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Where Do Guinea Pigs Come From – The History Of The Guinea Pig

They are called “guinea,” but they’re not from Guinea. They are called “pigs,” but they’re not pigs.

Is the origin of the guinea pig a mystery?

Where do guinea pigs come from?

In this article, we’ve covered every exciting detail about guinea pigs and their origins. Check it out.

Key Takeaway:

The guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) originated from the Andes in South America. Guinea pigs were first introduced to Europe in the 16th century as exotic pets. The origin of the name “guinea pig” has been lost in time.

Coming up next in this article, we’ll be debunking some of the myths about the origins of guinea pigs. To find out everything there is to know about their beginning, check out the rest of this article.

lots of guinea pigs

Where Do Guinea Pigs Come From?

The guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) is a very popular pet nowadays. They are well sought-after because of their friendly nature and their ability to entertain themselves.

They are now household pets all over the world, but guinea pigs were not always present in the countries where they live today.

Where did guinea pigs come from?

Guinea pigs originate from the Andes in South America in a region that is now part of Peru and Bolivia. The Incas domesticated guinea pigs for their use as pets, food, and ritual sacrifices by folk doctors.

These animals were introduced into Europe in the 16th century.

In the 16th century, Dutch, Spanish, and English traders took guinea pigs to Europe. They quickly became popular exotic pets, and even Queen Elizabeth had them.

These animals are called cavies by breeders.

Guinea pigs are also called domesticated guinea pigs because these rodents do not exist naturally in the wild. They are popular laboratory animals and have been modified over the years to suit human needs.

Guinea pigs and other rodents have been involved in scientific breakthroughs for juvenile diabetes and vitamin C.

The Habitat of Guinea Pigs

Do you have a pet guinea pig?

Then you’re no doubt used to seeing it live in a cage on a comfy bed of shredded paper or Timothy hay in your home or yard. But wild guinea pigs live a lot differently.

Where do guinea pigs originate from?

Guinea pigs that are not kept as pets live on grassy plains. They take shelter in burrows and crevices.

Guinea pigs are herd animals. They live in small groups consisting of the following members.

  • Several females (called sows)
  • One single guinea pig male (called boar)
  • Their young (called pups). In pet stores and at breeders, pups will stay with their herd until they are about 8 weeks old.

The Origin of the Name Guinea

They are called “guinea” pigs, but are they from Guinea?

Many people presume that wild guinea pigs originated from Guinea because of their name. But that is not true.

Wild guinea pigs originated from South America, not from Guinea.

So, where did the name “guinea” come from?

Few animals have so much speculation constantly taking place about the origin of their names. Here are a couple of theories about where the “guinea” name took root.

  1. The name “guinea” was given to guinea pigs because they were taken to Europe via the coast of Guinea in West Africa. But there is no way of confirming this as the early movement of guinea pigs from continent to continent was sporadic and incidental. There are no reliable sources of their movements or confirmation that they arrived on slave ships via the coast of Guinea in West Africa.
  2. The name “guinea” was given to guinea pigs because the word was often associated with anything far away or of foreign origin. The word guinea at that time was often a synonym for foreign or unknown.
  3. The name “guinea” was given to guinea pigs out of confusion. At the time of the animals’ first appearance in Europe, there was more traffic to Europe from Guinea than there was from South America. Guinea was often thought of to be part of the Indies at that time.
  4. The name “guinea” was given to guinea pigs because they were taken to Europe via ships from Guiana. However, there is nothing to indicate that domesticated guinea pigs were ever found in Guiana.
  5. The name “guinea” was given to guinea pigs because of the guinea coin. During the 16th and 17th centuries, guinea pigs could be purchased for a guinea coin.

As you can tell, the actual origin of the name “guinea” is still under much debate and cannot be confirmed.

The Origin of the Name Pig

They are called guinea “pigs,” but are they pigs?

Many people think guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus) are pigs because of their names. But this is not true.

Both wild and domestic guinea pigs are of the rodent family.

So where did the name “pig” come from?

Here are a couple of theories.

  1. The name “pig” was given to guinea pigs because of their build. Guinea pigs have a stout build and neck, large heads, and rounded rumps like little pigs. The Spaniards may have given the animal this name after seeing it for the first time in large numbers at Peruvian markets. They thought the animal looked like a little pig.
  2. The name “pig” was given to guinea pigs because of the sounds they make. They make a lot of squeaking sounds that are very similar to a little pig.
  3. The name “pig” was given to guinea pigs because they spend a lot of time eating. These animals are like little piggies because they spend a long time throughout the day chowing down on tasty grub. (Who could blame them?)
  4. The name “pig” was given to guinea pigs because of the way they were prepared for eating. The animals were scaled and then scraped just like pigs were. Once it is cooked and put on a plate, the guinea pig resembles a roasted suckling pig.
  5. The name little sea pigs were given to guinea pigs because of the mode of transport they used to arrive in Europe. Europeans at this time called them little sea pigs because they arrived from across the sea in ships.

All of these theories show that although there are many ideas as to where the name originated, it is no longer possible to know where the name “pig” came from. 

All Breeds of Domesticated Guinea Pigs

Domesticated guinea pigs and their origins are very interesting.

What country did guinea pigs come from?

There are 13 breeds of guinea pigs. In our list, we have put the satin guinea pigs in with their pairs as they are not always recognized as a separate breed.

Let’s get to know each breed and its origin coming up next. Each of these breeds is recognized by the American Cavy Breeders Association.

Abyssinian

Despite its name, the Abyssinian guinea pig did not originate in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). This domesticated guinea pig originated in South America.

They immediately became popular when transported to other countries due to the fancy cowlicks on their coats. These cowlicks are also called rosettes and are sometimes called swirls. 

They make popular pets because they like to play around and are very friendly. This breed lives for about 5 to 7 years and weighs between 800 and 1,400 grams. 

Abyssinian satin guinea pigs are very similar to Abyssinian guinea pigs. The only difference between the two domestic guinea pigs is the satin shine on the former guinea pigs’ fur.

American

The American guinea pig is the most popular and oldest breed of guinea pig. It was one of the first to be recognized by the American Cavy breeders association.

This domesticated guinea pig originated in South America.

American guinea pigs are popular because of how friendly they are. They are very inquisitive and love to explore.

This breed lives for about 4 to 6 years and weighs 700 to 1,110 grams.

American satin guinea pigs are the same as American guinea pigs. They both have a short and smooth coat, but the former has a shinier, satin coat.

Coronet

The coronet guinea pig is a cross of the silkie and the crested guinea pig. It has long fur and a crest on its head.

This crossbreed was originally bred in England.

This breed lives for about 4 to 6 years. Its long hair is perfect for stroking.

Peruvian

black and white peruvian guinea pigs

Peruvian guinea pigs have long coats. They originate from the Andes mountains of South America.

Peruvian guinea pigs are well-tempered animals. They are extremely docile and are affectionate and cuddly.

It has a center parting, bangs, and two rosettes on its hips. This breed lives for 4 to 6 years.

The Peruvian satin guinea pig domesticated species has a more satin, gleaming coat.

Silkie

The Silkie guinea pig is the result of selective breeding. It is a cross between Peruvian and American guinea pigs.

This selectively bred guinea pig has long fur flowing from the front to the back of its body. These animals were first discovered in the United Kingdom in the 1970s.

Silkies are also known as Shelties. They have a lifespan of 4 to 6 years. 

If you like stroking animals, then this is the pet for you as it is famous for having silky soft fur. (Hence the name!)

The silkie satin is the same type of domesticated guinea pig but with a satin sheen.

Teddy

The teddy guinea pig has short hair and a springy coat that makes it resemble a teddy bear. The teddy satin guinea pig’s coat has the same feel but a satin sheen.

Teddy bear guinea pigs originated in South America. The guinea pig meat was often sold at markets as a food source.

If you want a guinea pig that will live a long life, this is the breed for you. Teddys have a lifespan of 7 to 11 years. 

These animals are extremely relaxed and like cuddles from their owners. 

Texel

The Texel guinea pig classification is a result of the selective breeding of a Rex and Sheltie guinea pig. This common domesticated guinea pig originated in England in the 1980s.

The Texel guinea pig has a long coat with curls. It is very affectionate and likes to be groomed. 

This is ideal as they have such a voluminous amount of curly hair.  It has a life expectancy of between 5 and 10 years. 

White Crested

White crested guinea pigs are a rare breed. They have short coats and a single, white rosette on their foreheads which looks like a little crown.

These animals are very docile and affectionate. They have a life expectancy of between 5 and 7 years. 

These animals originated from South America.

white crested guinea pig

Other Species of Guinea Pigs

Asides from the 13 breeds we just considered, other species of guinea pigs are part of the Cavia genus. These guinea pigs live in different parts of the world and have fascinating habitats.

Where do wild guinea pigs come from?

Let’s get to know some of these other guinea pigs and their origins.

Brazilian Guinea Pig

First up is the Brazilian guinea pig. It lives in most countries in South America except for the countries in the most northern regions of the continent.

The Brazilian guinea pig spends its time in open grasslands and savannahs. On average, they live for about 6 years.

Sul Guinea Pig

Another is the Sul guinea pig, also known as Santa Catarina’s guinea pig. It is endemic to the island of Moleques do Sul Archipelago.

The sul guinea pig lives between bushes and grasses on the island. It is critically endangered because of its low population size and its small habitat.

This is the only critically endangered species of guinea pig, and it is extremely rare. On average, they live for 3 to 5 years, although it is possible for them to live for up to 8 years.

Montane Guinea Pig

The Montane guinea pig is yet another interesting species. The color of its fur varies depending on where it lives.

The Montane guinea pig is native to Peru, northern Chile, and northwestern Argentina.

You will find them in northern Chile up to the Tarapacá region and in the Tucumán province of northwestern Argentina. On average, they live for 3 to 5 years, but they can live for up to 8 years.

Greater Guinea Pig

The greater guinea pig is a semi-aquatic animal. It lives in moist grassland and marshland on a coastal strip running from Uruguay to Brazil.

What helps it live near water is the fact that it is semi-aquatic and has membranes that join its toes together. This species is very intelligent and is known for digging complex tunnels in the wild.

These guinea pigs will reproduce all year round, but mating most often occurs in the spring and summer.

Shiny Guinea Pig

First discovered in 1831 is the Shiny guinea pig. They like to move about in groups called herds.

The Shiny guinea pig is endemic to Brazil and lives in subtropical and tropical forests. These guinea pigs may prefer to live in semi-mountainous areas near the coast, which is why you’ll find them specifically in Southeastern Brazil between Minas Gerais and Santa Catarina.

Capybara

Capybaras are sometimes called giant guinea pigs. They are the largest members of the rodent family.

Capybaras are herd animals and are frequently seen in the company of 10 to 20 other capybaras and other animals. You will find them in the northeastern regions of south american countries.

Capybaras have a lifespan of between 8 to 10 years.

FAQs About Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs (also called cavies) are fascinating animals. Find out even more about them with the help of these FAQs.

Where Do Guinea Pigs Originally Come From?

Many people think that guinea pigs are from Guinea because of their name, but that is not true. Domesticated guinea pigs are originally from South America, especially the regions of the Andes.

The Incas domesticated guinea pigs in the year 5000 BCE. They were originally domesticated to be eaten, used in medicine, and to be kept as pet animals.

When they were first domesticated, they were also used in traditional healing rituals by the Incas. These practices still continue today with the use of black guinea pigs in places where Western medicine is scarce.

Do Guinea Pigs Come From New Guinea?

Despite their name, guinea pigs are not native to Guinea. They are actually from the South American Andes.

Some suspect they got the name guinea pig because they were taken to Europe via Guinea. Others say it was because the word guinea referred to any far-off, unknown location.

It is not certain why they were given this name, as the true motive has been lost with the passing of time.

How Often Do Guinea Pigs Come Into Season?

Male guinea pigs (called boars) become sexually mature at 3 to 5 weeks old. Female guinea pigs (called sows) become sexually mature at 4 weeks old.

One guinea pig male can impregnate all of the females in his herd while he is in season.

The peak season for breeding among guinea pigs is the spring, but females will breed all year round. They can have up to 6 litters in a year, although it is most common for them to have a maximum of 5 litters.

A female can get pregnant within 6 to 48 hours of giving birth. Although this is possible, it is not healthy for the guinea pig to be constantly pregnant.

Pet owners need to be aware of this and remove a male guinea pig from a female’s cage after she gets pregnant.

A male guinea pig comes into heat every 2 weeks, while a female comes into heat every 2 or 3 weeks.

How Long Is the Gestation Period for Guinea Pigs?

Guinea pigs have a long gestation period of 59 to 72 days. Their pups can eat solid food as soon as they are born.

Although they can eat solid food, the pups nurse for about 3 weeks for nutrition. Guinea pigs only have two nipples that the pups nurse from.

Is the Domesticated Guinea Pig a Threatened Species?

Guinea pigs are not a threatened species. The conservation status of almost all of them is “least concern,” meaning that they are not in danger of extinction. 

The only guinea pigs with a seriously concerning conservation status are the Moleques Do Sul. They are critically endangered. 

In 2008, it was reported that there were only 42 of them left in the wild. This species has a hard time growing in numbers because of its very small habitat and limited food.

The Origin of Your Pet Guinea Pig

Guinea pigs are fascinating animals, but their origin can confuse many as they are not from Guinea and are certainly not pigs! Thankfully, this article spoke in length about their origin and where they got their name. 

Guinea pigs originated from the Andes in South America. They were originally domesticated for food, to keep as pets, and even for traditional medicine rites. 

Did you find this article interesting?

At Oddly Cute Pets, we always strive to provide you with the best information about guinea pigs and other rodents. For more guides on how to look after a guinea pig or any other small pet, check out our website.

Thanks for reading!

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