Chinchillas live in burrows, and these subterranean dwellings undermine the ground in some parts of the Chilean Andes to such an extent as to cause danger to travellers on horseback.
The Indians in hunting them employ the grison (Galictis vittata), a member of the weasel family, which is trained to enter the crevices of the rocks where the chinchillas lie concealed during the day.
That chinchillas have not under such circumstances become rare, if not extinct, is owing to their extraordinary fecundity, the female usually producing five or six young twice a year.
The fur varies exceedingly in character, - in some, like the chinchillas and hares, being fine and soft, while in others it is more or less replaced by spines on the upper surface, as in spiny rats and porcupines; these spines in several genera, as Xerus, Acomys, Platacanthomys, Echinothrix, Loncheres and Echinomys, being flattened.
The Carnivora include bears, wolverines, wolves, raccoons, foxes, sables, martens, skunks, kolinskis, fitch, fishers, ermines, cats, sea otters, fur seals, hair seals, lions, tigers, leopards, lynxes, jackals, &c. The Rodentia include beavers, nutrias, musk-rats or musquash, marmots, hamsters, chinchillas, hares, rabbits, squirrels, &c. The Ungulata include Persian, Astrachan, Crimean, Chinese and Tibet lambs, mouflon, guanaco, goats, ponies, &c. The Marsupialia include opossums, wallabies and kangaroos.
Chinchillas and nutrias are obtained from South America, whence come also civet cats, jaguars, ocelots and pumas.
A furrier or skin merchant must possess a good eye for colour to be successful, the difference in value on this subtle matter solely (in the rarer precious sorts, especially sables, natural black, silver and blue fox, sea otters, chinchillas, fine mink, &c.) being so considerable that not only a practised but an intuitive sense of colour is necessary to accurately determine the exact merits of every skin.
In England, for instance, the dressing of sables, martens, foxes, otters, seals, bears, lions, tigers and leopards is first rate; while with skunk, mink, musquash, chinchillas, beavers, lambs and squirrels, the Germans show better results, particularly in the last.
Of the remaining families of the Simplicidentata, all are southern, the cavies (Caviidae), chinchillas (Chinchillidae), and degus (Octodontidae) being Central and South American, while the Capromyidae are common to southern America and Africa, and the Ctenodactylidae are exclusively African.