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Guinea Pigs in the Wild

Author BBC

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Guinea Pigs in the Wild

Guinea pigs are rodents from South America, originally domesticated by the Incas of Peru for food. Depending on who you believe, they got their name from being taken by English and Dutch traders first to Guinea and later to Europe, or because they were sold in England for one guinea. The grunts and squeals made by the animals account for the 'Pig' part of the name.

The main species of Guinea Pigs in the wild are:

  • Cavy Porcellus - found in Brazil
  • Cavy Boliviensis - the high Andes
  • Cavy Cutleri - Peru

The original fur pattern of these guinea pigs is the 'agouti' pattern, which is speckled gray or brown in colour. When excited they run around in circles or stampede. They live in burrows which they either dig themselves or find abandoned by another animal.

Guinea Pig Diets

Guinea Pigs are herbivores - that is, they eat only vegetation. They must eat a good amount of vitamin C every day to survive as, like humans and apes, they are not capable of manufacturing their own vitamin C requirements. If they don't get enough, they can die of scurvy.
Guinea pigs drink about ten millilitres of water daily, unless they are getting enough fluid from the plants they eat. They will eat from about six grams to one hundred grams of food daily. The average weight of the male Guinea Pig is 900 to 1200 grams, but the female's average weight is only 700 to 900 grams.

Family Life

Wild female Guinea Pigs are pregnant for about two months before having their litter of one to four young. Although they only breed once a year, their domesticated cousins are capable of having up to six babies and breeding five to six times a year. Both wild and domesticated Guinea Pigs are born with fur and their eyes opened. They are able to nibble at plant matter one day after birth and weigh 60 to 100 grams when born. Guinea pigs only need to milk for the first three weeks of their life and mature rapidly. Sometimes they may be capable of breeding as early as three months of age.
Unlike many animals the boar Guinea Pig1 is kind to his newborn children. He shows them and his wife affection with a low, contented purr from his throat and often helps the mother take care of her children. When going on a walk or stroll, the new family of guinea pigs will walk with one parent in front and the other behind so that nobody gets lost. Over long periods of time, previously wild guinea pigs have been selectively bred to have colouring such as white, black, brown, red, lilac, cream, and chocolate. The best known breeds of these now domesticated guinea pigs are the English short-haired, the Peruvian long-haired, and the Abyssinian rough-haired.

The English short-haired has short, glossy hair that is easy for owners to groom. The Peruvian long-haired has soft hair that grows several inches long covering the entire body and making it look somewhat like a mop. The Abyssinian rough-haired has swirls in its hair called rosettes that are actually counted in competition. This variety can be many colours including a light blue.

As both a pet and a wild animal, the guinea pig is an intelligent, lovable animal who looks out for family members as much as itself. Unless eaten or starved, a wild guinea pig lives about four years, yet pet guinea pigs can live about eight years.

1 Male guinea pigs are called boars; females are called sows.