1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chinchilla

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CHINCHILLA, a small grey hopping rodent mammal (Chinchilla lanigera), of the approximate size of a squirrel, inhabiting the eastern slopes of the Andes in Chile and Bolivia, at altitudes between 8000 and 12,000 ft. It typifies not only the genus Chinchilla, but the family Chinchillidae, for the distinctive features of which see Rodentia. The ordinary chinchilla is about 10 in. in length, exclusive of the long tail, and in the form of its head somewhat resembles a rabbit. It is covered with a dense soft fur 3/4 in. long on the back and upwards of an inch in length on the sides, of a delicate French grey colour, darkly mottled on the upper surface and dusky white beneath; the ears being long, broad and thinly covered with hair. Chinchillas live in burrows, and these subterranean dwellings undermine the ground in some parts of the Chilean Andes to such an extent as to cause danger to travellers on horseback. They associate in communities, forming their burrows among loose rocks, and coming out to feed in the early morning and towards sunset. They feed chiefly on roots and grasses, in search of which they often travel considerable distances; and when eating they sit on their haunches, holding their food in their fore-paws. The Indians in hunting them employ the grison (Galictis vittata), a member of the weasel family, which is trained to enter the crevices of the rocks where the chinchillas lie concealed during the day. The fur (q.v.) of this rodent was prized by the ancient Peruvians, who made coverlets and other articles with the skin, and at the present day the skins are exported in large numbers to Europe, where they are made into muffs, tippets and trimmings. That chinchillas have not under such circumstances become rare, if not extinct, is owing to their extraordinary fecundity, the female usually producing five or six young twice a year. They are docile in disposition, and thus well fitted for domestication. The Peruvian chinchilla (C. brevicaudata) is larger, with relatively shorter ears and tail; while still larger species constitute the genus Lagidium, ranging from the Andes to Patagonia, and distinguished by having four in place of five front-toes, more pointed ears, and a somewhat differently formed skull. (See also Viscacha).  (R. L.*)