The cute and cuddly little guinea pig has anything but a cute and cuddly scientific name – Caviidae porcellus. The domestic guinea pig is a rodent and, among others, his relatives are the beaver, the mouse and the porcupine. Just where did this cute, cuddly little rodent come from? If you answered “the pet store”, you missed the meaning of my question completely.

The common guinea pig as we know it no longer exists in the wild. The domestic version is the only variety left today. However, relatives of the guinea pig still exist in the wild and from them we can better decipher the natural behavior of these types of animals.

Like most rodents and smaller animals, Guinea pigs are very prolific at reproducing. Due to their high mortality rate in the wild, this ability to reproduce rapidly is necessary to secure the survival of the species.

Guinea pigs are very social creatures. This is why it is highly advisable to keep pet guinea pigs in groups or, at least in pairs. In the wild, guinea pigs lived in groups called herds with a single male as the dominant leader. As with many herd animals, only the dominant male is accepted as mate by the females in the group. This insures that all offspring will be descended from only the strongest of males – another strategy designed to maximize chances for the survival of the species.

When domestic guinea pigs are housed in multi-level cages, they can be seen to scurry quickly down the ramp to the lower level when startled. This behavior is most likely left over from wild herd behavior when the rodents would quickly scamper into the cover of their underground burrows at the first sign of danger.

Guinea pigs originated in the Andean region of South America which consists of modern day Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. Around 5000 B.C. the Inca Indians domesticated the guinea pig and used it for a food source. Eventually, they we imported to Europe from South America where the rich kept them as pets during the 17th century. In fact, England’s Queen Elizabeth I kept one herself. It was not until the early 20th century that the cavy made its way to the United States.

The guinea pig has gained a large following in the United States. It makes an idea pet for older children because of its docile and friendly nature and also because it is relatively easy and simple to care for. This adorable little rodent has been around for many centuries – from its existence in the wild – to its early domestic beginnings as a food source for the Incas – until its modern day role as companion and pet for children and adults alike across the United States and Europe.

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