|Chinchillas and viscachas|
Chinchillas and their relatives viscachas are small, nocturnal mammals native to the Andes mountains in South America and belonging to the family Chinchillidae. Chinchilla fur is considered the softest in the world and is 30 times softer than human hair. In older chinchillas that fur tends to form the shape of dreadlocks. Its use in the fur industry started in the 1950s. Since then, chinchillas have also become popular as house pets.
Chinchillas in their native habitat live in burrows or crevices in rocks. They are agile jumpers and can jump up to a foot above their head. Predators in the wild include hawks, skunks, felines, and canines. Their diet consists of plants, fruits, and seeds.
In nature chinchillas are light gray, while other colours have been developed in captivity: for example white, mosaic (white with gray or black patches), beige (very light gray), violet, and charcoal (black). The gene for white is dominant, but lethal in the absence of a recessive gene of another colour. Red eyes are not only a sign of albinism but associated with beige color.
In nature, chinchillas are monogamous and live in pairs. Unusually for mammals, chinchilla females are signifcantly bigger than males. Chinchillas can breed any time of the year. For a rodent they have a very long gestation period of 111 days. Due to this long pregnancy chinchillas are born fully furred and open their eyes soon after birth. Litters range from 1 - 8 babies, although the average litter size is 2. In the case of miscarriage, the foetus is frequently absorbed into the body of the mother, resulting in further sterility.
Chinchillas are undemanding and charming pets. They typically eat less than other small rodents, and animals of the same sex live peacefully together. They require dust (usually Fullers Earth) for bathing. In captivity chinchillas live up to 15 years.