Chinchilla kits are cute, but they have to grow up some day. The question is whether they immediately go from immature to fully mature, or whether there’s a gradual process like puberty that they go through.
Do chinchillas go through puberty? They gradually become sexually active from the age of 8-10 weeks onwards. Males become sexually active from this point, while females do at 7-8 months. Males have testicles, but these don’t drop, and no other physical changes occur. Females don’t have periods, but do go through episodes of being ‘in heat’ that occur until death.
What isn’t true is that chinchillas have some kind of adolescence where their bodies and behavior physically change, and it takes a long time to become a full adult. Chinchillas keep growing larger until 12-18 months, but this is the only difference between a ‘teenage’ chinchilla and an adult one.
Do Chinchillas Go Through Puberty?
Please note: the following guide is on a sensitive subject. It contains terms that you might expect to hear in a science class about puberty (one for chinchillas, anyway). If this is something you would be uncomfortable with, or if you’re somewhere that you would get puzzled looks from others when they see what you’re reading about, you may want to read one of our other guides instead!
Chinchillas begin life as sexually immature, and gradually grow to being fully mature. In that sense, they do go through puberty. But these changes aren’t as dramatic as they are in people, e.g. changing body shape, or big changes in behavior.
Both male and female chinchillas are born at an advanced stage. Chinchilla kits are born with their eyes and ears open, and can walk from their earliest moments. But they are still babies, even if they are advanced, so will not feed on solid food and will not begin mating until later. To progress to the next stage of life, chinchillas go through a process that involves certain biological and hormonal changes.
This stage can be deemed ‘puberty’ because it occurs when the chinchilla is still not fully grown. In males, it occurs when the chinchilla is not quite old enough to forage food entirely on its own, so it is still partly immature. The male chinchilla will continue growing and developing until it is fully adult at eight to ten months, although it may continue growing afterwards.
Female chinchillas develop at a slower rate. This is the reverse of many other animals, in which the female develops first. Female chinchillas begin being sexually active at ten months. They will then go through continual cycles throughout their lives. This is the main noticeable change in females.
What Is Puberty?
Puberty is the process during which an animal changes from immature to sexually mature. It can involve visible external changes, plus lots more invisible internal changes. The male body will begin producing more testosterone, while the female body will produce more estrogen. This kickstarts the reproductive cycle, as well as physical changes such as body parts changing shape or size. Everybody who’s a teenager or older will be familiar with the process, but it’s not the same in animals as it is in people. Key differences include:
- It doesn’t occur at the same age, or relative age in chinchilla/human years
- It doesn’t cause visible external changes in chinchillas (unless you count the chinchilla growing larger as it progresses to adulthood, which isn’t specifically related to puberty)
Chinchillas go through physical changes at this time. In males, for example, the testes develop and begin producing sperm, although this isn’t visible from the outside. Females begin producing eggs, and their reproductive systems begin their cycles. But unlike in people, these changes do not take years and years to complete. They also don’t have as dramatic an effect on the chinchilla and its behavior.
When Do Chinchillas Go Through Puberty?
Chinchillas begin the process of puberty at around eight or nine weeks. This is when the changes inside their bodies begi: males producing more testosterone, and females more estrogen. In people, it takes years and years for these changes to be fully realized. But in chinchillas, it takes a matter of months.
Puberty is caused by the release of hormones. These hormones aren’t just testosterone and estrogen, however. These are only two of a wide range of hormones, many of which serve to trigger the production of others. It’s thought that these hormones are released when the body reaches a certain weight, or perhaps because of increased fat intake. In chinchillas, this begins as early as eight weeks, and continues until the animal is fully grown (a year to 18 months).
So, puberty has an obvious beginning. But the exact end point of puberty isn’t clear in chinchillas. It’s a well-defined stage in people, but in other animals, it’s not. That’s partly because chinchillas don’t live as long as people do, and because the changes are less dramatic and noticeable. Wild chinchillas were under enormous pressure to grow and reproduce as fast as possible because of predation.
When Are Chinchillas Considered Adults?
Chinchillas are first kits, then young adults, then fully mature. But exactly when are chinchillas considered adults? The precise point at which a chinchilla is considered an adult isn’t set in stone, because people have different ideas.
So, for example, male chinchillas start mating from 10 weeks onwards. You may consider this to be the first sign of maturity. But at this age, the chinchillas are nowhere near their full sizes. They will continue growing for many months yet. The same applies to females: even if they physically can have litters at seven or eight months, they may still be far below adult size, and unable to develop a litter and deliver it.
As such, this is a question to which you’ll find many different answers. But the easiest answer to give is a year old.
Effects of Puberty in Chinchillas
Puberty affects male chinchillas and female chinchillas differently. The male and female each have roles to play in reproduction, and this can only be done if their bodies change in certain ways. Some of these ways are unique to each sex, while some affect both. The following are ones that affect both males and females.
Onset of Mature Behaviors
This is a polite way of saying that mating begins! Males will be first to show an interest in mating from around ten weeks. Females take longer to warm to the idea: up to seven months. Mature behaviors include:
- The act of mating
- Males fighting each other over the ‘rights’ to mate
- Females fighting off males when they don’t want to mate by standing up and spraying urine
Chinchillas partly learn behavior from their parents. Something like grooming, for example, is taught to chinchilla kits by their parents. Chinchilla kits which see lots of natural mating behaviors are more likely to display them earlier.
Chinchilla Mood Swings
Mood swings during puberty are caused by an increase in hormones. These hormones flood the body and are responsible for the key changes of puberty: emotional, mental and physical. Because a person going through puberty is experiencing high levels of these hormones they haven’t before, they can cause mood swings, which is where they go from happy to sad or angry very quickly and for what seems like no reason.
Chinchillas can have mood swings, or what are perceived as mood swings. It’s difficult to tell. That’s because a chinchilla can’t tell you precisely what it’s thinking or feeling, and owners can misinterpret their pets’ behaviors.
What is true is that the chinchilla’s body is flooded with hormones in greater volume during puberty. It’s reasonable to assume that this will have some effect, even if it can’t be seen.
Do Chinchillas Get Spots During Puberty?
All the other changes that you associate with puberty are absent from chinchillas. Obvious physical changes don’t affect them, e.g. spots and zits. A chinchilla’s voice doesn’t break as it gets older. It doesn’t get shy or awkward around the opposite sex (although how cute would that be?)
This is one of the core arguments saying that chinchillas don’t experience ‘puberty’. It depends what you define it as.
Effects of Puberty in Male Chinchillas
There’s only one key change in male chinchillas as they enter puberty. This relates to the chinchillas reproductive organs.
Do Male Chinchillas Have a Penis and Testicles?
Male chinchillas do have a penis and testes, which they use for mating like other animals. They are born with these, although they are not fully developed before puberty. When puberty arrives, the hormones in the male chinchilla’s body tell it to begin producing sperm. To do so, its testes become physically bigger.
Unlike other animals, chinchillas don’t have an external scrotum. So, you won’t notice one forming or dropping when your male chinchilla enters puberty. The testes remain inside the body. That’s because the purpose of the scrotum is temperature regulation, and because chinchillas live somewhere that’s cold, it’s better to keep the testes warm inside the body. What you may notice is a slight bulge at the base of your chinchilla’s tail. This is where the testes are.
Chinchillas do have a biological structure like a scotal sac, but this isn’t used to house the testes. When your chinchilla is mature, you may notice this on either side of the anus, especially when your chinchilla is warm. This houses the epididymis, which is the tube that connects the testicle to the rest of the reproductive system.
The chinchilla’s penis is housed within a sheath. It’s supposed to stay in there when it’s not in use. The sheath looks a little like a penis from the outside: it’s a tear drop shape and pointed at the end. A chinchilla’s penis is large proportionate to its size.
Puberty in Female Chinchillas
The effects of puberty in female chinchillas are similar: the chinchilla becomes sexually active and capable of reproducing. But this means more for the female than it does for the male.
Do Chinchillas Get Periods?
This is another difference between chinchillas and other animals. Female chinchillas don’t have periods, either before, during or after puberty. Instead, chinchillas and other rodents go through something called ‘estrous’, which is where the animal is in heat for a certain period of time. This doesn’t work in the same way to periods in people.
A period is where the human body gets rid of the lining of the womb, plus the unfertilized egg that wasn’t needed either. Chinchillas reabsorb both the lining of the womb and the egg rather than wasting it. This saves on precious resources like iron, which the chinchilla would have to regain through its diet. This means that chinchillas don’t menstruate like other animals or people do.
When Do Chinchillas Go into Heat?
This process begins when the chinchilla reaches a certain age, i.e. puberty. It then continues until the chinchilla dies, unlike periods, which stop before old age. This is unlike the period in other animals, as periods stop when the animal/person reaches menopause.
It occurs at some point between November and May in the Northern hemisphere, or between May and November in the Southern hemisphere. This means they mate throughout winter and at the beginning of spring. This might seem counterintuitive, but the point is that the chinchilla wants to have its litter when the weather’s warmer again. Gestation lasts ~110 days, so mating in November means babies in February. Mating in April means babies in summer.
Each episode of being in heat will last three or four days, followed by three or four days of not being in heat. The female will then go back into heat. If it mates successfully, it will stop being in heat. But it can be in heat again as soon as its litter is born.
The chinchilla isn’t going through cycles of heat all the way from November to May. Rather, these episodes occur over the course of 30-50 days. The chinchilla’s body will pick what it thinks is the optimal time to begin being in heat.
During estrous, the female is particularly attractive to males. They understand that she is in heat, and want to mate with her. If there’s more than one male chinchilla nearby, they’ll fight for the privilege of ‘mating rights’.
Do Female Chinchillas Change Shape Because of Puberty?
Female chinchillas do not grow breasts, have wider hips, nor do their nipples become more prominent when they go through puberty. The only changes are internal.
The physical change you will notice, and which does have an effect, is that a female chinchilla will grow larger overall during puberty. This won’t be at an abnormal rate, or in a different way to male chinchillas—it’s normal growth. But this growth means that the female can now successfully carry and deliver litters.
When Do Chinchillas Start Mating?
As stated above, male chinchillas start mating at around ten weeks of age. Some will start mating sooner, some later, but this is roughly when they’ll start.
There’s a big problem with this. Chinchillas take time to wean and leave the litter: up to 12 weeks. As such, the males will start trying to mate with the females. But the females haven’t fully developed yet, so will fight them off. It’s at this point that owners and breeders consider separating them into same-sex groups, provided they have demonstrated that they can forage their own food.
When breeders start breeding chinchillas is another question entirely. Even though male chinchillas are ready to breed at this early age, most breeders wait until they’re larger and stronger at ten months. This is also the time at which females begin mating, so they pair them up at this point.
When Do Chinchillas Go Into Heat?
Female chinchillas begin going into heat after seven to eight months. Once heat starts, it lasts for a few days. The chinchilla then cycles in and out of heat throughout the mating season, which occurs sometimes between November to May in the Northern hemisphere, and May to November in the Southern hemisphere.The overall cycle lasts 30-50 days.
It’s only female chinchillas that go into heat. Male chinchillas can mate at any time, while females need to be in heat. This is a source of much frustration for females, who have to fight off males when they aren’t in the mood. You may be able to relate to that whether you own chinchillas or not!
Why Do Chinchillas Start Mating So Early?
Chinchillas start mating early because they’re rodents. Rodents are preyed on by many animals, and have only limited means to protect themselves. As such, they need to produce lots of offspring to make up for the ones that don’t make it to adulthood. They do this by:
- Producing offspring early in life
- Remaining capable of producing offspring into old age, unlike other animals
- Producing multiple offspring per litter (chinchillas regularly produce two, and can produce more)
- Mating immediately after the first litter is born, to produce another litter as soon as possible
This is why rodent populations can ‘explode’ unless there’s something to stop them, like a predator. This is also why chinchillas begin puberty and mating early in life.
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