Chinchillas & Sunlight

Chinchillas seem to have a "love/hate" relationship with the sun.

They can suffer dreadfully in the heat of the summer, as their thick fur is designed to keep them warm in a cool climate. Responsible chinchilla owners will take care to keep their pets cool during the hot weather.

Chinchillas are naturally crepuscular, and are active during dusk and dawn, where they may possibly bask in the weak morning or evening sunshine, before starting to forage for food. They sleep during the day, when the sun is at its strongest, in hollows and rock fissures.

They also have a more distinct breeding season in the wild (although they are capable of breeding all year round in captivity). They conceive during early winter and give birth in early spring, when the weather is warmer and food is more readily available for their young.

All this indicates that chinchillas are seasonal breeding animals, meaning their breeding behavior is dependent on the length of daylight.

A normal day/night cycle is therefore very important, as it controls their biorhythms, feeding and breeding cycles.

Melatonin (a hormone) is produced by the pineal gland and in the intestine, during the hours of darkness. It plays an important part in the regulation of day/night cycles and seasonal/breeding rhythms.

Chinchillas continually kept in dark or dingy conditions 24 hours a day, may have their fertility unduly affected. As to how serious this could be is unclear, as no research has been carried out on them to my knowledge, but other animals can have severe fertility problems in relation to lack of sunlight.

The sun can also have bad effects on chinchillas (from a show point of view), this is called oxidisation, and is the bane of many a show-breeder.

All show-quality chinchillas should exhibit a "blue" hue to their fur, no matter what colour they are. A brownish tint is considered a flaw and the chinchilla will be marked down on the show bench accordingly.

Oxidisation also causes a brownish tint to the fur and can make an otherwise stunning chinchilla look very off-coloured. It is very important for a breeder to recognise that older animals will often become oxidised, hence, they may have a relatively short life as a show animal.

Oxidisation should not be confused with a poor quality, off-coloured chinchilla.

Although chinchillas should not be exposed to direct sunlight, for both of the above-mentioned reasons, it is still important that they are NOT kept in continual darkness. A balance needs to be struck between keeping the chinchillas in a light environment during the day, yet avoiding over-exposure resulting in overheating and oxidisation.