Bennett’s chinchilla rat (Abrocoma bennettii)

GenusAbrocoma (1)
SizeHead-body length: 19.5 – 25 cm (2)
Tail length: 13 – 18 cm (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

One of the many remarkable new species brought back to England by the famous naturalist Charles Darwin (3). Bennett’s chinchilla rat is named for its soft, dense chinchilla-like fur, which is silvery-grey on the upperparts becoming white on the underside, with a yellowish patch on the chest. In contrast to the chinchilla, however, the snout is elongated and the ears are round, giving a rat-like appearance. The limbs are short, with four toes on the front feet and five on the hind feet, each tipped with small, weak claws. Stiff hairs project over the three middle toes of the hind feet, forming a grooming comb, which may be used to remove dirt and parasites from the fur, and to assist in moving loose soil during digging (2).

Endemic to Chile, the range of Bennett’s chinchilla rat extends from Copiapó, in the north, to Rio Biobio, in the South, from sea-level to elevations of 2,000 metres (1)

Bennett’s chinchilla rat inhabits coastal hills and the western slopes of the Andes Mountains, where it occupies rocky scrubland (1) (2) (4).

A nocturnal species, Bennett’s chinchilla rat is a proficient climber, scaling trees and bushes in search of leaves, fruit and the various other plant materials on which it feeds. Bennett’s chinchilla rat appears to be colonial, and lives in relatively high densities in burrows in the ground, or in rock crevices. These burrows are frequently shared with another rodent species, the degu (Octodon degus) (2). Communication between individuals and colonies appears to be facilitated through the production of urine, which is extremely thick, and leaves a reddish brown, strong-smelling deposit (4). Like other small rodents in the region, Bennett’s chinchilla rat is preyed upon by foxes and birds of prey, such as owls (5).

The breeding season of Bennett’s chinchilla rat is unclear, but pregnant females have been found in June and July, and a mother carrying two newborn offspring was encountered in August. This species has been known to live for up to two years and four months in captivity (2).

Due to its widespread distribution, Bennett’s chinchilla rat is not currently considered to be threatened. Nevertheless, ongoing habitat loss and degradation due to mining, tourism and agricultural expansion may be having an impact on this species’ population (1). Bennett’s chinchilla rat is also hunted for sale within the local fur trade, and may be passed off as chinchilla fur to travellers (2).

While there are no known conservation measures specifically targeting Bennett’s chinchilla rat, it occurs in four protected areas: Los Cipreses, Rio Blanco, Las Chinchillas and Bosque Fray Jorge (1). Bennett’s chinchilla rat is also benefitting from the conservation efforts of the organisation Save the Wild Chinchillas, which is working to conserve the long-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera) by restoring habitat in north-central Chile (6).

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  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2010)