Even though pet chinchillas have gained in popularity over the years, their origin remains a mystery to many people. Chinchillas are ridiculously cute, and with their exaggerated features and unusual fluffy appearance, they stand out from other animals.
Despite their small stature, wild chinchillas are very tough creatures who have adapted to survive in a treacherous climate. As someone who finds chinchillas endlessly fascinating, I wanted to write this article to share some interesting facts about wild chinchillas.
Chinchillas as a species are much more prevalent in a domestic setting, however, a small number of wild chinchillas still exist. Let’s take a closer look at wild chinchillas and examine some of their unique characteristics.
Summary of today’s article:
- Traits of wild chinchillas
- Where can you find wild chinchillas today?
- Do wild chinchillas eat meat?
- What do wild chinchillas do when it rains?
- Wild chinchillas are cute but tough!
Wild chinchillas possess several key traits that allow them to successfully navigate their native environment. The terrain in a chinchilla’s natural habitat is very rough and they have adapted to withstand the extreme conditions.
Below are a few of the traits which prove that wild chinchillas are survival experts.
Trait #1. Distinctive Fur
A chinchilla’s fur is the densest on the planet and is one of the main survival mechanisms that they possess. Chinchillas originate from the Andes mountain range of South America which can be a very harsh habitat.
The temperature of this mountainous region averages 23° Fahrenheit, primarily due to the high altitude. The Andes mountains will freeze during the winter months, which means that any animals residing there must be equipped to withstand extremely low temperatures.
Fortunately, chinchillas have very compact fur which provides important protection from the intense cold. A chinchilla’s thick coat keeps them warm in the often frigid temperatures and provides a barrier against strong winds.
Chinchillas prefer cold temperatures and do not respond well to warm conditions. Wild chinchillas tend to be a grayish color with hints of yellow, unlike domestic chinchillas who are a variety of colors due to selective breeding.
A wild chinchilla’s somewhat dull coloring is useful for camouflage as it allows them to blend in easier with the environment.
Trait #2. Powerful Anatomy
Chinchillas are prey animals so they must be able to flee quickly in order to avoid predation. Although chinchillas may appear delicate, they have very strong legs and feet which are utilized to ensure their survival.
A chinchilla’s back legs are long and work like a spring when they jump. Chinchillas have excellent coordination which allows them to land forcefully without injury.
Their light, hollow bones aid chinchillas in jumping to heights of up to 6 feet! This exceptional jumping ability allows a fleeing chinchilla to remain out of reach while being pursued and adds an element of surprise to their escape.
Chinchillas can run very fast, and when coupled with their small size, this trait makes them difficult to capture by larger, less agile creatures. Chinchillas have durable pads on their paws which can withstand abrasions while scaling tricky surfaces such as rocky ledges. A chinchilla’s hands are also capable of gripping tightly to jagged outcroppings and tree branches, allowing them to reach incredible heights in their quest for safety.
Trait #3. Specialized Senses
Chinchillas have large ears which prove to be exceedingly useful in the wild. Big ears come in handy when listening for predators which can ensure a chinchilla’s survival if danger is nearby.
Wild chinchillas are always listening for trouble and tend to be very light sleepers. It is not uncommon for a chinchilla to react suddenly to loud noises as this is a primary technique that can determine whether or not they successfully endure a possible attack.
Wild chinchillas also rely on their strong sense of smell to reveal changes in their environment. Chinchillas have a fantastic memory and can compare new scents they may encounter with those that are already familiar to them.
This skill is important as a chinchilla may detect a predator by smell alone during instances where they are unable to identify them through sight or hearing. Although a chinchilla’s eyes are not as refined as their other senses, they do turn out to be quite practical.
Chinchillas are crepuscular, their vision being at its best during the dawn and dusk hours when they are most active. Many of their predators struggle to see during these small windows of time, which gives chinchillas an advantage as prey animals.
Trait #4. Social Interaction And Communication
Wild chinchillas live in herds of up to 100 individuals, providing strength in numbers since being able to rely on each other is imperative to survival. Individual chinchillas entrust other members of the herd to communicate danger and take cues from each other when navigating their environment.
Chinchillas have a series of vocalizations they will utilize and barking is typically reserved as a warning system. A chinchilla’s bark is very loud and consists of a long series of short bursts.
Chinchilla barking is a very recognizable sound and highly effective when employed as an alarm to other members of the herd. It is common to witness individual wild chinchillas acting as a lookout for the group by stationing themselves atop rocky perches and trees.
Trait #5. Self-Defense
If a chinchilla is feeling cornered, they will often employ a myriad of tactics in order to escape. When being threatened, wild chinchillas will typically flee as the first line of defense.
If running and hopping away are futile, these actions will usually be followed by vocalizations. These vocalizations range from squeaks to barks and are all intended to warn other members of the herd as well as express displeasure with the current predicament.
Since these sounds do not usually ward off a predator, then the next line of defense will most likely be fur slips. Fur slipping is when a chinchilla releases a large chunk of fluff and this technique is a highly effective way for them to escape.
The released fur disperses quickly and will end up in the nose, eyes, and mouth of a pursuer. Anyone attempting to catch a chinchilla will undoubtedly be caught off guard which can grant a few precious seconds for the chinchilla to get away.
Another common defense mechanism is urine spraying. A fearful or angry chinchilla will spray urine at a perceived threat and this tactic is utilized by both male and female chinchillas.
Wild chinchillas have perfected the ability to aim with great precision, making urine spraying a successful method for avoiding capture.
Wild chinchillas are still a struggling population with only an estimated 10,000 individuals living in the Chilean mountains. Chinchilla fur is a much sought after commodity, and after centuries of being incessantly hunted, chinchillas were on the brink of extinction by 1900.
Legal protections for wild chinchillas existed by the 1920s and they were placed on the endangered species list. Hunting chinchillas was banned in an attempt to allow their population to eventually increase, but population numbers still remain low.
Attempts to release domestic chinchillas in the wild have not succeeded and wild chinchillas are considered a vulnerable species due to habitat destruction.
Wild chinchillas are omnivores which means that they consume meat as well as plants. Although wild chinchillas will mainly feed on seeds, leaves, and grass, they do consume meat on occasion.
Chinchillas are prey animals, so their style of hunting is different from larger, fiercer creatures. Chinchillas are very observant and will eat unattended bird eggs when given the opportunity.
Eggs are an effortless treat for wild chinchillas since they do not put up any sort of resistance and are easy to devour. Chinchillas will also eat insects in the wild and their diet will include invertebrates such as moths and grasshoppers.
Domestic chinchillas may eat insects that happen upon their cage if they can catch them, however, this is not typical.
The Andes mountains are very lush and rain is a common occurrence in this region. Chinchillas are masters of hiding and spend much of their time in rock crevices and underground tunnels.
This burrowing behavior comes in handy for chinchillas who are seeking shelter from stormy weather. Chinchillas will also take sanctuary under thick brush and leafy plants to avoid getting wet.
A chinchilla’s dense coat will work against them if it comes into contact with too much moisture as damp fur can lead to illness. Wild chinchillas are very aware of this fact and will act quickly at the first sign of rain in order to find adequate shelter and remain dry.
As you can see, wild chinchillas are incredible animals and much tougher than most people realize. Although they are prey animals, wild chinchillas have developed tried and true methods to survive in an unforgiving environment.
Wild chinchillas are smart, capable, and resilient. Native chinchilla populations have been decimated by human interference making education and conservation of the utmost importance.