Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cuddly and Furry Chinchillas! Mammals as Pets

I brought my chinchilla, Bella, into class on Friday to use in my microteaching. I used Bella as an introduction to both spark students’ interests and to get their minds thinking about her characteristics. From these observations, I would extend those to compare and contrast them to pets at home the students may have. Finally, after comparing these characteristics and contrasting characteristics on the board in three separate columns, I would tell the students that there is a reason many of these animals have common characteristics (skin, fur, four legs, etc.) and this is because they are known as mammals and today we are going to learn about mammals! Then, I would make a concept map about mammals, and discuss the characteristics of mammals with the class. Mammals have skin, hair, fur, are warm blooded, nurse their young, give birth to live young, have mammary glands, and have spines. After the lesson on mammals, I would show a series of slides with images of mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians on them and ask the students to shout “mammal” or “not mammal” when an image of an animal cam across the screen. This way, I can assess the class’s grasp of mammal characteristics and what we’ve just learned collectively as a group.
Certainly, I believe using Bella to both make the students interested and start activating prior knowledge about what they may not realize they already know about mammals and to start their brains working was a great idea. Students need to be excited to learn, and need to make connections to the material and content. Therefore, using Bella to spark their interests and make connections to pets they may have at home to set the stage for learning about these mammals they see every day and in their neighborhoods is important in order for students’ to make these connections.
I would like to extend this post to not only discuss my microteaching experience, but talk about chinchillas in general. Bella served as my nature observation this week. Chinchillas are not native to the United States. They are native to the Andes Mountains in South America. The animal (whose name literally means "little Chincha") is named after the Chincha people of the Andes, who once wore its dense, velvet-like fur. By the end of the 19th century, chinchillas had become quite rare due to hunting for their fur. Most chinchillas currently used by the fur industry for clothing and other accessories are farm-raised. In their native habitat, chinchillas live in burrows or crevices in rocks. They are agile jumpers and can jump up to 6 ft (1.8 m). Predators in the wild include birds of prey, skunks, felines, snakes and canines. Chinchillas have a variety of defensive tactics including spraying urine and releasing fur if bitten. In the wild, chinchillas have been observed eating plants, fruits, seeds, and small insects. This diet could irritate the digestive system of a domestic chinchilla whose diet should be primarily hay-based, if a domestic chinchilla should ingest a seed/nut it could result in disease or death .

In nature, chinchillas live in social groups that resemble colonies but are properly called herds. Chinchillas can breed any time of the year. Their gestation period is 111 days, longer than most rodents. Due to this long pregnancy, chinchillas are born fully furred and with eyes open. Litters are usually small in number, predominantly twins.

 Chinchillas require extensive exercise. Chinchilla teeth need to be worn down as their teeth grow continuously and can prevent the chinchilla from eating if they become overgrown. Wooden sticks, pumice stone and chew toys are good options, but conifer and citrus woods (like cedar or orange) should be avoided because of the high content of resins, oils and phenols that are toxic for chinchillas. Birch, willow, apple tree, manzanita or kiln-dried pine are all safe woods for chinchillas to chew. The chinchilla lacks the ability to sweat; therefore, if temperatures get above 25°C (80°F), the chinchilla could get overheated and may suffer from heat stroke. Chinchillas dissipate heat by routing blood to their large ears, so red ears signal overheating.

Chinchillas can be found in a variety of colors. The only color found in nature is standard gray. The most common other colors are white, black velvet, beige, ebony, violet, sapphire and hybrids of these.
The animals instinctively clean their fur by taking dust baths, in which they roll around in special chinchilla dust made of fine pumice. In the wild their dust is formed from fine ground volcanic rocks. The dust gets into their fur and absorbs oil and dirt. These baths are needed a few times a week. Chinchillas do not bathe in water because the dense fur prevents air-drying, retaining moisture close to the skin, which can cause fungus growth or fur rot. A wet chinchilla must be dried immediately with towels and a no-heat hair dryer. The fur is so thick that it resists parasites such as fleas. The fur also reduces loose dander, making chinchillas hypo-allergenic
Chinchillas eat and digest desert grasses and cannot efficiently process fatty foods, high protein foods, or too many green plants. A high quality, hay-based pellet and a constant supply of loose timothy hay will sufficiently meet all of their dietary needs. Chinchillas have very sensitive GI tracts that can be easily disrupted so it is important to maintain them on a healthy diet.  Avoid chinchilla feed that includes a mixture; chinchillas may avoid the healthy high fiber pellets in favor of items like raisins and seeds. Fresh vegetables and fruit (with high moisture content) should be avoided as these can cause bloat in a chinchilla, which can be fatal. Sweets and dried fruit treats should be limited to one per day, at the very most. Chinchillas also eat and drink in very small amounts. This can lead to diarrhea, or in the long term, diabetes. Nuts should be avoided due to their high fat content. High protein foods and alfalfa hay can cause liver problems and should be limited.
The fur industry is what truly disgusts me about chinchillas. It takes about 150 chinchillas to make one coat. Chinchillas are bred on farms purposely to become clothing for people who could care less about anyone but themselves. They are treated inhumanely. People who wear fur are selfish, heartless, unconcerned, and ignorant human beings. If you had any previous indifferent thoughts about fur or chinchilla fur for coats in particular, perhaps this video from PETA will help change your mind:

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