1. History of Chinchillas
1.1 In the Wild
Chinchillas are very unique little creatures, native to the Andes Mountain range in South America. There are two remaining species: long and short-tailed. Their ancestry dates back over 41 million years.
Chinchillas are crepuscular and nocturnal, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk, and asleep during the day. Chinchillas are incredibly intelligent and agile, as their native habitat consists primarily of mountainous and rocky terrain. In fact, they can jump over six feet or 183 centimeters in just one leap.
Historically, chinchillas were commonly hunted for their soft, luxurious fur. They were nearly hunted to extinction by the early 1900s. Thankfully, as countries began to notice the population’s rapid decline, they passed legislation banning the hunting of wild chinchillas. Currently, both species remain on the endangered list due to excessive poaching becoming a problem once again.
Nowadays, chinchillas are very common pets. The domesticated breed is thought to be a mix between both long and short-tailed, though they primarily exhibit long-tailed traits. Domestic chinchillas have been selectively bred to produce numerous color patterns. The most common color pattern is the standard grey, where the body of the animal is grey and the belly is white.
Other common patterns include:
• Beige (Heterozygous and homozygous)
Domestic chinchillas typically are about the same size as a guinea pig. They have long, powerful hind legs and short front limbs. Chinchillas usually have black or dark ruby red eyes, large, rounded ears and long, bushy tails.
Whether you currently have chinchillas as pets, or are still in the planning process, you will need to be aware of their reproductive habits. Chinchillas are very social creatures so they usually benefit from having companions. Typically, most chinchilla owners will have a male and female pair.
Male and female pairs work well because neither gender feels dominant over the other. Same-sex pairs tend to exhibit more dominant and aggressive behaviors towards one another. The exception to this is if the animals were raised together from birth, then they will tend to get along.
Veterinarians are very rarely willing to spay or neuter chinchillas due to their fragile nature. This means that if you have a male and female pair, you will likely have babies at some point.
2.1 Introducing Mates
If you do not already have a mated pair of chinchillas and are interested in introducing new animals in the hopes of producing offspring, there are a few things to keep in mind. If possible, potential mates should be introduced to the female animal before she enters estrus.
Estrus is the period of time in which she will be receptive to mating. This will help to decrease the chance of aggressive behavior as well as increase the likelihood of compatibility. You should also have a safe space for the male chinchilla to escape to, should anything happen.
2.2 Breeding Patterns
Chinchillas mate year round. Typically a pair of chinchillas will have two litters per year, though anywhere between one and three is possible. Females can get pregnant nearly immediately after giving birth too, so keep that in mind.
The average gestation period for a female chinchilla is about 111 days. A litter usually will consist of anywhere from one to six kits. The average litter is two or three. A female chinchilla will appear a little more “fluffy” as the pregnancy progresses.
If you suspect or know that your female chinchilla is pregnant, it’s important that you handle her very carefully. If possible, she should be left alone as much as possible. Be sure to monitor her and make sure she is eating adequately as well as drinking water. If you notice something off or concerning, take her to an exotic vet immediately. For the most part, female chinchillas do not require any sort of special care during pregnancy, and are largely self-sufficient.
2.3.1 Giving Birth
As female chinchillas approach the time to give birth, they will become far less active. Some chinchillas will lose their appetite and stop eating as well. If you notice this behavior and it is not remediated by the birth of the kits, you should take her to the vet as well. In some cases, female chinchillas will show mild signs of aggression to the male or any other cage mates. If this happens, you can remove the male or other cage mates until after the female gives birth.
Read more about chinchilla cage here.
Chinchillas are peculiar animals in the sense that both the male and female will help to take of and raise the babies. This is very different in comparison to most other species of animals. Usually males will act very aggressive to newborn animals, often severely injuring or even killing them. Because male chinchillas are not aggressive towards their young, you can leave the whole family together without any worry.
Baby chinchillas are called kits. They are born fully developed, meaning they are born with all their fur and their eyes open. Within an hour of being born, most kits are up and moving around the cage. The kits will look similar to their parents, though their heads are typically a little large and disproportionate to the rest of their body. This will even out as they grow and mature.
Chinchilla kits will usually nurse for around six to eight weeks. After this six to eight week period, they are considered to be sexually mature. At this point, it is very important that you determine the sex of all kits and separate them accordingly. You should also separate the babies from the parents as well.
By doing this, you will prevent any potential inbreeding which can lead to a host of health problems for both the parent animal and their offspring. If a female is mated too early, she can suffer severely during the pregnancy as well as during delivery of the kits. This is because while chinchillas are technically sexually mature after weaning, they don’t typically reach physical maturity until they are somewhere between eight months and one year old.