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How Chinchillas Stay Clean

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D:        We talk a lot about our pets here on A Moment of Science, don’t we, Yaël?

Y:        Well, sure Don. The creatures we love and care for are often fascinating subjects. They remind us that science is everywhere! Wait. Don’t tell me. You got a new pet and you want to tell me about it.

D:        You guessed it, and I even brought him with me. Yaël, meet Charlie the chinchilla.

Y:        He’s adorable! Can I hold him?

D:        Sure!

Y:        He’s snuggling right into my arms. And wow, is he soft!

D:        Chinchillas are native to the Andes Mountains. To survive the cold temperatures, their fur is dense, and about an inch-and-a-half long.  

Y:        I first learned about chinchillas in a history class—over the last couple of centuries, they were hunted to near extinction for their plush, velvety pelts. I’m glad that chinchillas are now popular as pets, not clothing. I just love running my hands through his coat.

D:        All that beautiful chinchilla fur requires a bit of special care. It’s important to keep Charlie clean.

Y:        Do you have to shampoo and condition his hair, like you would for a dog? Or does he lick himself clean, like a cat?

D:        Actually, neither! In fact, chinchillas should never be bathed in water. Instead, since their fur is so thick, they have to take regular dust baths. Charlie enthusiastically rolls through the dust, getting completely covered. It’s the equivalent of a dry shampoo for humans: the dust absorbs oil and dirt on his skin and fur. So though it looks like he’s getting dirtier, he’s really just staying healthy.

Y:        That’s what I call good hygiene! Isn’t that right, Charlie?

D:        Shh! He’s napping.

chinchilla

Chinchillas have a unique way of keeping their fur clean. (Guerin Nicolas, Wikimedia Commons)

We talk a lot about pets here on A Moment of Science, because the creatures we love and care for are often fascinating subjects. They remind us that science is everywhere.

Chinchillas are sometimes singled out as being particularly adorable and fascinating. Chinchillas are native to the Andes Mountains. To survive the cold temperatures, their fur is dense, and about an inch-and-a-half long.

over the last couple of centuries, they were hunted to near extinction for their plush, velvety pelts. Today, chinchillas are now popular pets, not just clothing. Of course, all of that beautiful chinchilla fur requires a bit of special care. It's very important that their fur is kept clean.

However, chinchillas neither have their hair shampooed nor do they clean themselves like cats. Chinchillas should never be bathed in water. Instead, since their fur is so thick, they have to take regular dust baths.

They enthusiastically rool through the dust, getting completely covered. It's the equivalent of a dry shampoo for humans: the dust absorbs oil and dirt on their skin and fur. They look like they're getting dirtier, but they're really just staying healthy.

Reviewer: Christoph Mans, the University of Wisconsin, Madison

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