Chinchillas originate from a dry, harsh environment where only the most persistent steppe vegetation can survive. This gives rise to the difficulty of them finding something to eat while avoiding their predators. In this post we will tell you exactly what chinchillas eat when they are in the wild.
Chinchillas eat a mixture of plants and meat, which makes them omnivores. Not only do they eat grass, leaves, seeds, nuts, berries and flowers, they also feed on small insects and bird eggs when they have a chance to.
A wild chinchilla’s diet is quite different from that of a domesticated chinchilla’s, but the nutritional needs remain the same for both. They need high fiber, low sugar, low carb and low fat foods. Lets take a closer look at what’s on the menu for a wild chinchilla.
The Types of Wild Food
Grass and leaves
Since chinchillas mostly feed on grass and leaves in the wild relying on the high fiber content of these plants, it comes to no surprise that domesticated chinchilla’s diet is mostly based on hay, which is also high in fiber. Another favorite among chinchillas are succulents, which are a rich water source and are available all around the year. On the other hand eating dry twigs, bark and “woody” plants helps chinchillas grind down their teeth and it aids their digestive system by helping the passage of foods through the intestines allowing proper digestion.
A natural replacement to this kind of diet, for your pet chinchilla would be a good quality loose hay brand, preferably Timothy hay that is a wide favorite among pet chinchilla owners.
Seeds and nuts
Proper nutrition is very important to chinchillas, this is one of the reasons that pet chinchillas live up to 20 years whereas wild chinchillas live up to just 10 years. Other reasons for a shorter life span of wild chinchillas is that they become prey to various predators and succumb to different climatic conditions.
In the wild chinchillas are able to find foods like nuts and seeds that would complement their grass diet but these kinds of foods come with added fats and sugars. These added fats and sugars are not favorable in a long-term diet as they can disrupt the digestive system of a wild chinchilla and cause and imbalance. For this reason, you should offer your pet chinchilla grass pellets, which will provide extra nutrition without any added risks, which exist in the wild.
Choose high quality, hay based pellets food like this one from Exotic Nutrition:
Berries and flowers
Living in harsh conditions has left a mark in the genes of our pet chinchillas. Since food is hard to find in the wild, chinchillas did not stray away from eating fruits, berries and other snacks that are high in sugar and carbs, which would raise their energy level and help them survive another day. Although sugary and fatty foods are bad even for wild chinchillas, these foods are packed with energy and sometimes they would make the difference between life and death considering the scarcity of the foods available in the Andes region, which chinchillas occupy.
Depending on the season, chinchillas in the wild would also come across different types of flowers from leafy plants and cacti. These flowers would provide necessary hydration and serve as a yummy treat.
This is why your pet goes crazy over sweets and flowers, as they are addictive and delicious. The most common treats given to chinchillas are fresh and dried fruits but there are actually very healthy alternatives, which your pet will definitely enjoy and will be able to consume without any risks, like rose hips.
Bird eggs and insects
You may not know this yet, but chinchillas climb trees very well!
Although not their favorite things to eat, chinchillas also lay their hands on some meat in the wild such as insects and bird eggs whenever they climb trees. These provide chinchillas with the much required proteins, fats, as well as vitamin A and B12.
They don’t always get to find eggs in the wild, just like there may not always be nice plants to chew on. So chinchillas will have to make do with whatever they can find. After all, beggars can’t be choosers.
Chinchillas are Gourmets of the wild
Whether we are talking about wild or domesticated chinchillas, you will notice that they are real gourmets, they take their food and hold it with their forefeet slowly nibbling on it and savoring each bite, munching on that piece of grass as if it is the most succulent thing ever. On the other hand, when it comes to treats like nuts and berries – all chinnies will swallow those up within a heartbeat.
Chinchillas in the wild do not crave sweets nor do they base their diet on them, as we know grasses and plants make up the majority of what they eat and in the same way, your pet chinchilla is happy eating hay and munching on pelleted food.
Considering the environment from which chinchillas come from, it is safe to say that they have had a long journey of adapting to unfavorable living conditions and surviving with minimal resources, which makes them a resilient species and even better pets.
Scarcity of Food
Chinchillas originate from a dry, harsh environment where they have developed some impressive survival skills ranging from multiple defense strategies to surviving in one of the harshest environments known to men.
Because of the cold winds and high altitudes the plants have developed in different ways to ensure their survival like growing pressed to the ground and forming dense vegetation mats and others have developed anti-herbivore defense mechanism which means they frequently have spines or hard “woody“ stems.
Chinchillas have adapted to eating these kinds of plants and calling this place home. Evolving with the plants, chinchilla’s digestive system is designed to metabolize foods slowly, extracting as much water and nutrients as it can from high fiber plants. These plants offer a very low amount of water and in order to stay hydrated chinchillas drink the dew off of rocks and shrubs at dawn.
Another interesting fact is since chinchillas live in herds and it takes them time to feed on chewy grasses there would usually have one designated chinchilla that will be on the look-out while the others feed, he would keep an eye out for predators making sure it’s buddies are safe!