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Guinea pig

Guinea Pigs

Two pet Guinea Pigs.
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Baby Guinea Pig
Guinea pig (Cavy)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Cavidae[?]
Genus: Cavia
Species
Guinea pigs (also called Cavies) are rodents belonging to the family Cavidae and the genus Cavia. Contrary to popular belief, cavies are not pigs, nor do they come from Guinea. Although there are more than 20 different species, the one most familiar to people is C. porcellus, the common guinea pig. The majority of information in this article is about the common guinea pig.

Table of contents

History

The common guinea pig was first domesticated by the Inca of South America, in what is now Peru. They continue to be an important food source, subsisting off a family's vegetable scraps as a half pet/half future entree. Guinea pigs are the dish of honor at some Peruvian wedding feasts and play the role of evil-spirit collector in traditional healing rituals. It is doubtful that such honors are at all appreciated by these animals.

Dutch and English traders brought guinea pigs to Europe, where they quickly became popular as exotic pets. How they came to be thought of as "pigs" isn't known exactly, but it is thought that some of the sounds they make reminded people of pigs. This didn't happen only in English; the German word for them is Meerschweinchen, literally "Little Sea Pigs".

The origin of "guinea" in the title guinea pig is harder to explain. One theory is that the animals were brought to Europe by way of Guinea and people came to think they had come from there. Another theory is they were sold as the closest thing to a pig you could get for a guinea, an old British coin with a value of 21 shillings (1.05 GBP in the modern decimal currency).

General

Guinea pigs are large for rodents, weighing between 1 and 3 pounds and measuring 10-15 inches long. They live five years on average with the maximum age rumored to be eight. They are social, in the wild living in small groups which consist of sows (females), a boar (male), and the young, which in a break with the preceding porcine nomenclature are called pups. The gestation lasts from 60 to 70 days, which is quite long for such a small animal. As a consequence pups are already well developed (including fur and teeth) when they are born.

Unlike many rodents such as mice, rats, or squirrels, guinea pigs are not very athletic. Jumping, climbing, and fearlessness in the face of heights were not skills guinea pigs needed in the environment in which they evolved.

Guinea pigs in the wild live on grassy plains and occupy an ecological niche similar to that of the cow. They move together in small groups (herds) eating grass or whatever other plants they come across. They tend to be most active during dawn and dusk, when it is harder for predators to spot them. If startled they can run for cover with surprising speed.

Domestic Guinea Pigs

Domesticated guinea pigs come in many varieties which have been developed since their arrival in Europe and North America. These varieties vary widely in hair and color composition. The most common varieties found in pet stores are the English Short Hair which has a smooth, glossy, short coat, and the Abyssinian which has a rough coat made of cowlicks, crests, and swirls called rosettes. Each of these varieties come in a number of colors and color patterns

Guinea pigs are often used as a metaphor for a subject of scientific experimentation. This notion persists even though guinea pigs are not commonly used as modern experimental animals. In the past they had been used to isolate different bacterial strains, but in modern labs they have been replaced by mice and rats, which reproduce more quickly.

Like humans but unlike most other mammals, Guinea pigs cannot synthesize their own vitamin C but must obtain this vital nutrient from the food they eat to stay healthy. Like humans, if guinea pigs cannot get enough vitamin C they will suffer from scurvy and ultimately die.

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