True or false: Guinea pigs are small, hybrid animals that have been cultivated and cross-bred from wild pigs originally captured on the island of New Guinea. The fact that this animal was originally cross-bred in the laboratory to establish a pig breed that was both of friendly disposition and small enough to keep as a house pet, is the reason that the guinea pig still remains associated with labs in most of our minds today.

Yes – I made all of that up. Guinea pigs are no more pigs from New Guinea than a pineapple is a Granny Smith sprouting from a pine tree. It’s all a sad, misleading deception. Guinea pigs are neither pigs nor are they associated with New Guinea, Old Guinea, Young Adult Guinea nor any other Guinea that we know of for that matter.
So, as our title suggests, the name “guinea pig” is an outright lie. Guinea pigs are not some form of small mutant dwarf pig. That would be silly (they are actually tiny child-actors wearing tiny mutant dwarf pig costumes). Okay, I made that up too. They are actually rodents from the genus Cavia (which is the reason they are also referred to as Cavies). As rodents, they are related to chinchillas and porcupines – not hogs and boars.
Originally, guinea pigs came from South America – not New Guinea. All guinea pigs that we know of are domesticated animals – which is to say – they do not exist in the wild anymore. A very large relative of the guinea pig called the capybara still lives in the wild in South America. Ironically, due to its very large size, the capybara looks as though it might really be related to a pig or boar rather than its real cousin, the domestic Guinea Pig. What a confusing family, those guinea pigs.
So why do people call this cute little South American rodent a Guinea Pig? It’s not clear, since this misleading name was given to this small creature many years ago. Some people have conjectured that the guinea pig was given this name because it makes a noise that sounds like a pig squealing. Others believe that, although its features differ greatly from a barnyard pig, the guinea pig has a general round, stout, short-legged silhouette – similar to that of a pig or hog. In addition, guinea pigs are voracious eaters which might also account for the pig reference.
As for the “guinea” portion of the name, some believe that this may have been derived from a South American region named Guinana. Another theory is that trade routes that originally brought the guinea pig to Europe might have passed through Guinea and may have given their name to the fuzzy little rodent.
Either way, I hope that this article has cleared up at least some mysteries of the guinea pig. We may not know exactly where the guinea pig label came from – but we do know exactly where it did not come from. Guinea pigs are neither pigs nor are they from New Guinea. They are rodents and they are originally from South America.
Next time: Why you do not need to learn how to drive in order to become a busboy.

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Categories: Guinea Pig Care and Feeding

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