Guinea Pigs (Cavia porcellus)
Guinea Pigs is a species of rodents that belong to the Caviidae family. Guinea pigs are basically native to South America. Known as Cavy in America, their scientific name is Cavia porcellus. A male guinea pig is also called a boar; while a female is called a sow. The young ones of guinea pigs are called pups.
Facts About Guinea Pigs
- Though they are called ‘guinea pigs’, they neither come from Guinea, nor are they related to pigs. Some believe that they were named guinea pigs, as they were sold for a guinea (a gold coin worth 21 shillings) in England.
- A guinea pig grows to a length of about 8 to 10 inches and weighs between 700 to 1200 g. Its average life expectancy is 4 to 5 years, but with proper care they can live up to 7 or 8 years. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest living guinea pig lived for 14 years and 10.5 months.
- Guinea pigs are born with their eyes open. They sport a fur coat at birth. Although, they are small enough to fit into the palm of our hand when born, they grow very fast. They can start running within four hours of birth.
- The most common breeds are the American, the Abyssinian and the Peruvian guinea pigs. The guinea pig breeds are differentiated, according to their fur coats. The American breed has a short and smooth fur coat, while the Peruvian breed sports long hair.
- Like human beings, guinea pigs can’t produce vitamin C on their own, so they have to depend on external sources for the required amount of the vitamin. Fresh fruits, vegetables like carrots and broccoli, fresh hay and green leaves like spinach and lettuce should be included in their diet. Though, they need to be fed only once a day, they can occasionally have small meals.
- Boars become sexually mature 3 to 5 weeks after birth; while sows attain maturity at the age of 4 weeks. Sows can carry litter even before they become adults. Being social animals, these animals prefer to stay in pairs, but a male-female pair will indulge in frequent reproduction.
- Guinea pigs have been of great use have been of great use in medical research. They were used in a research experiment conducted in 1890, when an anti-toxin for diphtheria was discovered. Guinea pigs are used even today in research work pertaining to human ailments such as tuberculosis, scurvy and juvenile diabetes.
- Guinea pigs can be good pets for kids because they don’t bite or scratch like other rodents. Their teeth continue growing with age, so some twigs or chew toys can be offered to them, to ensure that their teeth don’t grow too large.
- They don’t require vaccinations, but they can suffer from ailments such as respiratory infections and diarrhea. Mange mites is observed to be a common cause for hair fall and excessive scratching in this animal. They also suffer from lice and fungal infections.
- Cavies are easy to domesticate because they have a very good memory. Their sharp senses of smell, hearing and touch fill-in for their poor eye sight. In case, a group of guinea pigs is attacked by a predator, they run haphazardly. It’s a defense mechanism to confuse the predator.
- Guinea pigs, which were domesticated for meat by ancient tribes, have become a major part of the diet in many parts of South America today. People of Peru alone consume around 65 million guinea pigs every year.