillidae contains the chinchillas, viscachas, and their fossil relatives. They are restricted to southern and western South America, often in association with the Andes. They are large rodents, weighing from to , with strong hind legs and large ears...

.

The animal (whose name literally means "little Chincha") is named after the Chincha people of the Andes
Andes
The Andes is the world's longest continental mountain range. It is a continual range of highlands along the western coast of South America. This range is about long, about to wide , and of an average height of about .Along its length, the Andes is split into several ranges, which are separated...

, who once wore its dense, velvet-like fur. By the end of the 19th century, chinchillas had become quite rare due to hunting for their fur
Fur
Fur is a synonym for hair, used more in reference to non-human animals, usually mammals; particularly those with extensives body hair coverage. The term is sometimes used to refer to the body hair of an animal as a complete coat, also known as the "pelage". Fur is also used to refer to animal...

. Most chinchillas currently used by the fur industry for clothing and other accessories are farm-raised.

Chinchilla species

There are two living species of chinchilla, Chinchilla chinchilla (formerly known as Chinchilla brevicaudata) and Chinchilla lanigera. There is little noticeable difference between the species except that the Chinchilla chinchilla has a shorter tail, a thicker neck and shoulders, and shorter ears. This species is currently facing extinction. The Chinchilla lanigera species, though rare, can be found in the wild. Domestic chinchillas are thought to come from the lanigera species.

Native environment

In their native habitat, chinchillas live in burrows or crevices in rocks. They are agile jumpers and can jump up to 6 ft (1.8 m). Predators in the wild include birds of prey, skunk
Skunk
Skunks are mammals best known for their ability to secrete a liquid with a strong, foul odor. General appearance varies from species to species, from black-and-white to brown or cream colored. Skunks belong to the family Mephitidae and to the order Carnivora...

s, feline
Felidae
Felidae is the biological family of the cats; a member of this family is called a felid. Felids are the strictest carnivores of the thirteen terrestrial families in the order Carnivora, although the three families of marine mammals comprising the superfamily pinnipedia are as carnivorous as the...

s, snakes and canines
Canidae
Canidae is the biological family of carnivorous and omnivorous mammals that includes wolves, foxes, jackals, coyotes, and domestic dogs. A member of this family is called a canid . The Canidae family is divided into two tribes: Canini and Vulpini...

. Chinchillas have a variety of defensive tactics including spraying urine and releasing fur if bitten. In the wild, chinchillas have been observed eating plant
Plant
Plants are living organisms belonging to the kingdom Plantae. Precise definitions of the kingdom vary, but as the term is used here, plants include familiar organisms such as trees, flowers, herbs, bushes, grasses, vines, ferns, mosses, and green algae. The group is also called green plants or...

s, fruit
Fruit
In broad terms, a fruit is a structure of a plant that contains its seeds.The term has different meanings dependent on context. In non-technical usage, such as food preparation, fruit normally means the fleshy seed-associated structures of certain plants that are sweet and edible in the raw state,...

s, seed
Seed
A seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering called the seed coat, usually with some stored food. It is the product of the ripened ovule of gymnosperm and angiosperm plants which occurs after fertilization and some growth within the mother plant...

s, and small insect
Insect
Insects are a class of living creatures within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body , three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae...

s. This diet could irritate the digestive system of a domestic chinchilla whose diet should be primarily hay-based, if a domestic chinchilla should ingest a seed/nut it could result in disease or death .

In nature, chinchillas live in social groups that resemble colonies but are properly called herds. Chinchillas can breed any time of the year. Their gestation period is 111 days, longer than most rodents. Due to this long pregnancy, chinchillas are born fully furred and with eyes open. Litters are usually small in number, predominantly twins.

Fur industry

The international trade in chinchilla fur goes back to the 16th century. The fur from chinchillas is popular in the fur trade due to its extremely soft feel, which is caused by the sprouting of 60 hairs from each hair follicle on average. The color is usually very even, which makes it ideal for small garments or the lining of large garments, though some large garments can be made entirely from the fur. A single, full-length coat made from chinchilla fur may require as many as 150 pelts, as chinchillas are relatively small. This fact led to the extinction of one species, and put serious pressure on the other two. Though it is illegal to hunt wild chinchillas, the wild animals are now on the verge of becoming extinct because of the illegal hunting that continues. Domestic chinchillas are still bred for this use.

Chinchillas as pets

Chinchillas require extensive exercise. Chinchilla teeth need to be worn down as their teeth grow continuously and can prevent the chinchilla from eating if they become overgrown. Wooden sticks, pumice stone and chew toys are good options, but conifer and citrus woods (like cedar or orange) should be avoided because of the high content of resins, oils and phenols that are toxic for chinchillas. Birch, willow, apple tree, manzanita or kiln-dried pine are all safe woods for chinchillas to chew.

The chinchilla lacks the ability to sweat; therefore, if temperatures get above 25°C (80°F), the chinchilla could get overheated and may suffer from heat stroke. Chinchillas dissipate heat by routing blood to their large ears, so red ears signal overheating.

Chinchillas can be found in a variety of colors. The only color found in nature is standard gray. The most common other colors are white, black velvet, beige, ebony, violet, sapphire and hybrids of these.

The animals instinctively clean their fur by taking dust baths, in which they roll around in special chinchilla dust made of fine pumice
Pumice
Pumice is a textural term for a volcanic rock that is a solidified frothy lava typically created when super-heated, highly pressurized rock is violently ejected from a volcano. It can be formed when lava and water are mixed. This unusual formation is due to the simultaneous actions of rapid...

. In the wild their dust is formed from fine ground volcanic rocks. The dust gets into their fur and absorbs oil and dirt. These baths are needed a few times a week. Chinchillas do not bathe in water because the dense fur prevents air-drying, retaining moisture close to the skin, which can cause fungus growth or fur rot. A wet chinchilla must be dried immediately with towels and a no-heat hair dryer. The fur is so thick that it resists parasites such as fleas. The fur also reduces loose dander, making chinchillas hypo-allergenic.
Chinchillas eat and digest desert grasses and cannot efficiently process fatty foods, high protein foods, or too many green plants. A high quality, hay-based pellet and a constant supply of loose timothy hay will sufficiently meet all of their dietary needs. Chinchillas have very sensitive GI tracts that can be easily disrupted so it is important to maintain them on a healthy diet. Avoid chinchilla feed that includes a mixture; chinchillas may avoid the healthy high fiber pellets in favor of items like raisins and seeds. Fresh vegetables and fruit (with high moisture content) should be avoided as these can cause bloat
Bloat
Bloat is a medical condition in which the stomach becomes overstretched by excessive gas content. It is also commonly referred to as torsion, gastric torsion, and gastric dilatation-volvulus when the stomach is also twisted. The word bloat is often used as a general term to cover gas distension...

 in a chinchilla, which can be fatal. Sweets and dried fruit treats should be limited to one per day, at the very most. Chinchillas also eat and drink in very small amounts. This can lead to diarrhea
Diarrhea
Diarrhea , also spelled diarrhoea, is the condition of having three or more loose or liquid bowel movements per day. It is a common cause of death in developing countries and the second most common cause of infant deaths worldwide. The loss of fluids through diarrhea can cause dehydration and...

, or in the long term, diabetes. Nuts should be avoided due to their high fat content. High protein foods and alfalfa hay can cause liver problems and should be limited.

In scientific research

The chinchilla is often used as an animal model in researching the auditory system
Auditory system
The auditory system is the sensory system for the sense of hearing.- Outer ear :The folds of cartilage surrounding the ear canal are called the pinna...

, because the chinchilla's range of hearing (20 Hz to 30 kHz) and cochlear size is close to that of a human, and the chinchilla cochlea is fairly easy to access. Other research fields in which chinchillas are used as an animal model include study of Chagas disease
Chagas disease
Chagas disease is a tropical parasitic disease caused by the flagellate protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi. T. cruzi is commonly transmitted to humans and other mammals by an insect vector, the blood-sucking insects of the subfamily Triatominae most commonly species belonging to the Triatoma, Rhodnius,...

, Gastrointestinal diseases, Pneumonia
Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

, Listeriosis, as well as of Yersinia
Yersinia
Yersinia is a genus of bacteria in the family Enterobacteriaceae. Yersinia are Gram-negative rod shaped bacteria, a few micrometers long and fractions of a micrometer in diameter, and are facultative anaerobes. Some members of Yersinia are pathogenic in humans; in particular, Y. pestis is the...

and Pseudomonas
Pseudomonas
Pseudomonas is a genus of gammaproteobacteria, belonging to the family Pseudomonadaceae containing 191 validly described species.Recently, 16S rRNA sequence analysis has redefined the taxonomy of many bacterial species. As a result, the genus Pseudomonas includes strains formerly classified in the...

infections.

The first scientific study on chinchilla sounds in their social environment was conducted by Dr. Bartl DVM in Germany.

See also

  • Viscacha
    Viscacha
    Viscachas or vizcachas are rodents of two genera in the family Chinchillidae. They are closely related to chinchillas, and look similar to rabbits...

    , a rodent similar to a chinchilla
  • Fad for raising chinchillas, 1950

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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