Diet of Wild Chinchillas

Impressions straight from the reserve

Current (main) habitat:

Study by Cortes et al. (2002)

General information about feeding behavior

In their native habitat chinchillas feed on a variety of plants. According to the study by A. Cortes et al. (2002), they have been proven to utilize at least over half of the flora growing in their area as food. Primarily, the grass species Nasella chilensis (sweet grass) is used as a main food component. Other plant material identified through feces analysis includes succulents (i.e., water-storing plants), other grasses, various shrubs and herbaceous plants, as well as a small amount of seeds (0-4%).


The examination of chinchilla feeding behavior reveals that it varies not only significantly between different seasons and locations but also from year to year. For instance, in years with high rainfall, herbs constitute the majority of their preferred diet, followed by shrubs and bushes. In wetter years, there is a range of approximately 21 different plant species available. During more rainy, mild seasons (winter), chinchillas consume more fresh food compared to dry summers when they consume more dried plant material and seeds.


It can be reasonably assumed that the variety of plants consumed by chinchillas is much greater than originally thought. It should be noted that in Cortes' study, some plant fibers and other plant material found in the feces of wild chinchillas could not be identified. Additionally, the study focused solely on wild chinchillas living in the national Chinchilla Reserve, which was established to protect chinchillas from extinction in the wild. Earlier original habitats and other current habitats were not considered in the study. Another issue lies in the structure of the plants: while fruits and seeds can be almost completely digested and are therefore hardly detectable in the feces, other plant organs are overrepresented in feces due to their higher indigestible fiber content. For example, Serra (1979) mentions a preference of wild chinchillas for fruits, which could not be confirmed in the Cortes feces study due to the aforementioned difficulty in identification.


Overall, chinchillas are considered dietary generalists, as evidenced by all the previous studies, due to their remarkable ability to adapt to the available flora or the given food supply.


The following research findings could explain why their feeding behavior is strongly influenced by the seasons.


Some plants consumed by wild chinchillas have been analyzed for their nutrient content. For instance, Heliotropium stenophyllum has the highest calcium and phosphorus content in the fall months, with 19.79% of dry matter, while Flourensia thurifera has 13.21%. Bacharis linearis also exhibits the highest levels of calcium and phosphorus from fall to spring. The highest protein content was observed in Cordia decandra and Liagunoa glandulosa from spring to fall. Ephedra andina and Cordia decandra show the highest calcium levels in spring and fall. Lobelia polyphylla Hook et Am. and Flourensia thurifera reach their highest phosphorus content in the fall. S. incisaefolia and Lobelia polyphylla Hook et Am. contain 57.4% and 56.37% plant fibers or specific acids, respectively. The highest content of plant fibers is found in Nassella chilensis and Stipa plumosa. A decrease in cellulose and lignin (an organic substance that accumulates in the cell wall and contributes to cell hardening) was observed in most species during the spring.


These fluctuations in specific ingredients may prompt chinchillas to preferentially feed on various plants during different seasons to meet their nutritional needs.


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

Overview of the forage plants identified by Cortes et al.



Native and scientific name   Rainy Year*   Dry Year*
Astephanus geminiflorus   4   -
Cordia decandra   3   -
Heliotropium stenophyllum   1, 3, 4   1, 4
Lobelia polyphylla   1, 2, 3, 4   1
Proustia cuneifolia   1, 4   1, 2, 4
Ephedra andina   3   3
Colliguaja odorifera   1, 2   1, 2
Adesmia microphylla   3, 4   -
Bridgesia incisifolia   4   1, 2, 3, 4
Lycium chilense   2   1, 2
Porlieria chilensis   2, 4   1, 2, 3, 4

* 1: Winter, 2: Spring, 3: Summer, 4: Autumn


Herbs and Grasses:

Native and Scientific Name   Rainy Year*   Dry Year*
Adiantum chilense   2, 4   -
Rhodophiala phycelloides   1, 2   -
Moscharia pinnatifida   2   -
Erodium sp.   1, 2   -
Nassella chilensis   1, 2, 3, 4   1, 2, 3, 4
Pleurophora pucilla   2   -
Oxalis carnosa   1, 2, 4   1
Alium laciniatum   2   -
Glandularia sulphurea   2   -

* 1: Winter, 2: Spring, 3: Summer, 4: Autumn



Native und Scientific Name   Rainy Year*   Dry Year*
Puya berteroniana   1, 2, 4   1, 2, 3, 4

* 1: Winter, 2: Spring, 3: Summer, 4: Autumn


Study by Jiménez (1990)

Jiménez conducted a study from 1987 to 1988 to identify forage plants in the Chinchilla National Reserve. The diet varied significantly within seasons and locations, with between 6 and 12 different forage plant species identified.

In a preference test, Jiménez also offered 31 plants to the chinchillas. Eight shrubs that had been used as forage in other studies (Serra (1979) and Cortés et al. (2002)) were rejected by the animals, while 56.5% of the other 23 plant species were consumed.

Chinchillas showed a preference for Pasithaea coerulea and Nassella chilensis as their preferred food.


Study by Mohlis (1983)

Native and Scientific Name   Eaten Plant Part   Season*
Rumpiato (Bridgesia incisaefolia)   Seeds   4
Carbonillo (Cordia decandra)   Seeds   1,3,4
Renilla (Calandrinia grandiflora)   Leaves   2,3
Pingo pingo (Ephedra andina)   Stems   1,2,3,4
Maravilla del Campo (Flourensia thurifera)   Leaves   3,4
Monte negro (Gutierrezia paniculata)   Leaves   1,3,4
Cebellin (Leucocoryne purpurea)   Leaves, Roots   1,2
Pasto rey (Nasella chilensis)   Leaves, Stems, Seeds   1,2,3,4
Doradilla (Notholaena mollis)   Leaves   3,4
Gratitos (Opuntia spp.)   Roots   1,3
Olivillo del Norte (Proustia baccharoides)   Leaves, Stems   1,4
Cardon (Puya berteroniana)   Leaves   1,2,3,4
Quisco del cerro (Trichocereus chiloensis)   Roots


Quiscaruo (Trichocereus coquimbensis)   Fruit                                      3,4

* 1: Winter, 2: Spring, 3: Summer, 4: Autumn


Studie von Serra (1979)

Native and Scientific Name   Saison*
Michay (Berberis glomerata)   2
Rumpiato (Bridgesia incisifolia)   4
Carboncillo (Cordia decandra)   1,2,3,4
Para cimarrona (Dioscorea humifusa)   4
Pingo pingo (Ephedra chilensis)   4
Inciento (Flourensia thurifera)   1,4
Tupa (Lobelia polyphylla)   4
Atutemo (Llagunoa glandulosa)   1,2,4
Coironcillo (Nassella chilensis)   1,2,4
Dorodilla (Cheilanthes mollis)   3,4
Chuerco (Oxalis gigantea)   4
Proustia ilicifolia   3,4
Puya (Puya berteroniana)   1,2,3,4
Colihuillo (Jarava plumosula)   1,2,3,4
Copao (Echinopsis coquimbana)   3,4

* 1: Winter, 2: Spring, 3: Summer, 4: Autmn


Pictures of the identified forage plants


Many thanks to for providing to the pictures.

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

Additional potential forage plants

In the area of the 'Chinchilla National Reserve,' not only the documented plants from the studies grow but also several others. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that wild chinchillas may feed on some of the plants listed below, simply because they were not clearly identified in the feces in this study.

Because chinchillas are dietary generalists, we can assume that a portion of these plants is also consumed by the animals:

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


  • Cortés, A et al (2002): Seasonal food habits of the endangered long-tailed chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera): the effect of precipitation. Mammalian Biology 67: 167-175.
  • Jiménez, J. (1990): Bases biológicas para la conservación y el manejo de la chinchilla chilena silvestre. Proyecto conservación de la chinchilla chilena (Chinchilla lanigera). CONAF-WWF 1297. Final Report, März 1987-Februar 1990. CONAF IV Región, Chile.
  • Mohlis, C. (1983): Información preliminar sobre la conservatión y manejo de la chinchilla silvestre en Chile. Boletín Técnico No. 3. Corporación Nacional Forestal, Santiago. 41 pp. - siehe unter
  • Nazarit, C. (1912): El agotamiento de la chinchilla y de la algarrobilla. Boletín de bosques, pesca, y caza 1: 403-406.
  • Serra, M.T. (1979): Composición botánica y variación estacional de la alimentación de Chinchilla linigera en condiciones naturales. Ciencias Forestales 1(4): 11-18. - Abstract