Guinea pigs are rodents with long front teeth. Nine different species live in the Andes, the mountainous regions of South America. They are social species that live in groups of up to a dozen or so animals.
Our domesticated guinea pigs originally came from this mountain range, and are therefore adapted to a climate that can change rapidly between hot and cold. As early as 4,000 years ago, indigenous people in South America domesticated guinea pigs as pets and for food.
About the guinea pigScientific name:
Cavy (Caviidae)Breeding season:
A guinea pig is in heat roughly every fifteen daysGestation:
Around 70 daysNumber of young:
Giving birth to three young is common, but a litter can consist of one to four youngLifespan:
When South America was colonised by Europeans, guinea pigs were brought back to Europe and quickly became popular as exotic pets. They became particularly popular as pets around a hundred years ago.
Guinea pigs are easily tamed, but they need to be given time, peace and quiet. Guinea pigs are pack animals, and are lively and very sociable. It is therefore good to have several guinea pigs at the same time, but of the same sex. They can be short-haired, wire-haired or long-haired, in different colours.
Talkative outdoor animals
Animals that live in packs need to be able to communicate with each other. Guinea pigs are highly talkative, and show their emotions by making sounds. They howl, scream, chirp, coo, gnash their teeth and even sing! In this way, they can show that they are feeling content, scared, hungry or anything else. They also gnash their teeth to scare away rivals.
In the summer, guinea pigs like to graze on grass. They like to be outside, but not in the rain. In the winter, it is too cold for guinea pigs to be outdoors in Sweden. And heavy snow would prove too difficult for them. After all, they come from warmer regions.
Pups with fur
Mother guinea pigs carry their young for much longer than other rodents. It takes 60 to 70 days for the young to grow inside their mother. Other mammal babies are born blind and naked, but newborn baby guinea pigs have fur and can see, walk and run straight away – they are like adult guinea pigs, only smaller.
Most mammals can produce vitamin C, but neither guinea pigs nor humans can. Just like us, guinea pigs need to eat vitamin C in order to avoid suffering from scurvy.
Sea pigs – our domesticated guinea pigs
The Swedish word for guinea pig – ‘marsvin’ – literally means sea pig! Sailors carried guinea pigs on their ships when they travelled from South America to Europe.