Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Long-Tailed Chinchilla

(Chinchilla lanigera)


The long-tailed Chinchilla is also known as the common chinchilla or lesser chinchilla, compared to the short tailed Chinchilla. The long-tailed Chinchilla is one of two rodents in the genus chinchilla. They are nocturnal, sleeping during most of the day and foraging for food at night.

Their fur is thick and dense, acting as insulation from the frigid mountains of northern Chile. Long-tailed chinchillas have short limbs and long hind legs. Their fur is a bluish gray, with a yellow or white under side. They also have large ears, a broad head and large black eyes. Their body length ranges from 9 to 15 inches long and their weight ranges from 1 to 2 pounds. Their tails are usually one third of their total length, ranging from 3- 6 inches.

Geographic Location

They range from the Andes Mountains in Northern Chile.


Long-tailed chinchillas can be found in barren and arid habitats within the mountainous regions of northern Chile at altitudes between 3,000 to 5,000 meters. For shelter they burrow holes or find cover in the crevices of the rocks within the mountains.

Natural Diet

Though long-tailed chinchillas are omnivores, their main source of nutrition comes from seeds and grass. On occasion they feed on insects and bird eggs, if the opportunity presents itself. Long-tailed chinchillas sit on their hind legs and use their fore arms to hold their food up to their mouths when they are eating.

Zoo Diet

When in human care, long-tailed chinchillas eat animal pellets, dried fruits and nuts, carrots and green vegetables.


The breeding season for the long-tailed chinchilla depends on the location. In the Northern hemisphere, the breeding season is November to May, and in the Southern Hemisphere the breeding season is May to November. Females will have two liters per year and each litter will have approximately 2-3 kits (baby long-tailed chinchillas). Females are also monogamous breeders, limiting themselves to one mate per breeding season. The gestation period for the long-tailed chinchilla is 111 days- a little over three months, which is relatively long for such a small animal. Long-tailed chinchilla kits weigh approximately 1.2 ounces at birth and are born fully furred with open eyes. They are also precocial: born at an advanced state and are able to fend for themselves rather quickly. They are fully weaned after 6- 8 weeks and reach sexual maturity after 8 months.

Life Span

On average, long-tailed chinchillas live up to 10-11 years.

Social Structure

Long-tailed chinchillas are extremely social animals and live in colonies of up to 100 other chinchillas. Females are larger than males and tend to be aggressive during the breeding season. Fighting is rare between the long-tailed chinchillas; however as a defense against predators they will growl and spray urine to ward them off.


According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the long-tailed chinchilla is critically endangered. Their current population is too low to be self-sustaining in the wild. Their population has endured a dramatic decline due to illegal hunting and poaching for their fur, as well as habitat loss due to excessive algarobilla shrub harvesting in northern Chile. This species has been hunted or its fur since the 1970s facing near extinction in the 1990s. Since 1975, the sale and trade of this animal for its fur has been restricted, however it is difficult to enforce.

Fun Facts

Long-tailed chinchillas have about 60 hairs per follicle. A single hair is so fine it can barely be seen with the human eye. Their fur is so dense it can repel water!

Did you know female long-tailed chinchillas are actually bigger than males?

Long-tailed chinchillas are unable to sweat.