Guinea pigs, also known as “cavies,” are part of the rodent order and belong to the family Caviidae, which contains fourteen species. Guinea pigs are by definition domestic and are descended from wild cavies in South America. They were domesticated for meat and fur thousands of years ago in South America and began to be imported to Europe in the sixteenth century. There are still wild cavies in South America, but the domestic guinea pig is considered a separate species.
Wild cavies live in big family groups in grassland areas of Central and South America. Guinea pigs in captivity usually get along very well with other guinea pigs, including groups of males.
Guinea pigs are herbivores. They eat mostly grains with small amounts of greens and produce. They cannot produce their own vitamin C so need to get it from food—kale, oranges, strawberries, and parsley are good sources. They have a large stomach and can spend up to six hours per day eating.
Guinea pigs can live up to ten years, but average is five or six.
Did you know?
- The name “guinea pig” is said to have come from the English coin known as a guinea and their habit of squealing like pigs. The first guinea pigs were expensive, costing one guinea per animal (about the equivalent of one pound of sterling); so guinea pig meant “the little pig that costs a guinea.”
- Male guinea pigs are called boars, females are called sows, and babies are called pups.
- Guinea pigs are very vocal, making a variety of chirps, squeaks, burbles, and squeals.
- Burrowers by nature, they like to have a place to hide.
- They can smell approximately 1,000 times better than humans.
- They have well developed sight and can distinguish color.