The first pet for many small children, the domestic guinea pig is a separate species from the wild guinea pigs found in South America.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Rodentia
Family - Caviidae
Genus - Cavia
Species - C. porcellus (believed to be descended from a species of wild Cavy such as C. aperea)
Common Names - Guinea Pig (though they are neither from Guinea, nor are they pigs), Cavy
Guinea pigs are about 8 to 10 inches long and weigh between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds. They have no tails and soft, furry coats. Their coats can be long or short, straight or curly. Their fur can be solid-colored or spotted. Usually they come in shades of brown, tan, red-brown, white, and black.
Female guinea pigs reach sexual maturity around two months of age, and males are able to reproduce when they are three months old. After mating with a male, the female guinea pig will be pregnant for about 68 to 70 days. Guinea pigs give birth to litters of two or three pups, which will nurse from their mother for about six weeks before weaning. Guinea pig mothers can have up to five litters of pups each year.
Guinea pigs are very social animals and are happier if they are kept in pairs. Wild guinea pigs eat grasses and plants, but domestic guinea pigs usually eat commercial pellets and hay that their owners provide. Guinea pigs are most active in the early morning and late at night. However, if they live in a home with artificial lighting, they will not keep to these activity patterns. Guinea pigs communicate with one another through a series of whistles, chirps, and grunts. They can become very tame with frequent human interaction.
The domestic guinea pig originated in the Altiplano area of South America. Humans have kept domestic guinea pigs for thousands of years. The earliest owners of guinea pigs kept them for food and medicinal purposes. Spanish explorers brought guinea pigs to Europe on the Spanish Armada shortly after Europeans reached the New World. The "Guinea" part of their names refers to the route by which Spanish explorers brought them back to Europe. They came through the area of Guinea in Africa. The "pig" part of their name refers to the pig-like squeaks that they make. Scientists and biologists call the guinea pig Cavia porcellus. They are also known as cavies.
Because domestic guinea pigs are adaptable to a wide range of habitats, altitudes, and climates, they live all over the world. In South America, some households still keep guinea pigs for meat. These families allow their guinea pigs to run free in their home and yard. Other people keep guinea pigs in cages. They are popular pets all across the world.