When the chinchilla was the pet we were deciding on I was curious if they were rodents. You may now be wondering the same thing. I will let you know what I learned.
Are chinchillas considered rodents? Yes, they are in the Chinchillidae, sub-category Hystricognatha. They are closely related to the Guinea Pig and Degus. They are also known by Rodentia, Mammalia. They are without a doubt a mammal and a rodent.
There are two subspecies of chinchilla (Chinchilla chinchilla, known as the short-tailed chinchilla, and Chinchilla lanigera, or the long-tailed chinchilla). Most of the pet chinchillas are of the long tail category.
Are Chinchillas Endangered?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has both types of chinchillas listed on their red list. They have made a very meager comeback. They climbed back up from critically endangered to just endangered in 2016. They used to be found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. They are thought to be extinct now in all but Chile.
Their numbers dwindled do hunting by humans, there are still poachers hunting them. However, it is illegal to hunt them now. There are thought to be less than 10,000 of them in the wild now. When reproducing there are usually only 2 Kitts. This makes it slow going for growing their numbers.
Their habitat is being harvested and that is not helping them to make a comeback. The Algarobilla Shrub is being burnt and harvested by the mining industry. This is a good part of their diet, They also eat fruits, seeds, and small insects.
Are They Illegal Anywhere In The USA?
As long as you purchase a chinchilla legally, and do not catch them in the wild you can own a chinchilla everywhere in the USA. I couldn’t find any State or City that had them banned. You may still find buildings that will not allow them. There are some places here in the US. that do ban some rodents and other pets, But the chinchilla isn’t on the list.
The Short-Tailed Chinchilla
The short-tailed chinchilla is larger in size than the long-tailed version. The tail however is about an inch shorter. It also has a broader neck and wider front shoulders. Their ears are also considerably smaller in size.
The size makes it more desirable for its fur than the long-tailed version. However, Chile outlawed hunting them in 1929. The fur is much denser and has a blueish-gray color. Their underside is more of a light yellowish color. They can shed their fur easily, this is an escape mechanism built-in.
They have short front legs they use to eat with, and very strong hind legs that can propel them up to 10 feet. They use their whiskers to let them know if a hole is big enough for them to not get stuck.
They can start breeding as early as 8 months. They usually have 1-2 Kitts per litter. They will usually breed 2 times a year, once in a while they will get a 3rd breeding in. This is part of why it has taken so long for them to recover from near extinction.
The females are more dominant than the males. This is because the males move from colony to colony and the females are more territorial.
The Long-Tailed Chinchilla
It is this version that is most often kept for pets. They have 23 vertebrae in their tail versus only 20 in the short-tailed version. Their tail is about ⅓ the length of their body. The ears are more rounded than the larger short-tailed version.
The long-tail chinchilla still has very dense fur that has been used for fur coats, but their smaller size makes them less desirable for this. In the wild their life span is about 10 years, as pets, they can live to be over 20 years old.
They have shorter front legs that they use to grasp onto food to bring it to their mouths. Their longer hind legs are used to jump and spring themselves sometimes at a great distance. They also have whiskers to help them from getting into to tight of a space for them.
They can breed on average 2 times a year, and have 2-3 Kitts. The Kitts are born with their eyes open and they have a body full of fur. The nursing period lasts 6-8 weeks. They reach full maturity by 8 months.
They can leave a predator with a mouthful of fur by letting their fur slip when caught. They will grow this fur back, they have up to 80 hairs per follicle, which is why their coats are so dense and soft.
Breaking it down there is no way that the two can be confused with each other. They have more differences than just the length of the tail.
Upon sight, you can see that the short-tailed chinchilla is larger in body size and much stockier they the long-tailed version. Long-tailed chinchillas grow to 8-10 inches long, Short-tailed ones grow from 11-19 inches. The weight for a short-tailed chinchilla is around 38-50 oz., and for the long-tailed 13-18 oz. The females are usually larger. Domestic chinchillas weigh a little more at 21-28 oz.
The short-tailed has front shoulders that are about the same width as its rump is, while the long-tailed version has much narrower front shoulders. The neck of the short-tailed chinchilla is broader as well while the long-tailed one is narrower.
The short-tailed chinchilla has thicker fur than the long-tailed, About 65 hairs per follicle vs up to 80 on the short-tailed ones. This is due to the fact that the short-tailed chinchillas live higher up the mountains in the wild.
And the long-tail chinchilla has larger and more rounded ears, this definitely stands out when looking at the sizes of the body. The tail of the short-tailed chinchilla is more than an inch shorter due to the fact that they only have 20 vertebrae in their tail versus 23 in the long-tailed chinchillas.
In the wild chinchillas needed to blend in so there was basically just one color, they were basic grey and mottled yellow with black tips on their bodies and a yellowish underbelly. This was the typical color for both long and short-tailed chinchillas.
They have been bred to create up to 30 different colors. Chinchillas now come in many colors from Ebony Black to Mosaic White. With variations of grays and browns. There are 8 that are common and some are colors that you would be lucky to find.
- Black Velvet
- Homozygous Beige
- Heterozygous Beige
- Standard Grey
These are the predominant colors. The rarer the color of the chinchilla the more that you will have to pay to get one. A few of the colors have only been produced a few times, so you may want to select your chinchilla by another means other than just on color.
Chinchillas are rodents that we have turned into pets over the years of keeping them. They have been bred so they have the most desirable colors for us. In captivity, the chinchilla is a bit larger than the long-tailed in the wild.
There are noticeable differences in the long and short-tailed chinchillas, such as, size, the thickness of fur, and some characteristics that set them apart from each other. Although it appears that some pet chinchillas carry some traits of both Long and Short-tailed Chinchillas, there is no evidence of cross-breeding of the two.