Guinea pigs originated from South America where several different species can still be found. The ancestor of the domesticated guinea pig is thought to be the restless cavy, Cavia cutleri. The restless cavy lives in big family groups in the long grass, being protected from preditors by overhanging stems. They don't burrow for themselves but instead use abandoned burrows from other animals.
They can be attacked by meat-eating enemies so they
are shy and get scared very quickly. Young cavies are not born in
the safety of a burrow but out in the open. They are born fully furred
with their eyes open and within two days after being born they are
eating the same food as their parents.
|Before the Spanish
conquest of South America in the 16th century, the Incas kept them for
food and even today the Peruvians breed them for their meat. Sailors,
who were probably the first people to do so, kept them as pets and brought
them to Europe from South America. Many people believe that is how they
got their name the 'guinea pig', because the sailors sold them for one
guinea and they make squeaking noises like a pig.
|Today many different breeds of guinea pig exist through the careful breeding and selection carried out over many years. Guinea pigs are nosey, friendly characters but they still retain some of their original habits, for example, very few guinea pigs will dig and they will rumage around looking for food.|
Last updated: Saturday, 12 November, 2005
© Alexander Pimm 2004