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Where Do Guinea Pigs Originate From? History, Lineage & Other Facts

guinea pig and its babies

You all know how attractive and affectionate our small Guinea Pig friends are. However, do you know that these cute creatures have an equally absorbing and unanticipated history?

In this article, we’ll expound on the origin of the guinea pigs and several fascinating facts concerning their history. Keep reading to learn more about your little friends!


So, What’s Their Origin?

Guinea pigs originated from South America. They reside in rocky regions, edges of woodlands, and grassy flatlands. A group of guinea pigs comprises around ten grown-ups (a couple of sows, one boar, and their young ones).

Guinea pigs live in holes belonging to other creatures or in burrows formed in the thick vegetation. Though they are diurnal (daytime creatures in captivity), they’re nocturnal in the wild (active during the night).

They search for food on a wide array of plant materials. Also, they keep away from numerous attacks from birds. Guinea pigs began getting domesticated around 2000 BC in the Andes region.

The Andes is located on the western side of South America in an area that’s known today as Bolivia and Peru. Initially, they were reared to provide food. Nonetheless, some people began keeping them as pets for their kids.

Usually, you could not buy or sell guinea pigs; they were presented as gifts, particularly as wedding presents. They were also given as presents to special visitors or kids.

They could mostly be kept in the kitchen where they were free to loiter around the household.

Origin of the Name “Guinea Pigs”

Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay

The name Guinea Pig origin is still unknown. These small friends are neither from Guinea nor are they pigs!

Numerous hypotheses explain where the name “guinea pigs” came from. All of them have a bit of uniqueness. For example, there’s a possibility that the name “guinea” was referring to their foreign and costly nature as pets.

Perhaps, they were costing a Guinea or 21 shillings to purchase. During the 16th century, 21 shillings was a large sum of money. The other hypothesis is that guinea pigs were usually imported via French Guiana.

Therefore, they may have pronounced the name “Guiana” incorrectly, derived from this fact. The largest part could be because these small friends have a big head, short neck and legs, and a round, long body.

Guinea pigs feed constantly. They’re vocal and smart – similar to actual pigs! In many other countries in Europe, the local name of guinea pigs implies “Sea Pig.” It’s nearly an indication of their imported condition.

Guinea pigs have an Italian name “Porcellino da India” which implies “Little Pig of India.”

The Family of the Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are members of the gnawer family. Their proper Latin name is Cavia Porcellus. Although they’re closely connected to rabbits, mice, hamsters, and rats, they’re more closely associated with Chinchillas, porcupines, and Capybaras. You can look at each of these creatures’ faces to see what we’re talking about.

The contemporary guinea pig is native to South America, and especially the Andes region. They came from a species called “Restless Cavy” or Cavia Cutleri.” Guinea pigs were given this name as they sleep with their eyes wide open.

Also, guinea pigs reside in family groups on rocky areas and grassland savannas. They don’t like digging, so they mostly live on the surface. Nonetheless, they’ll utilize the abandoned holes of other animals, as well as cracks in rocks.

The babies of wild guinea pigs are born outdoors since they don’t nest. Therefore, they’re more enhanced as compared to the young ones of other gnawers. These young ones are born with eyes wide open. They’re full of fur and move fast.

These are character attributes that were passed directly on to their domesticated offspring. Although they look similar to our well-known Guinea friends, they don’t have a wide variety of colors and types that we know of. They’re similar to rabbits and wild rats in that they’re usually greyish-brown and sleek-haired.

Guinea Pig_Mateusz Sienkiewicz_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Mateusz Sienkiewicz, Shutterstock

How Were Guinea Pigs Domesticated?

Around 5000 BC, there’s a lot of evidence that the indigenous people of present-day Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and the Andes region started domesticating these wild guinea pigs instead of chasing and killing them for food.

Capturing and domesticating them was more sensible. It’s also good to note that guinea pigs were not considered as pets but livestock such as chicken, pigs, and cattle.

In Peruvian society, guinea pigs were a crucial part. Many families reared them for food. Guinea pigs were usually traded. Newly-wedded couples were given breeding pairs as presents to begin worthy breeding colonies as they start their new life together.

When Did Guinea Pigs Come to Europe?

South America started trading with Europe in the 16th century. The guinea pig became a common import although it was used mainly for amusement instead of food. Initially, guinea pigs were introduced in Europe by the Portuguese and Spanish traders.

Afterward, there was a high demand for guinea pigs just like exotic pets. Originally known written accounts of Guinea Pigs started in Santo Domingo in Spain in 1547.

How Were Guinea Pigs Used in Religion and Medicine?

In Peru, guinea pigs played a crucial role in treatment and religion. Guinea pigs were considered to have the ability to determine the root cause of an illness. They were usually rubbed against the ailing family member.

Unluckily, the guinea pig involved wasn’t lucky because it was executed afterward and its intestines inspected by a medicine man in the locality. The best disease diagnosers were the black guinea pigs.

Now that you know the origin of guinea pigs, let’s look at a few facts about these amazing pets.

American Guinea Pig
Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

What’s the Average Lifespan of Guinea Pigs?

The average life expectancy of Guinea Pigs is between five and seven years. This life expectancy is longer as compared to other little pets like rats, hamsters, mice, and gerbils all of which have a lifespan of only a couple of years.

If you travel frequently, a guinea pig is a suitable pet as it’s more portable compared to a cat or a dog. However, more than five years is still a considerable period.

Facts About Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs, also known as cavies, are communal animals with a solid, round body structure. They don’t have a tail and have short legs. Some of the most common facts about these amazing pets comprise:

They Are Social Creatures

In the wild, these animals reside in close family sets of between five and ten guinea pigs. However, they can form a colony if multiple groups live near each other.

These Small Animals are Active

Guinea pigs can remain active for up to 20 hours every day. They sleep for a few hours.

Cavies feed on a diet supplemented using vitamin C and is high in fiber

You have to supplement the food eaten by guinea pigs with a lot of vitamin C. It’s because they have a deficiency of the enzyme required to synthesize vitamin C. They keep vitamin C for a short time.

A guinea pig running around in the garden_theianov_Shutterstock
Image Credit: theianov, Shutterstock


Guinea Pigs Are Amazing Pets

As with the numerous queries concerning the beautiful guinea pigs, the response isn’t as obvious as it may appear! Guinea pigs don’t come from Guinea, in Western Africa and they’re also not connected to pigs.

These days, guinea pigs are well-known in households around the globe. They range from a royal Tudor pet to an Andean light meal. They are friendly and tend to nibble or rub. If it nibbles on your hand mistakenly, it’s because they misunderstood your finger for a carrot! Also, guinea pigs are strong, and if you take care of them well, they have minimal health issues.

Featured Image: Naomi Marcin, Shutterstock

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