Guinea pigs are not pigs!
Despite their common name, guinea pigs are not native to Guinea, nor are they biologically closely related to pigs. The origin of their name is still unclear. They are a South American species of rodent and are also known as cavy.
No natural population of guinea pig exists in the wild!
Guinea pigs were domesticated more than 3,000 years ago in Peru, coinciding with humans’ transition from a nomadic to an agricultural lifestyle. The animals were bred by various people who lived along the Andes Mountains from northwestern Venezuela to central Chile. They were originally domesticated as livestock for a source of meat, and are still consumed by natives of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Guinea pigs were taken to Europe in the 16th century. The main population hubs for guinea pigs today remain South America, North America, and Europe. Guinea pigs can be found in other areas of the world typically as research animals and pets.
Guinea pigs are vegan and eat their poo!
The guinea pig’s natural diet is grass; their molars are particularly suited for grinding plant matter and grow continuously throughout their life but they must also supplement their diet by eating their faeces. They produce special soft poos and they eat these to ensure they absorb all the nutrients they need. Guinea pigs don’t need to drink if they eat moist foods.
Guinea pigs are large for rodents!
The common pet breeds weigh between 700 and 1,200 g when fully grown and measure between 20 and 25 cm in length. Pet breeds live an average of four to five years, but may live as long as eight years.
Guinea pigs have 4 toes on their front feet and 3 toes on their back feet!
Several breeds of domesticated guinea pigs exist, which are sometimes grouped by coat texture and hair length. Their tail is not visible externally. Colouration is extremely variable: the coat may be white, cream, tan, reddish or chocolate brown, black, or a combined pattern.
Guinea pigs are social animals!
Guinea pigs are happiest living in a group of their kind. Their docile nature, friendly responsiveness to handling and feeding, and the relative ease of caring for them have made guinea pigs a continuing popular choice of household pet. However, Guinea pigs may not thrive when housed with other species. Guinea pigs need lots of space. They love to run around and explore, especially if they have lots of tunnels and safe places to hide away too.
They have constantly growing teeth!
Guinea pigs have 20 teeth that are constantly growing. This means they need to munch on food lots and lots to grind their teeth down.
Guinea pigs self-groom!
Guinea pigs secrete a white substance out of their eyes that they use to wash themselves. They also participate in ‘social grooming’. Guinea pigs are also good swimmers, although they do not like being wet and infrequently need bathing.
Guinea pigs make lots of noises!
The most well-known is the ‘wheek’! This is a sound they only make for their humans, usually to remind them to bring some food! A bubbling or purring sound is made when the guinea pig is enjoying itself, such as when being petted or held. A rumbling sound is normally related to dominance within a group, though it can also come as a response to being scared or angry. Chutting and whining are sounds made in pursuit situations, by the pursuer and pursuee, respectively. A chattering sound is made by rapidly gnashing the teeth, and is generally a sign of warning. Squealing or shrieking is a high-pitched sound of discontent, in response to pain or danger.
When guinea pigs are excited and happy, they might ‘Popcorn’!
This is when they jump up in the air and often do a little twist too.
Guinea pigs can learn tricks!
They are really smart and can learn to do tricks if you are patient and use food as a reward. Guinea pigs can learn complex paths to food, and can accurately remember a learned path for months. Their strongest problem-solving strategy is motion.