For a long time, it was thought that chinchillas couldn’t see colors at all. But recent research has shown that this is not true. What colors can chinchillas see? Are chinchillas color blind?
Chinchillas are color blind by human standards. They mainly have only two types of cone cells in their eyes, so they can perceive fewer colors than humans. Until recently, it was thought that chinchillas could not see colors at all. But they have very good ears and a very good sense of smell. And with their tactile hairs, they can perceive their immediate surroundings very well even at night.
As nocturnal animals, chinchillas rely less on their sense of sight than on other senses. That’s why they don’t need as good a sense of sight as humans, for example.
Let’s first take a look at what color blindness is in the first place. Then we will go into color blindness in chinchillas and also explain what colors they can see.
After that, we will also tell you whether chinchillas can see well in general or not. And we discuss the other senses in chinchillas and see how well they work.
Table of Contents
What Exactly is Color Blindness?
The National Eye Institute of the US National Institutes for Health defines color blindness as a deviation of a person’s color vision from the average.
The deviation can be in the perception of different colors, the brightness of colors, or the shades of colors. In general, color blindness refers to humans.
But we also speak of color blindness in animals if they cannot see at least the same color spectrum as humans. And this is indeed the case with many animals.
Other animals, on the other hand, can see even more colors than humans because they also have receptors for ultraviolet light. So the animal world is very different, and each species has developed its senses as it needs them.
Color vision is made possible by certain cells called cone cells in the eye. Humans have three different types of cone cells, one each for short-wave (blue), medium-wave (green), and long-wave (red) light.
When a person is color blind, one or more of these cone cell types is impaired. However, in animals called color blind, it is the case that they have fewer types of cone cells.
There are animals completely without cone cells, these can only distinguish light and dark. There are also animals that have only 1 or 2 types of cone cells. These either can’t distinguish colors, or see like it is the case with people with red-green blindness.
Are Chinchillas Color Blind?
It was only recently discovered that chinchillas have cone cells at all. Previously, the experts were of the opinion that chinchillas do not have cone cells and therefore cannot perceive colors at all.
However, experiments have shown that chinchillas, unlike most rodents, have three types of cone cells. This means that they can perceive and distinguish colors.
However, two of the cone cell types are significantly more abundant, and the third, which is responsible for short-wave, or blue, light, is significantly less abundant.
It can therefore be assumed that chinchillas perceive color differences only to a limited extent compared to humans. But it is still better than not seeing any colors at all, as it was assumed until recently in chinchillas.
What Colors Can Chinchillas See?
It is not certain which colors chinchillas can and cannot see. In the above study, it was found that chinchillas have cone cells for red, green, and blue color.
The cone cells for red and green color are significantly more present than those for blue color. Therefore, it can be assumed that chinchillas probably cannot see blue as well.
In dogs, they can see red well, but cannot distinguish green and yellow well. Other rodents can distinguish green and yellow well, but not red.
So it is unclear how exactly color blindness affects chinchillas. That there are effects, however, is very likely.
How Well Can Chinchillas See?
As nocturnal animals, chinchillas have relatively large eyes in order to be able to take in a lot of the little light even in poor lighting conditions. Their eyes are located on the side of the head, so they have a very good all-around view.
This is an important feature for flight animals. With a wide field of vision, they are able to perceive predators sneaking up on them from many different angles.
However, chinchillas are poor at estimating distances. Spatial vision is not one of their strengths. They tend to use their eyes to perceive movements that indicate danger.
Even though chinchillas actually have cone cells, their eyes have mainly rod cells. The rod cells ensure that they can still see well in low light conditions.
They are still able to perceive movement in their field of vision at dusk or at night in the dim moonlight. Of course, they don’t see them sharply and in full color, but that’s not the point. Vision serves them as a warning against predators, and the perception of movement is enough for that.
For orientation, chinchillas use their other, better-developed sense organs.
How Good Are Other Sensory Organs in Chinchillas?
Even though the eyes of chinchillas have more to offer than long thought, vision is still not their most important sense. Like many other nocturnal animals, they use their other senses to orient themselves, find food and detect predators in time.
Let’s take a closer look at the other senses of chinchillas.
Chinchillas Sense of Smell
Chinchillas have a very good sense of smell. They orientate themselves very strongly on smells and also communicate with conspecifics via smells.
For example, they use odors to mark their territory. Other chinchillas can perceive these territory markings and know that someone already lives here.
The sense of smell is also used to detect readiness to mate. Female chinchillas emit pheromones when they are in heat, which male chinchillas can sense.
But they can also detect and locate food with their good sense of smell. They can also detect with their nose when food is pre-spoiled. In this they are far ahead of humans, they perceive odors that are not recognizable to us.
Another sense that is very well developed in chinchillas is hearing. Chinchillas can hear much better than humans and also perceive a wider frequency spectrum.
Chinchillas can hear sounds between 50 Hz and 33 kHz. This is above the range perceived by humans, which ends at 20 kHz, but is not as pronounced as in other rodents. Guinea pigs, for example, can even hear up to 52 kHz.
Due to their large ears, which they can also direct towards a sound source, they are well able to recognize the exact origin of a sound. In this respect, they are also superior to us.
But chinchillas can do much more. In laboratory studies, it was found that chinchillas can even distinguish human speech sounds. They are able to distinguish an “a” from an “i”, and even a “t” from a “d”.
Chinchillas Sense of Touch
The sense of touch in chinchillas works through the long tactile hairs that they have on their snout. With these 2 to 4 inch long tactile hairs they compensate for their deficits in vision, at least at close range.
They sniff at objects in the proximity and perceive these thereby both over the smell and over the Tasthaare. The hairs are constantly moving to detect as much as possible in their immediate environment.
This allows them to assess their direct surroundings very well, even at night.
Chinchillas Sense of Taste
Chinchillas eat everything, even things that are not good for them. This includes candy, wallpaper, painted furniture, and anything else that gets in their way.
However, they are very picky when it comes to choosing their food. They like to pick their favorite straws out of the hay first. Sometimes they also bite their pellets and then just take a new one. After all, the other pellet might taste better.
Conclusion: Are Chinchillas Color Blind?
Chinchillas are color blind by human standards. They probably can’t distinguish all colors the way humans can.
They have 3 different types of cone cells, but those for blue light are not as distinct as the other two.
Probably chinchillas cannot perceive the blue color as well as we do. But it is also likely that they cannot distinguish either red or green and yellow well either.
Like many other nocturnal animals, chinchillas rely more on their good hearing and sense of smell. Both are very well developed and allow them to perceive their surroundings.