Guinea pig

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Guinea pig
Common guinea pig (Cavia aperea)

Common guinea pig ( Cavia aperea )

Superordinate : Euarchontoglires
Order : Rodents (Rodentia)
Subordination : Porcupine relatives (Hystricomorpha)
Partial order : Hystricognathi
without rank: Guinea Pig Relatives (Caviomorpha)
Family : Guinea pig
Scientific name
Gray , 1821

The guinea pigs (Caviidae) are a family from the order of rodents . They are composed of three externally very different subfamilies: the actual guinea pigs (Caviinae) with the house guinea pigs ( Cavia porcellus ) known in Central Europe , the pampas hares (Dolichotinae) and the Hydrochoerinae, to which the Capybara (water pig ) is the largest living rodent World matters.


Guinea pigs are widespread in large parts of South America , where they colonize a wide variety of habitats, from flat grasslands to mountain regions over 4000 meters above sea level. However, they are missing in the dense rainforest.


Depending on the species, these animals reach a head-trunk length of 20 to 130 centimeters. The body weight of dwarf guinea pigs is around 300 grams and of capybara up to 80 kilograms.

While the actual guinea pigs and the capybaras are compact animals with rather short limbs, the pampas rabbits with their long legs and large ears are more similar to the hares . The close relationship between the two groups can be seen in the details of the skull structure and the teeth.

The eyesight of guinea pigs is dichromatic , which means that, like many mammals, they can only distinguish blue from green, but not red.

Way of life

Guinea pigs are usually diurnal and do not hibernate in spite of adverse climatic conditions in the higher regions of their range . They used burrows that they dug themselves or that they took over from other animals. As a rule, they are social animals that live in pairs (for example the Munster guinea pigs ) or in groups with a male, a few females and the young animals. Some species have developed complex social structures.

Yellow-toothed guinea pig ( Galea spixii )

Guinea pigs are herbivores that, depending on their species and habitat, eat a wide variety of plant parts, such as fruits, grasses or seeds. Since they are one of the few vertebrates that cannot produce the important vitamin C ( ascorbic acid ) themselves, they have to ingest it with their food.

The gestation period is 50 to 150 days, depending on the species. It is longest in capybaras and pampas hares, in the smaller species it is relatively short at 50 to 70 days compared to related families. The young are born well developed with fur, teeth and open eyes and belong to those who flee from the nest .


The German name of the animals probably came about because Spanish sailors brought the animals across the sea to Europe and the squeaking noises of the guinea pigs are reminiscent of those of the domestic pigs. The stocky build and the regression of the tail also create a certain resemblance to pigs.

In the English name guinea pig , the reference is also to pig ( pig included). The origin of the part of the name guinea is not clear. It is conceivable that Guyana in South America could be confused with Guinea in Africa. The assumption that guinea has something to do with the guinea gold coin (English guinea ) and the selling price of the animals is untenable: The English doctor William Harvey used the name Ginny-pig as early as 1653, ten years before the first guineas were minted.

The Quechua- speaking population of Latin America called the animals quwi (or qowi ), in South American Spanish they are now called cuy . In English, the term is now cavy preferred because guinea pig also means " guinea pig has".


Phylogenetic systematics of guinea pigs (Caviidae)
  Guinea pigs (Caviidae)  
  Actual guinea pigs (Caviinae)  

 Real guinea pigs ( cavy )


 Miniature guinea pigs ( Microcavia )


 Yellow-toothed guinea pig ( Galea )


 Capybaras ( Hydrochoerus )




 Pampas hares (Dolichotinae)

Template: Klade / Maintenance / Style

Guinea pigs together with dasyproctidae (Dasyproctidae) Pakas (Cuniculidae) and the Pacarana (Dinomydiae) the superfamily of guinea-like (Cavioidea) within the caviomorpha (Caviomorpha). The capybaras are often run in their own family, the giant rodents (Hydrochoeridae), but according to genetic studies, the mountain guinea pig is more closely related to the capybaras than to the actual guinea pigs. More recent systematics such as Wilson & Reeder (2005) therefore assign the capybara to the guinea pigs and, together with the mountain guinea pigs, include them in the subfamily of Hydrochoerinae within the guinea pigs (Caviidae). Whether the actual guinea pigs or the pampas rabbits (Dolichotinae) are to be considered as sister group of the Hydrochoerinae has not yet been conclusively clarified and varies with the various authors. According to Rowe & Honeycutt 2002, the Dolichotinae and the Hydrochoerinae are combined, followed by Vucetich et al. 2012 while Pérez & Vucetich 2011 merge the Hydrochoerinae and the Caviinae.

The following subfamilies and genera are distinguished:

Farm animals and pets

In parts of Latin America, real guinea pigs in particular, but also capybaras and other species, are used as meat suppliers. Domestic guinea pigs are also kept as pets in numerous countries .

According to the Jewish dietary laws , guinea pigs are not suitable for consumption.

See also


  • Ronald M. Nowak: Walker's Mammals of the World. 2 volumes. 6th edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MD u. a. 1999, ISBN 0-8018-5789-9 .
  • Malcolm C. McKenna, Susan K. Bell: Classification of Mammals. Above the species level. Revised edition. Columbia University Press, New York NY 2000, ISBN 0-231-11013-8 .
  • Don E. Wilson , DeeAnn M. Reeder (Eds.): Mammal Species of the World. A taxonomic and geographic Reference. 2 volumes. 3. Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MD 2005, ISBN 0-8018-8221-4 .

Film documentaries

  • Guinea pigs - amazing dwarfs , TV documentary by Herbert Ostwald , Germany 2009, 50 minutes.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Lina SV Roth, Anna Balkenius, Almut Kelber: Color perception in a dichromat. In: Journal of Experimental Biology. 210, No. 16, 2007, ISSN  0022-0949 , pp. 2795-2800, doi : 10.1242 / jeb.007377 , PMID 17690226 .
  2. Sasha Englard, Sam Seifter: The biochemical functions of ascorbic acid. In: Annual Review of Nutrition. Vol. 6, 1986, ISSN  0199-9885 , pp. 365-406, doi : 10.1146 / .
  3. Shayne C. Gad (Ed.): Animal Models in Toxicology. 2nd edition. CRC / Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton FL et al. a. 2007, ISBN 978-0-8247-5407-5 , pp. 334-402.
  4. Cf. Online Etymology Dictionary: guinea pig (English)
  5. ^ William Harvey (1653): Anatomical exercitations concerning the generation of living creatures to which are added particular discourses of births and of conceptions, etc. , p. 527.
  6. ^ A b c Diane L. Rowe, Rodney L. Honeycutt: Phylogenetic Relationships, Ecological Correlates, and Molecular Evolution Within the Cavioidea (Mammalia, Rodentia). Molecular Biology and Evolution 19 (3), 2002; Pp. 263-277. ( Full text )
  7. Don E. Wilson, DeeAnn M. Reeder (Ed.): Mammal Species of the World. 3. Edition. 2005.
  8. María Guiomar Vucetich, Cecilia M. Deschamps, María E. Pérez: Paleontology, Evolution and Systematics of Capybara. In: José Roberto Moreira, Katia Maria PMB Ferraz, Emilio A. Herrera, David W. Macdonald (Eds.): Capybara. Biology, Use and Conservation of an Exceptional Neotropical Species. Springer Science & Business Media 2012; Pp. 39-59. ISBN 978-1-4614-3999-8 .
  9. María Encarnación Pérez, María Guiomar Vucetich: A New Extinct Genus of Cavioidea (Rodentia, Hystricognathi) from the Miocene of Patagonia (Argentina) and the Evolution of Cavioid Mandibular Morphology. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 18 (3), September 2011; Pp. 163-183. doi : 10.1007 / s10914-011-9154-1 .

Web links

Commons : Guinea Pig  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: guinea pigs  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations