Excuse me? What are you doing? Why yes, I do see you're asking questions of your new chinchilla and yes ... I bet it is difficult to get him to answer. And with good reason.
But I would just to offer piece of advice here. There are far better and more efficient -- methods of getting to know your new pet than to expect him to answer your questions.
When you are fortunate enough in your life to stumble across a soon-to-be new friend, you --like our friend with the new chinchilla -- like to find out more about him.
Because of this desire, you find yourself asking him or her questions about his past, among other aspects of his life.
In turn, your new friend is no doubt just as eager and enthusiastic to learn more about you. In fact getting to know more about your friend is a great way to learn how he thinks, what makes him tick and other things about him. This process just gives you a deeper and stronger friendship.
Wouldn't it be marvelous if you could, like our friend at the beginning of this chapter, ask you new chinchilla a list of questions that would reveal its likes, dislikes, fears ... and any other new information about him.
One good way to learn about your new family member is to learn more about his history. In this way, you'll not only know how he may respond to specific circumstances ... but why.
If you know why, you're far less likely to view your pet's actions as a plot against you or even take his movement as a personal vendetta from the chinchilla realm. You would be, in effect, a far better parent for the information. He is, after all, reacting the only way he knows how.
So what are we waiting for? Come on. We've got some learnin' to do!
If you don't want to read this section before you adopt your fuzzy friendly "chin" you'll read it once you've brought him home. Guaranteed. And not because you feel "obligated" to, either.
You'll become so fascinated with his movements ... mannerisms ... and everything else about him that you'll want to discover his motives too.
Now what? Why are you standing on that chair, shrieking "Eke!" Oh, I see. You didn't know that little bit about the chinchilla before you brought him into your home. And now, it freaks you out a little bit. He's from the same family as the guinea pig. Did you do this when your son brought Guy the guinea pig home. Oh, you did? Well, it sounds like a personal problem, then!
Caviomorph! Let's get that word out of the way right now. Our new chinchilla belongs to a group of rodents (and that's why you were on the chair shrieking.) known as caviomorphs.
Don't worry, though, that he's a rodent because as a member of this particular group, he's in an exclusive club that includes some other adorable rodent pets.
Your new chinchilla is related to the guinea pig family. If you've ever had a pet guinea pig, then you may have already noticed some of the similarities. Some of these are the same traits which set them distinctly apart from the other -- more widely known and less loved -- members of the rodent family, like mice and rates.
Mice and rats, by the way, belong to the part of the family tree called myomorphs. One of the central differing traits of these two groups can be found in their breeding habits.
Caviomorphs --- the chinchilla and guinea pig set -- have small litters of babies, following a long gestation period (otherwise known as a pregnancy). For chinchillas, the pregnancy last approximately four months.
And when the babies are born, they're identical miniature versions of their parents (and insanely adorable, if you can even imagine it!). The babies, in fact, are born remarkably well developed. Even their eyes are open at birth. Not only that, but they are also developed enough to be moving around some too!
Rats and mice breed much quicker. They have a shorter pregnancy of only 20 to 22 days. Not only that, but their babies are far less developed at birth. They're born in larger litters and are blind ... helpless ... and "naked" -- without any fur on their bodies.
And now it appears you're studying a new language. You've got those headphones on and you're repeating words some language it appears. Which language would that be? No, wait. I bet I can guess -- Spanish. Yes! Yes, indeed. I know why. It has everything to do with your pet Chilly the Chinchilla, doesn't it?
You can look high and low in North America, but the furry guy is not native to this continent. He calls home the Andes Mountains of South America.
But listen to this. They just don't set up a chinchilla base camp at the foot of this tall mountain chain. Oh, no. If you give your pet a good exam (even a precursory glance) you can't help but admire his lush, plush fur. This fur is responsible for keeping him warm in those higher elevations. (If you're brave enough to take the time, you can even find chinchillas living in altitudes of approximately 16,500 feet (or 5,000 miles!)
Here you'll find this group of rodents roaming the Andes of Peru, Chile, Bolivia as well as Argentina. Granted, the temperatures get very hot during the day, but when the sun sets in the evening, it also gets quite cold.
In some cases, chinchillas live what can only be called rocky retreats. Just nearly as often though you'll discover they burrow and live in these underground cottages.
Sadly, the sheer numbers of chinchillas are, indeed, dwindling. At one time, colonies of this group of animal numbered in the thousands. Can you imagine climbing up a section of the Andes to be greeted by the group leader of the chinchilla group and his literally thousands of followers?
They slowly then were found in groups of 500 -- at most -- as they began to disappear. Today, the average group numbers no more than 50 or so.
But we can't take a very accurate census of the chin. They are, by nature, quite shy. Not only that, but their lifestyle contributes to their "ability" to avoid detection by humans. They seldom burrow far from their colony site. In this way, they can easily -- and very quickly -- scurry back to safety should they smell "foul play."
His strong hind legs give him a natural hopping gait, which he uses as his primary form of locomotion. Those hind legs also make this animal a good "jumper." And that means that you'll need to think about covering his cage so he doesn't escape. (Just "jumping" ahead to give you a heads up there!)
The chinchilla -- for the longest time prized for its fur -- has dense soft fur which makes them soft and cuddly. But that's not the only reason you'll discover how soft he truly. It's said that a chinchilla as many as 60 distinct hairs that are growing from just one of his hair follicles.
Yes, of course they make good pets. But not every pet is perfect for every household. Just like not every house is created to include a Great Dane, not every home should include chinchilla members.
For one thing, because of their thick fur, these little guys don't do well in hot weather. Your chinchilla is susceptible to overheating starting at temperatures of about 75 degrees, believe it or not. And when the temperature hits 80 degrees and above they are definitely candidates for heat stroke.
So if you don't have air conditioning and live in a climate with a warm summer, you will want to re-think your choice of pet. You know the old saying about temperature versus humidity. "It's the heat that bothers as much as the humidity that causes you discomfort."
The same goes for your chinchilla. He's sensitive to humidity as well.
In fact, the best temperature range for chinchillas run between 50 to 65 degrees with a relative humidity that doesn't go above 50 percent.
Don't adopt a chinchilla until you hear the type of commitment that's required of you. Don't let the tiny size of this guy fool you. Unlike a hamster or even a guinea pig, chinchillas live long lives. They live anywhere from 15 to 20 years. So keep in mind, as you're deciding if this pet is for your family that it's not a short term commitment you're considering.
The chinchilla, though, is nocturnal. The means the majority of his running around, his playtime and even his feeding takes place during the night. What does he do with his time during the day? Why, sleep, of course!
Couple this with a smaller animal who has a curious and active nature and you're looking at a decent sized cage for this guy. Most owners say the idea chinchilla home is about 6 feet by 6 feet by 3 feet. They also say that if you can find a cage that is even as large as 7 feet by 7 feet by 4 feet, snatch it up. You won't regret it -- and your extra furry fuzzy friend will be so grateful.
Another trait you need to know about them: they are naturally shy. So they'll need a place in their house to hide. We'll talk more about what's needed in a comfortable cage for this guy. Just keep this in mind when you're choosing your chinchilla's "condo".
And speaking of boxes he'll need one more box to use for nesting.
If you've never had a chinchilla before then you'll delight in learning this unique animal takes "dust baths." Indeed, One of his favorite methods of grooming himself is by dust bathing. Don't worry, though. You won't have to go out to the garden to pick up some dirt for him to revel in. You can buy (believe it or not!) commercially formullated chinchilla dust baths specifically for this purpose.
Given the chance these guys will "dust bathe" once a day. But if you can give them the opportunity to at least bathe in dust several times a week, he'll be happy!
I see that raised eyebrow. You're waiting for me to tell you which is best. Well, as it turns out it really doesn't matter. Just as many people adopt them as "only chinchillas" as they do in pairs. If your children are begging for not one but two, remember that as much space as one chinchilla needs, you'll need to increase this quite a bit for two.
One of the drawbacks of a chinchilla though is that they usually need trained or "socialized" more than other pets. This animal instinctively does not like to be held, but will learn how to love the attention with a little training and attention from you! But, remember this when deciding on whether this pet is for your family. Will you -- or one of your family members -- have the time to entertain just one?
Perhaps a second chinchilla as companion helps keep the loneliness at bay. But more than that, the two combined can provide you with even more entertainment to see them play with each other.
Whatever you decide, it needs to be a family decision. Because ultimately you know what your family schedule is like. Ultimately only you know how you can best accommodate these little guys into your life. If you decide at this point you can't give them the time ... energy ... or love ... I would certainly understand.
But if you can, you're about to enter the "Chinchilla Zone." It's a delightfully different way of looking at the world. You'll find it an eye-opening experience.
In the chapter to follow, I introduce you to a few "chinchilla-isms", those mannerisms ... idiosyncrasies ... and habits that only chinchillas share.
Get to know as many as possible now and you will be able to anticipate some of your little guy's responses to you and your family in those first, terminally tense, days of introductions!
So, what are we waiting for?