Chinchillas come from the Andes Mountains in South America. They have the densest fur of any animal aside from the sea otter. Considered the softest animal in the world, chinchillas have 80-100 hairs per hair follicle (hole that hair grows out of), where humans only have 1-2. Their fur is so dense that a flea would suffocate if it tried to live in it!
The name chinchilla, literally “little Chincha”, comes from the Chincha people of the Andes who wore their fur. By the end of the 19th century, wild chinchillas had become quite rare after being hunted for their fur.
Due to the thick density of their fur, chinchillas can’t get wet and can’t bathe in water. Their fur prevents air-drying, which can cause fungus growth and fur rot. Instead of water, chinchillas clean their fun by taking dust baths a few times per week. In the wild, they roll around in finely ground pieces of volcanic rocks which causes the dust to gather in their fur and absorb oils and dirt.
Because of this extreme density, they have to be kept in cooler environments to regulate their body temperature. To prevent overheating, blood circulates through their ears to cool off.
Chinchillas have a unique defense mechanism known as “fur slip.” Fur slip occurs when a chinchilla is frightened or handled roughly, in response they release large clumps of fur. This is an effective means of escape from predators who are left with a large clump of fur in their mouths. Spraying urine is another defense mechanism chinchillas use against predators.