Referenced: 2/08/06 Author: Hendricks, C. 2002. "Chinchilla lanigera" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web

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Referenced: 2/08/06
Author: Hendricks, C. 2002. "Chinchilla lanigera" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web

Chinchilla lanigera

By Colette Hendricks

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Rodentia

Suborder: Hystricognathi

Family: Chinchillidae

Genus: Chinchilla

Species: Chinchilla lanigera

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Geographic Range

Chinchilla lanigera is currently restricted to the mountains of northern Chile (Nowak 1991).

Biogeographic Regions:
neotropical (native )


Chinchilla lanigera is found in the barren, arid areas of mountains at elevations of 3,000-5,000 meters. These animals den in crevices and holes among the rocks.

(Nowak 1991, Burton 1987)

Terrestrial Biomes:

Physical Description

~` has a head and body length equal to 225-380 mm, and a tail averaging 75-150 mm. The species is sexually dimorphic with the female weighing up to 800 g and the male only 500 g.

The fur of members of this species is extremely dense and soft. Each hair usually has a black tip, and as many as 60 hairs grow out of one follicle. The ventral side is usually bluish, pearl, or brownish gray, and the belly is yellowish-white. Its tail is furry with coarse hairs on the dorsal surface.

The head is broad and the external ears are large. Chinchillas have large, black eyes with a vertical split pupil, vestigial cheek pouches, and incisors with colored enamel . Both the forefoot and hindfoot have four digits with stiff bristles surrounding the weak claws.

(Nowak 1991, Grzimek 1975)

Some key physical features:
endothermic ; bilateral symmetry .


Female chinchillas are mostly monogamous. The breeding season occurs between November and May in the Northern Hemisphere and between May and November in the Southern Hemisphere. Females normally have two litters per year, with two to three young per litter.

Gestation of C. lanigera lasts for 111 days, and the young are precocial or well developed at birth. The newborn chinchillas weigh up to 35 g, are fully furred, and have their eyes open. Lactation lasts for 6-8 weeks and sexual maturity is attained after 8 months.

Life span in the wild of C. lanigera is roughly 10 years, but some domesticated chinchillas have lived for over 20 years.

(Nowak 1991, Grzimek 1975)

Key reproductive features:
gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual .


Female chinchillas are the dominant sex and are very aggresive toward one another and toward males during estrus. Despite this aggresiveness, serious fighting in the wild is rare. Chinchilla lanigera express threats through growling, chattering their teeth, and urinating.

Chinchillas are social animals and have been known to live in colonies of more than 100 individuals. They are primarily nocturnal animals with crepuscular activity peaks. However, C. lanigera has been observed on sunny days to be sitting in front of its hole and climbing and jumping on the rocks with amazing agility.

Domesticated chinchillas are very social and can be hand tamed to play and interact with their owner.

(Nowak 1991, Grzimek 1975, Burton 1987, Babinszki 1997)

Key behaviors:
motile .

Food Habits

The long-tailed chinchilla is omnivorous. It feeds on many types of vegatation, but primarily on grass and seeds. They also eat insects and bird eggs. While eating, C. lanigera sits erect and holds the food in its forepaws.

Domesticated chinchillas are fed alfalfa, hay, wheat, corn, oats, and commercial food pellets.

(Nowak 1991, Grzimek 1975, Babinszki 1997)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Chinchillas have been hunted for human apparel since the early 1900s. Around 1900, an estimated 500,000 chinchilla skins were exported annually from Chile. Chinchilla pelt is considered by some to be the most valuable pelt in the world, and coats have sold as much as $100,000.

(Nowak 1991, Jimenez 1995)

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List: [link]:

CITES: [link]:
Appendix I.

IUCN lists Chinchilla lanigera as vulnerable. Chinchillas are now protected by law in their natural habitat, yet hunting of this animal for its fur continues in remote areas, which makes enforcement hard. Populations of C. lanigera have also dwindled because of burning and harvesting of the algarobilla shrub in the lower altitudes. Fewer than 10,000 C. lanigera are thought to have survived in the wild, and attempts to reintroduce chinchillas into the wild have failed. Today, hundreds of chinchillas are bred commercially.

(Nowak 1991, Jimenez 1995)

Other Comments

The long-tailed chinchilla has been harvested since pre-Columbian times by the Incas and Native Americans of Chile. Chinchilla lanigera was plentiful at this time, and one author reported that one could see an many as 1000 animals in one day.

Chinchillas were first bred in captivity at the end of the 19th century, but it was not until 1920 that commercial breeding began. Domesticated chinchillas have been described as smarter than the average rabbit and more fun than rats. They memorize trails and have good memories. Chinchillas are very shy animals and are very trusting of their owners.

Chinchilla lanigera is also referred to as Chilean chinchilla.

(Burton 1997, Grzimek 1975, Jimenez 1995,


Colette Hendricks (author), University of Michigan: February, 2002.



Babinszki, A. 1997.

Burton, J. 1987. The Collins Guide to the Rare Mammals of the World. The Stephen Greene Press, Lexington, MA.

Grzimek, B. 1975. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York.

Jimenez, J. 1995. The Extirpation and Current Status of Wild Chinchillas, Chinchilla lanigera and C. brevicaudata. Biological Conservation 77:1-6.

Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, 5th Ed., Vol II. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

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