Chinchillas are small rodents, only slightly bigger than squirrels.
Chinchillas are natives of South America and are usually found in the Andes. They belong to the chinchillidae family of which, viscachas, a similar looking rodent, is also a part. Since they belong to the Andes, they are named after Chincha, which means the people of the Andes. In fact the term chinchillas means little people of the Andes.
In the Andes, it is a common practice among people to wear the chinchillas’ soft and thick fur. However, because of this extensive hunting for its fur, the chinchillas almost became extinct around the nineteenth century. They were even raised on special farms for their fur.
Chinchillas as pet are often kept because they are small and furry.
They are nocturnal and are active only during the night but can be domesticated and kept in houses. They are skittish and dislike being held. Chances are if you hold a chinchilla, it will try to wiggle out of your grasp. However, domestic pet chinchilla can get attached to their owners and may even allow themselves to be held. Still, they exhibit a high strung nature because of which they are not considered to be great pets for young children.
When in captivity, a chinchilla lives for about fifteen to twenty years. However, when in the wild, their life span is much more than that. The oldest chinchilla has been noted to be about twenty seven years old. Even when they are little, baby chinchillas learn to communicate using various vocalizations. They chirp, squeak and even bark. They may use these vocalizations to locate each other, communicate and even sound a distress alarm. Baby chinchillas are known as kits and may let out high pitched chirps to communicate that they are hungry. They can often be heard making sounds in the early hours of the morning. When they feel threatened, they may react by barking and spraying urine.
Chinchillas may not always be friendly with their own kind. They are creatures of the wild and when housed with other members of their species, they may get into fights. However, this is not true for all chinchillas. Some of the chinchillas may in fact be friendly to other animals too. Kits that are housed together right from their birth, are able to get along with each other. If the chinchillas have grown up but are not socialized, they should be introduced to other animals gradually.