The genus, Chinchilla, is a member of the family Chinchillidae, which falls into the order of Rodentia. Chinchillidae is a monophyletic group, containing the genera Chinchilla, Lagidium, and Lagostomus. These three genera are all endemic to South America. The genus, Chinchilla, is comprised of two species, Chinchilla lanigera, and Chinchilla brevicaudata (Spotorno et al. 2004a). Within the family, Chinchilla more closely related to Lagidium, the mountain viscachas, than to Lagostomus, the pampas viscachas. The distinctiveness of the two species of Chinchilla is supported by their molecular (DNA sequence) differences, morphological differences and male sterility in hybrids (Spotorno et al. 2004a). Both species of Chinchilla are now considered to be endangered in the wild (Saunders 2009). Despite coming close to extinction, they have become better known in the wild and common as domesticated pets. Chinchilla lanigera originated from north-central Chile, but is now found also in some areas in Peru, and in the low mountains and hills of Chile. Chinchilla brevicaudata came from the mountains of Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, and in the northern part of Chile. Yet, there is speculation that there are no longer any existing wild populations of C. brevicaudata (Jimènez 1996). Once discovered, these animals became valuable for their wool, meat, and pelt. Chinchillas have now become popular as domesticated pets and lab animals within the United States. There are suggestions that there has been some cross breeding between the two species in captivity (Spotorno et al. 2004a). These unique animals are small with very dense, silky fur in shades of grey, white, and black. Their long tails are generally covered in coarse black hair. In addition, they have very large ears which are important to their highly developed hearing systems. In the wild, they live in holes and tunnels, or under rocks in dry, sandy environments. As social animals, chinchillas generally live in colonies of around 100 members. These animals are mainly herbivores, feeding on various kinds of herbs and grasses (Spotorno et al. 2004b).
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