Diet of Wild Chinchillas

Impressions directly out of the reserve

Actual (main) habitat:

Miscellaneous about eating behaviour

Chinchillas feed on a wide variety of plants in their native land. According to a study of A. Cortes et al. (2002) it's proven that they use at least more than the half of the flora growing in their area as nourishment. Primarily is the grass family (Gramineae) Nasella chilensis (= a sweet grass sort) in use as main food component. Furthermore on the basis of their excrements ascertained plant matter is composed of succulents (water storing plants), other sorts of grass, several bushes and herb plants as well as roughly 1% seeds.

The examination of the food behaviour of the chinchilla shows, that this is not only strong variable during the different seasons, but also variing during different years. Thus, it shows that in years with higher rainfalls, herbs were the main part of their preferred nourishment, followed by shrubs and bushes.
In moist years the range of available plants comprises ca. 21 different types of plants.
In the milder seasons with more rainfall (winter) chinchillas nourish more with fresh food, contrary to dry summers, in which more withered food will be taken to them.

One can assume with high certainty that the richness of all the plants, eaten by chinchillas, is far bigger than assumed. It has to be noted, that some of the plant fibers and other plant matter found in the excrements of the wild living chinchillas of the study of Cortes couldn't be identified.
AND: The study refers only to those wild chinchillas living in the national chinchilla reserve, which was be built to serve them from eradication in the wild. Earlier, primary habitats were left out of consideration in this study.
One more problem can be found in the structure of plants: While fruits and seeds can be almost complete digested and therefore nearly can't be proven in excrements, other plants are overrepresented because of their higher nondigestible fiber content. So mentioned Sierra (1979) a preference of the wild chinchillas for fruits, which couldn't be confirmed in Cortes' study because of the mentioned difficulty.

All in all chinchillas are regarded as food generalists which are enormously able to adapt to the given flora, respectively the given food supply.

The following findings of investigations would explain why the food behaviour so heavily depends from the seasons.

Some plants wich are consumed by free living chinchillas were evaluated to their nutrients.
So have Heliotropium stenophyllum with 19,70% of their dry matter, Flourensia thurifera 13.21% and Bacharis linearis during the fall season the highest content of calcium and phosphorus.
Bridgesia incisaefolia shows from fall till spring the highest amount of calcium and phosphorus. The highest content of protein was ascertained in the Coria decandra and the Liagunoa glandulosa from springtime to fall. Ephedra andina and Cordia decandra are showing in springtime and in fall the highest amount of calcium. Lobelia polyphylla Hook et Am. and Flourensia thurifera are reaching their highest content of phosphorus in fall. S. incisaefolia and Lobelia polyphylla Hook et Am, reach 57,4 and 56,37% plant fibers respectively certain acids. Nassella chilensis and Stipa plumosa have the highest amount of plant fibers.
A decrease of cellulose and lignin (that's an organic matter which is enclosed inside the cell wall and causing the lignification of the cell) was recognized for most of all plants in springtime.

These seasonal fluctuations could contribute to cause the chinchillas to prefer certain different plants during the different seasons to cover all their needs in nutrients.


Secure food plants

A selection of plants, which are according to studies (Cortes, Serra, Silva) safe as nourishment for chinchillas. With a click you can reach to the pictures of the respective plant.


Many thanks to for providing to the pictures.

  • Nassella chilensis - sweet gras
  • Stipa plumosa Trin. - sweet gras:

Further possible foodplants

In the area of the "chinchilla national reserve" are growing not only plants which are documented in both studies but some more. Hence it can by no means be excluded that wild chinchillas also nourish from one or the other of the following plants.

Because chinchilas are food generalists, one has to assume, that much of these plants are served as nutrients:

(c) Authors: D. Jünemann und A. Handermann