Are Chinchillas Nocturnal Or Diurnal? Their Sleep Behavior Explained

Chinchilla (Chinchilla Lanigera) - standing against white background
© Dmytro Leschenko/Shutterstock.com

Written by Janet F. Murray

Published: October 25, 2022

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Animal lovers are particularly fond of keeping chinchillas as pets because they are soft, cute, and cuddly. Chinchillas are wild animals native to the Andes Mountains in South America. These mammals have thick fur and have been extensively hunted for their pelts and, in many cases, still are. Besides this background, chinchillas sleep for over half the day and wake up to feed before returning to sleep. But are chinchillas nocturnal or diurnal? Or something else? We explore their sleep behavior and reveal whether chinchillas are nocturnal or diurnal.

Chinchillas are Crepuscular

Species Of Mammals

In the wild chinchillas live in the Andes Mountains and exhibit crepuscular behavior, so are not nocturnal.

©iStock.com/alkir

Chinchillas are not nocturnal or diurnal, but are crepuscular. Crepuscular originates from the Latin word crepusculum, which generally means twilight. In zoological terms, it refers to any animal or species active in the twilight periods at dawn or dusk.

This crepuscular behavior differs from diurnal and nocturnal animals, which are active during daylight hours or the dark hours of the night. Despite being most active at dawn or dusk, crepuscular animals will also go out on dark cloudy days when the clouds block the light of the sun. Similarly, these animals will venture out on nights when a bright moon, full moon, or new moon lightens the night.

Animals are crepuscular because of the high predatory activity in their environment, or if they cannot handle day or night weather conditions and temperatures. Most predators hunt at night or during the day, which is why many animal species have adopted twilight habits to protect themselves and their populations from danger. This is why chinchillas are crepuscular.

The Sleep Schedule of the Chinchilla

Chinchillas sleep for 12 to 16 hours every day even though they are not nocturnal. They usually sleep with their eyes open and prefer sleeping in hammocks if domesticated. A hammock is a good option for providing sleeping comfort and protection from light.

Chinchilla Sleeping Behavior

Chinchillas often sleep on their feet with their face pointed downwards.

©ChrisStubbs / Creative Commons – Original / License

Chinchillas often choose to sleep on their feet with their face pointed downward. The ears are also tilted downward with the rest of the body. Although they are asleep, chinchillas are alert when and will wake up if noises disturb them. Besides, they tend to move around a lot and make noises in their sleep.

Sometimes, these tiny crepuscular chinchillas even sleep with their eyes open. The iris will be completely closed, but light cannot enter the eye. Chinchillas may not notice if you move your finger in front of their eyes, but they will wake up as soon as they hear any noise inside the cage.

Some chinchillas sleep on their side, which is perfectly normal. If your chinchilla takes nocturnal or diurnal naps on its side, there are four possible causes: it is pregnant, tired after exercising, too hot, or enjoys sleeping on its side. Sleeping on their sides may indicate that they are relaxed and content. But, if this is uncommon for your chinchilla, you may want to observe its behavior and take it to the vet for a check-up if other symptoms indicate a health issue.

Chinchillas Need to Sleep for Long Periods

Although chinchillas are crepuscular, scientists have found that neither the length of the daily sleep cycle nor the length of total sleep is affected by the likelihood of predators. Chinchillas are small mammals and need to eat small amounts constantly.

Because of this, their daytime or nighttime sleep is interrupted because they have to wake up to eat. This sleep interruption is why owners often see their chinchillas wake up, eat their food, and go back to sleep. This sleep pattern also means that chinchillas need more sleep overall. Their sleep pattern is because they probably cannot fully rest and recover in a short period before having to wake up and eat again.

Nocturnal Chatterboxes

Chinchilla (Chinchilla Lanigera) - standing against white background

Chinchillas are noisy chatterboxes during the night.

©Dmytro Leschenko/Shutterstock.com

Chinchillas are active at night and in the early morning. And these tiny nocturnal chinchillas are noisy at night, like hamsters and other rodents. They often make noises when they are excited, upset, or frightened and clench their teeth when happy.

Chinchillas make barking sounds when agitated or threatened, which they direct at the aggressor or threat. These calls, as well as spitting, serve as defensive warnings. But when these cuddly nocturnal chinchillas are excited, they express this behavior with non-stop squeaking. When they cry out loud it usually means they are in pain or experiencing stress.

Chinchillas are More Active at Dusk

Chinchillas are active in the early mornings and sleep during the day. But they become active at dusk. Once it becomes dusk, chinchillas reach their peak activity. Researchers confirm that chinchillas are the busiest between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. A study found that this is when chinchillas eat 70% of their daily food intake. 

In the wild, chinchillas socialize with other members of their herd as they are social animals. Owners should let them outside their cages to play and exercise if they are domesticated. This type of exercise can help your chinchilla stay fit. It is essential for their well-being to exercise regularly and get enough rest. You can also provide them with wooden toys, wheels, and hanging chew balls to help keep their teeth healthy.

Domesticated Chinchillas have Specific Housing Requirements

toys for chinchillas

Chinchillas need a large enough cage with enough stimulation to be happy and healthy.

©kesterhu/Shutterstock.com

Chinchillas need a large cage in which to live and sleep. Owners should buy a cage that has been designed specifically for these animals. Pet owners should ensure they provide them with shredded newspaper or hardwood shavings for comfortable bedding. Avoid placing cedar or pine shavings in their cage, as these mediums can cause skin and respiratory problems.

Climbing and jumping are one of their favorite exercise methods, so they need enclosures with different levels and climbing accessories. Chinchillas love company, so consider getting two, as socializing with their own species supports their health and happiness.

Owners can try and change their sleeping patterns by using lighting. The ideal lighting mimics natural daylight, which pet owners can use on a 12-hour dark/light cycle. These lights should not add heat to the cage, as nocturnal chinchillas are heat-sensitive.

The optimum environmental temperature for chinchillas is a humidity of 50% or less and a temperature between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They may suffer health issues if the temperature is higher than 80 degrees. Owners should also never put the cage in direct sunlight as this may be too hot for the chinchilla.

Long and Short-Tailed Chinchillas Are Endangered

Both the long and short-tailed chinchillas are on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This listing means that these animals are not extinct but are under threat of becoming extinct. Threats to chinchilla survival include people hunting them for their fur and meat, habitat loss, and the pet trade. More recent threats in South America (Chile) included gold mining, which disrupts their natural habitat. Before purchasing one of these beautiful creatures as a pet, remember that they are close to becoming extinct.

Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference?

Navigate to Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference? for further information about the nocturnal and diurnal phenomenon in various living creatures.

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

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