The name "chinchilla" comes from the fact that they were first discovered by the Chincha people, who kept them for fur and meat; the name literally means little Chincha.
There are two species in the family Chinchillidae: the short-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla chinchilla) and the long-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera) which is the more commonly referred-to pet species. They are fairly closely related to viscachas that belong to the same family and guinea pigs, which are part of the family Caviidae.
The wild chinchilla is grey in color, with a white belly, a brushy tail, and bald ears, but many color mutations have been bred into the pets. Some of these include black, brown, beige, white, gold bar, and a bluish or violet tint to the grey fur, as well as mutations that cause the animal to have patches of color on white ("mosaic") or cause the base color to wrap around the normally white belly ("ebony"). Its fur is incredibly soft due to the fact that chinchillas unlike other mammals have several very thin hairs in each follicle. The fur is cleaned through a roll in very fine sand, a "dust bath".
Chinchillas are short-sighted, active, and excellent jumpers and climbers. When frightened, especially if grabbed or stuck somewhere, they will lose patches of fur much like certain species of lizard lose their tails to escape predators.
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