Helping you care for your chinnie

Costina and La Plata chinchillas

Some of this will be old news. I’ll try to explain the difference and how breeders use it.

A Chinchilla Lanigera is a Chinchilla Lanigera, just like a dog is a dog. You get different breeds of dogs but a dog + a dog gives you more dogs. You have a Jack Russel and a Staffie. They have babies. The babies are all dogs. They will just have qualities of both parents. Some will look more like the Staffie and some more like the Jack Russel. The Jack Russel is the Costina chinchilla and the Staffie the La Plata. Not the best example because Staffies are also busy but look at it this way. The Jack Russel is small, skinny and hyperactive. It has big ears and a pointy face. The Staffy is bigger, have much more “body”, is more relaxed, have smaller ears and a flatter face.

In nature the Costina chinnie is a prolific breeder and the La Plata breeds slower. The “rat” like chinnies are Costina and the round fluffy ones are La Plata. When breeders started setting show standards they too the La Plata qualities. Breeders breeding for shows try to improve on this. A long nose and a thin body doesn’t fit into this. A round body and flat face does.

Good Costina with big ears

Good Costina with big ears

When you research way back to when the first literature of chinnies was written you will notice that they do not look the same as many do today. They also do not weigh the same. I read a lot of scientific research papers written in the 1960′s and 70′s. The average weight of a healthy male chinnie was between 400-500g and for a female the average weight was between 550 and 600g. This was perfectly normal. The average healthy weight for newborn babies was 45-50g, depending on litter size.

Today people frown on it if you breed with a male that is less than 500g and a female that is less than 700g. I do not agree with this but it must be seen as a whole picture. Over the years breeders systematically bred La Plata qualities into all their chinchillas. They kept back the bigger ones and only bred with them. Now it is nothing strange to find males of 800g and females of over 900g. These chinnies are pure La Plata and have been bred rounder and heavier.

This didn’t happen in South Africa till about 10 years ago. It still doesn’t happen on fur farms. On fur farms the average weight for a male is still 400-500g and for a female it is still 550g to 650g. They don’t want it to change. The reason? They get a lot less babies. The original chinchillas in South Africa were ll imported for fur farming roughly somewhere after World War 2. There is no literature on this because it was kept quiet. I estimated the date on information from people who’s parents were actually fur farmers. When sanctions hit us hard in the 1980′s there was no market for pelts from SA anymore so it stopped. The chinchillas that were left alive became pets.

Pet chinnies in SA can be traced back to the late 1990′s. People started importing in about 2005 and still are. The imported chinnies were La Plata. They were bred with the “local” chinnies which were either Costina or a mix between Costina and La Plata. I have a few of those original La Plata that was imported. I also have Costina that was imported later. When we imported I asked for “herd improvement” chinnies, not show quality. There is too much La Plata in show quality.

Costina are better breeders, have more babies and care for the babies better. This is why there are so many Costinas in SA. Because people didn’t know the show qualities it didn’t matter. Now it matters because people see it on the internet and at breeders who do it right. What they don’t see is how the breeders breed. They also do not see the statistics on who gives what babies and how many. Or how many are raised successfully. I spoke about why people breed. Those who breed for shows will be happy to get 2 special babies a year from a mother if they win shows. My Violet La Plata gives babies once a year, twice in 3 years if I am lucky. She is just too much La Plata.

The breeders mix them. By pairing a Costina and a La Plata you can get La Plata babies, Costina babies and a mix. The La Plata and mixed babies paired with another of the same is what gives you the round fluffy babies. You will get away with this for 2 or 3 generations, then you will start breeding babies that will just give babies less often. The good breeders breed back to Costina. This way they keep the looks of La Plata and the breeding abilities of Costina. It is all in maintaining a balance. Most of my chinnies that gives the round fluffy babies are either La Plata + La Plata/Costina mix, Mix+Mix or La Plata + Costina. I do not pair Costina + Costina unless there are qualities I can enhance.

People go too much on size. A healthy, fit and busy Costina girl that weighs 550g will breed better and raise her babies better than a fat inactive 800g La Plata. There will be less stillborn babies and more will reach adulthood. Off course a 400g female that can barely walk because she is underfed is not a breeding chinnie. Then everything must be in proportion. You must look at the characteristics and overall healthy. Then you add all the other qualities. For you to breed good babies the best is to pair 2 La Plata from mixed parents or a La Plata and a “mix” ora La Plata and a Costina. Nothing wrong with pairing 2 Costina, you will just get Costina babies. If they have La Plata genes in their history you can even get lucky.

The characteristics of the Costina


The Costina have large ears, a pointy face, a “V” in the neck, a long and thin body (in proportion) and is smaller than the La Plata. It looks more like a jet plane than a bus.

Costina chinchilla

Characteristics of the La Plata


The La Plata has small ears, a flat face, a more stocky body and is bigger. There is no “V” in the neck. It is built like a fluffy bus instead of a jet plane. I reckon a Costina will be a sports car and a La Plata a minibus. Just add fur.

La plata