How smart are chinchillas

Observations on the topic of "social behavior"



How intelligent are chinchillas?

from Marion

Compared to other pets, I'd say chinchillas are definitely smarter than rabbits and guinea pigs. I find that their intelligence is similar to that of rats. They are more curious than cats and almost as playful as these. Chinchillas are relatively fearless towards other animals, although as flight animals they cannot defend themselves against the teeth and claws of cats or dogs.

A chinchilla has an astonishingly good memory with which it usually memorizes the safe routes in its territory. I have often heard from the USA about chinchillas who find their way through complex experimental labyrinths without hesitation. But if you make sudden changes in the chinchilla's cage or habitat, then a chinchilla will initially have very clear adaptation problems and may literally run into a wall.

The proverbial 'elephant memory' of a chinchilla also means that it does not forget bad treatment by humans or its own conspecifics so quickly and can be very unforgiving for a very long time. Once you've really frightened a chinchilla, it takes a long time in relation to other animals and you need a lot of patience to regain the animal's trust.

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Social behavior in larger groups

from Danie

I'm making very interesting observations about social behavior in the group.

I have a couple - both animals are now 6 months old. The male Gilbert is an alpha animal (dominant), the female Liana a beta animal (submissive). Both have been living together for 2 months. Now I would like to add a second female, because Gilbert is too good for me for just one female and I am pursuing other breeding goals with it. The female Bambi is 4 1/2 months old and also an alpha animal, but not as dominant as Gilbert.
So I think to myself, I put the couple in the new cage with the little one and wait. All animals have violent tail wagging and beeping. Then Gilbert starts chasing Bambi, Liana is not exactly interested in this rush.
So what can you do so that Bambi doesn't have to flee from Gilbert in a panic in the cage and injure himself unnecessarily? - Everyone off to the little cage and into the car. Peace, cuddling, beeping - the world is pink. Then another 2 hours together in this cage and then back in the big one - what? - The same game from the beginning. Gilbert is chasing Bambi again.

Well, I think, then it has to be done differently. So I take the 3 animals and put them in a hamster cage so that they can move and stand up straight, put food, water and hay in them and wait.
First reaction: Liana sits down in a corner and looks disinterestedly at what Gilbert and Bambi are doing. Bambi curses at her pee showers while Gilbert curses at her violently and takes cover in front of the showers. They don't bite or hit each other - no fur flies.
Then Bambi first clarifies with Liana that you have to understand each other and what rank Liana has.

The following can be observed: The higher-ranking animal mounts the lower one, to be compared with the behavior of dogs or wolves. Since Liana is a beta animal, she lets the procedure go through and has been nibbling and noodling each other ever since. There's still Gilbert.
After another 2 hours of complaining and bitching and pee showers, the two alpha animals try to mount each other, which neither of them wants to allow. Think of it like this: the animals can't hunt each other much in the small hamster cage, i.e. one of them "wins" because there isn't that much space to run away. It is very important to keep an eye on the animals, if it comes to further excesses (biting), the animals should remain separated.
Since Gilbert is superior because of his size, the relationship between the two animals is soon clarified. Bambi gives in and Gilbert mounts it (no pairing!).
I left the 3 in the little cage for the night so they had to pull themselves together. What you can still observe: Gilbert repeatedly climbs Bambi and also his "old" female Liana. Bambi also keeps climbing on Liana. I think that will consolidate the hierarchy.

The morning of the next day, I put her in a cage about four times as large. In this new area, the same hustle and bustle is repeated again, but without complaining and pee showers, but only illustrated by brief hunting and then climbing. During the day all three of them sleep cuddled in a corner of the cage.

In the evening I put them in the aviary that is meant for them. Here in this new area, too, the same hustle and bustle is repeated again, even without complaining and pee showers, just by briefly hunting and then climbing.

The whole thing reminds me a lot of the behavior of dogs. You can clearly see that chinchillas are pack animals that have a ranking in the group.

We observed similar behavior patterns when Merlin received his Lea. At the time, we suspected that he might want to climb her to mate with her. Now we know that this represents the social behavior in the pack. By the way, with Merlin and Lea the female is the "winner".

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Short-term separation from chinchillas

from Marion

I have made the experience that the separation of chinchillas, even if only temporarily for a few days, can lead to alienation from one another depending on the character of the pug (not often, but it happens every now and then).

It is, as I have been able to observe with my animals in the past, regardless of whether the separated animals are same-sex partners or not. Whether the animal will be accepted by the old partner again depends, as I had to find out, very much on how deep and intimate the partnership was before, in which hierarchy the animal was and certainly many, many other factors that only the chinchillas themselves know.

As far as I could tell, smell also plays a very important role. If the animal smells strange, not like the rest of the group - especially if it is ailing or even smells clearly sick to humans - then there are massive acceptance problems as soon as it comes back to its home cage.

Ailing animals in particular are often avoided by their conspecifics, in most cases chased away and literally bitten off, I could see that. I guess this is a natural protection of the group from infections, isolating sick animals, driving into quarantine and not prolonging the suffering (even if that seems harsh to us).

However, I would like to note one positive exception. Namely from a young animal that I had separated from the group as a precaution due to diarrhea and only reintegrated 3 weeks later (but in visual, smell and call contact). This young animal was accepted back into the family without any problems, I would even like to say, greeted and hugged with exuberant joy.

In another case I went to the vet with one of my goats. I had only separated it from its partner for one day and brought it back into the cage without rubbing it with bedding from the pee corner. That immediately led to stress and bickering in the relationship and only subsided days later. In the meantime, I had to get both chinnies used to each other again in a neutral transport box, equally scented with perfume (uniform smell). Fortunately, that just worked again.

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Difference between female / male behavior when running out

from Marion

When my chinchillas ran out, I observed significant differences in behavior between the goats and the females. For example, my female animals are the ones who cause the most row in front of the exercise area, shake the bars and act like mad when other chinnies are already walking around outside.

As soon as I open the cage doors, the dominant alpha females shoot out and frantically explore their entire territory in a patrol (is there still a rival in my territory?). They look for strategically important seats for them, sniff them intensively and if they perceive a foreign smell there, they mark "their place".

This marking is done z. B. when the females, crouching excitedly on their hind paws, run up and down in the smallest triple steps over and over again at the conscious point, depositing the smallest pee droplets and sometimes also specific droppings. Then the females turn around and sniff the result and repeat the procedure again if necessary. The whole thing always reminds me of a witch's dance ;-)

As soon as the result of the odor test is satisfactory for the females, they move on to the next "focal point". If they are disturbed by their goat during the action, then they turn around, bark loudly at the goat and shoo it back into the cage.

After the whole action, the females usually go to their favorite hiding spots, cuddle up there contentedly and disappear completely from my field of vision for a long time during the exercise.

The goats, on the other hand, do not seek strategic points in their territory when they run out, but simply pursue all foreign and fresh - but especially female - scent brands. To do this, they leisurely hop around with their noses on the floor in the room, stop at almost every fresh puddle and droppings, sniff intensely and occasionally give excitedly loud (HuHuHu) or wag their tails.

After that, the actual playing begins for my little boys. They enjoy romping around, chasing along the other cages at high speed and noisily pushing themselves off with their hind legs there (badabum) before they turn to me or the inmates of the other cages try to make funny capers with high jumps, teasing shouts, etc. to provoke. If there are several goats in a group outside, small scuffles are instigated with each other. My goats behave much more actively and curiously than the female animals when they run out.

But here, too, there are now exceptions. Dominant females appear to me to be more aggressive and more active when they run out than fearful beta animals and the behavior of the younger chinchillas (under 12 months) hardly differs from each other - as far as I have been able to see it so far - when they run out.

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