Also called cavies, guinea pigs are domesticated rodents with compact, tubular bodies. There are 13 recognized breeds with various hair colors, textures, patterns and sheen.
Where They Live
Guinea pigs originated in the mountains and grasslands of north and west South America.
What They Eat
While their wild cousins eat grasses, pet guinea pigs are typically fed vegetables, fruits, and pellets made from hay, vitamins and minerals. In order to get as much nutrition as possible from their diet, they will sometimes eat their own feces.
What They Do
With peak activity periods at dawn and dusk, guinea pigs are social animals that spend most of their time grooming, eating and exploring their environment. Like other rodents, their teeth grow continuously, so they chew or gnaw constantly.
How They’re Doing
Cavia porcellus no longer exist in the wild. Globally, domestic guinea pigs are kept as pets, research lab animals, and as show animals. In some parts of the world, they are used in religious ceremonies, traditional medicines, or served as food.
- No one is certain how Guinea pigs got their name, but they’re not related to pigs. It might be due to the squeaks they make, that they tasted like pigs to early Europeans, or that they traveled on ships through Guinea.
- Borrowing from “pig” language, a female guinea pig is called a sow and a male is a boar. But instead of being called a piglet, a baby is a known as a pup.
- There’s a reason we refer to human testers as “guinea pigs.” For the last 200 years, guinea pigs have been used as lab animals that helped doctors learn about tuberculosis and even human pregnancy. Guinea pigs were essential to the discovery of Vitamin C in 1907. Like humans, they need to get it from their diet.
- Guinea pigs prefer the company of others, communicate through noises and body language, and groom each other socially. They also bond well with people, which makes them popular pets.
- A guinea pig expresses excitement in rapid, small hops—a move called “popcorning.”
- Guinea pigs were domesticated by the Inca, primarily for food, over 3,000 years ago. While their cousins may still be found in the wild, there is no such thing as a wild guinea pig.
- Guinea pig is a popular dish throughout some parts of South America. You can identify it as “cuy” on the menu.