Long-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera)

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Long-tailed chinchilla
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Long-tailed chinchilla fact file

Long-tailed chinchilla description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderRodentia
FamilyChinchillidae
GenusChinchilla (1)

The long-tailed chinchilla is well known for being a popular pet, but it in its native land of Chile its population is declining due to hunting for its fur, and its future is uncertain (4). It has an attractive appearance with a broad head, fairly large ears and large black eyes (2). Its body is small, with a bushy tail, and is covered in dense, soft fur to insulate it in the cold barren mountainous regions where it lives (5) (6). It’s body is slender with a tail measuring up to a third the size of its body, and long, strong hind legs, which enable it to run and jump agilely (5). The dorsal side is coloured bluish, pearl or brownish grey, and the belly is a yellowish white colour. Each hair usually has a black tip, and as many as 60 hairs grow out of one follicle (2).

French
Chinchilla A Longue Queue.
Spanish
Chinchilla Costina, Chinchilla De Cola Larga.
Size
Head/body length: 22.5 - 38 cm (2)
Tail length: 7.5 - 15 cm (2)
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Long-tailed chinchilla biology

Chinchillas are primarily nocturnal animals with activity peaking at dusk and dawn. During the day they rest in holes and crevices among rocks, emerging at dusk to forage through the night (6). Their diet is omnivorous, and though they feed primarily on seeds and grass, they also eat a variety of other vegetation, insects and bird eggs (2). While eating, chinchillas sit upright on their hind legs and hold the food in their front paws (6). These rodents are social animals and live in colonies of up to 100 individuals (2). Females are mostly monogamous and bear two litters per year, with two to three young per litter (6). The gestation period is 111 days, which, for a small mammal, is a relatively long period. The young are well developed at birth (2) (5), weighing up to 35 grams. They are fully furred and their eyes are open at birth. As the young are relatively advanced, the female does not need to invest much parental care, and weans them after only 6-8 weeks. This allows the female to mate again and bear another litter (6). The lifespan in the wild is around 10 years, though domesticated chinchillas may live for up to 20 years (5) (6).

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Long-tailed chinchilla range

This species is currently restricted to the mountains of northern Chile (6).

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Long-tailed chinchilla habitat

Inhabits barren, arid areas of mountains at elevations of 3,000-5,000 meters (2).

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Long-tailed chinchilla status

Classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered

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Long-tailed chinchilla threats

These small mammals have been hunted for their luxurious fur since the 1900s, when around 500,000 chinchilla skins were exported annually from Chile (2). At that time chinchilla populations were flourishing, but their pelts were the most valuable in the world, reaching up to $100,000 for one alone, and soon they faced extinction in the wild (5). There are currently an estimated 10,000 individuals left in the Chilean mountains (6) (7). More recently populations have also suffered due to habitat destruction by the burning and harvesting of the algarobilla shrub at lower altitudes (7).

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Long-tailed chinchilla conservation

Chinchilla are protected by law in their natural habitat, but it is extremely hard to monitor hunting in the remote mountain ranges of the Andes, and illegal hunting does continue in some areas (6) (7). For the same reason, it is also difficult to monitor the population. Recent estimates suggest this species is becoming more isolated following habitat loss, and therefore less likely to be able to recover without human intervention. Reintroductions have not worked in the past, though breeding is still successful in captivity, and hundreds of chinchilla are bred commercially for the pet trade (2). It is hoped that conservation measures will be applied successfully to protect this species and bring it back from the brink of extinction in the wild (5).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

To learn about efforts to conserve the long-tailed chinchilla see:

For more information on this species and other mammals see:

  • Macdonald, D (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Monogamous
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
Nocturnal
Active at night.
Omnivore
An organism that feeds on both plants and animals.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2003)
    http://www.redlist.org
  2. Animal Diversity (October, 2003)
    http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/chinchilla/c._lanigera$narrative.html
  3. CITES (October, 2003)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Burton, J. (1987) The Collins Guide to the Rare Mammals of the World. The Stephen Greene Press, Lexington, MA.
  5. Macdonald, D. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Nowak, R. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World, 5th Edition, Vol II. The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
  7. Jimenez, J. (1995) The Extirpation and Current Status of Wild Chinchillas, Chinchilla lanigera and Chinchilla brevicaudata. Biological Conservation, 77: 1 - 6.
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Image credit

Long-tailed chinchilla  
Long-tailed chinchilla

© Stefan Köder

Stefan Köder
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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