Are guinea pigs from New Guinea

Guinea pig origin

Guinea pig origin

You don't choose your ancestors

Where guinea pigs come from is closely related to the question of how they got their name. Here we explain why we keep guinea pigs in Europe today and how they used to live!

Origin of guinea pigs

There are guinea pigs in a large number of subspecies that differ primarily in terms of appearance. Domestication and use as pets in particular have made the animals look cuter over time. In regions where the animal is still bred for food, the guinea pigs are much more plump and, above all, larger. The related capybara, on the other hand, weighs up to 80kg.

Guinea pigs in the wild live in a variety of habitats in South America, from flat grasslands to steep mountain slopes. They only avoid the forest.

The domesticated origin of the guinea pigs

Guinea pigs were first domesticated around 500 BC. The original homeland is South America, more precisely Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. Obtaining exact data is difficult because the small body and fragile skeleton of guinea pigs makes archaeological finds difficult. We know, however, that people domesticated them primarily for reasons of food procurement - in some cases until today. The shape of guinea pigs known to us, which are also known as house guinea pigs, differs significantly from the original shape. The breeding hand of humans, which aims to breed the animal as sweet as possible, or as fat as possible in the food supply, is unmistakable.

In addition to their cute appearance, guinea pigs became popular among animal keepers mainly because they are very frugal and only bite very rarely. In Europe, Queen Elizabeth I made guinea pigs very popular because she kept them herself.

This is how guinea pigs came to Europe

Both the German name guinea pig and the international name Guinea Pig provide information about how they came to Europe. After the discovery of America, Spanish sailors brought guinea pigs with them to Europe for the first time as "toys" from around 1500 AD. So they came across the sea. They became pigs because of their spoken language. The origin of the English "Guinea" is unclear. There are two different theories as to why guinea pigs are called Guinea Pig in English, but both are unlikely:

  1. Back then, the price of a guinea pig was supposed to be one guinea gold coin. However, this can confidently be called a legend, as there were written records under this name even before such a coin was first minted in 1663.
  2. Another theory of the origin of the name is that the guinea pigs in the West African port of Guinea were shipped to Europe with the slave ships of the time.

Whatever the exact origin of the name of guinea pigs, they are originally native to South America, where their wild ancestors colonize a wide variety of habitats to this day.

Like cane sugar or cotton, guinea pigs were part of the goods sold in Europe, which was inglorious due to the slave tradeAtlantic triangular trade traded across the sea. There is more information on this at Wikipedia.

Changing names - Guina Pig becomes cavy

Especially recently, guinea pigs have been used extensively for laboratory research. That is why there are increasing international efforts, especially among animal lovers, to refrain from using the name “Guinea Pig” and prefer to use the word cavy. This is because “Guinea Pig” is now also used as a term for “guinea pig”.

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