Have you spied the eye staring out from page 16 of the November-December issue of Smithsonian Zoogoer?
It belongs to a chinchilla.
By Caroline Treadway
Who’s the fuzziest furball of them all? It just might be the chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera), which lives high in the mountains of northern Chile. Sixty or so hairs grow from each follicle, adding up to about 3,100 hairs per square inch. Beneath that world-famous fur lies a velvety hide so thick that it’s practically impenetrable to parasites.
Chinchillas’ supersoft pelts keep the fluffy rodents warm in their underground burrows, where a single colony may have as many as a hundred members. The fur also caught the attention of humans, who used it to make coats. A single chinchilla coat, comprising skins from a whole colony, can cost $100,000. In years past, people hunted millions of chinchillas for their fur. Such hunting is illegal today, but chinchillas remain critically endangered, and only a few thousand survive in the wild.
— Caroline Treadway is the editorial intern at Smithsonian Zoogoer and a graduate journalism student at Boston University.
Chinchilla at the National Zoo's Small Mammal House. (Jessie Cohen/NZP)