The chinchilla is a rodent, native to the high Andes of South America. The name comes from “Chincha”, the South American Indians who used the hair for cloth, as did the Incas who conquered the Chinchas and the early Spaniards who defeated the Incas. Later, the blue-gray, exquisitely soft fur became so popular in Europe that chinchillas were almost extinct by 1914. Nowadays, all chinchilla is ranched, as the result of a few breeding pairs imported to the US in 1924.
The fur is very soft, silky, and dense. In fact, chinchilla fur has the highest hair density of any animal, with more than 20,000 per square centimeter. (This makes it impossible for parasites such as fleas to inhabit chinchillas, as they would suffocate.) Where humans grow one hair from each follicle, a chinchilla has more than 50.
Color is silvery gray top hair and dark underfur. The best chinchilla has a slate blue color, often enhanced by brighteners, although mutation colors are now also produced.
The small size and the fragility of the skin used to make chinchilla difficult to work with and very expensive. It’s still expensive, but new dressing methods have made it easier to work with and have improved its wearability. No fur needs more care, however. The fur is very warm, despite being one of the lightest.
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