Quite recently I was asked by a friend if I could do a post about guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are pretty cute, well-known animals in the pet trade, but I doubt many know about their wild counterparts. The domesticated guinea pig, Cavia porcellus, no longer exists in the wild, and since this blog is called ‘Our Wild World’, I’m going to write about a close relative of the domestic guinea pig, the Brazilian guinea pig.
Guinea pigs are rodents, and are members of the family Caviidae, which also includes cavies and capybaras. Brazilian guinea pigs can be found in most of South America, in neotropical regions. They live in scrublands and savannah areas, as well as in the mountainous regions of the Andes.
Brazilian guinea pigs look pretty much like domestic guinea pigs, but are a little more sleek, and less pudgy looking. They are usually around 27 cm long, and weigh almost 650 grams. Brazilian guinea pigs are usually a quite boring brown colour, but can also be reddish or black. Guinea pigs have typical rodent teeth, which grow continuously, and must be worn down by gnawing on things.
Guinea pigs are not territorial, but males are very aggressive when other males are around their mates. Males usually mate with two females, who give birth after a 62-day gestation period. Only two pups are born (which seems like quite a small litter size for rodents), which are well developed at birth and grow up very fast. They can eat solid food after three days, are weaned at 25 days, and are able to reproduce after only 28 days of life.
Brazilian guinea pigs are fairly social animals, spending time in small family groups of a male and his females and their offspring. These groups are often clustered together with other families, and the guinea pigs take advantage of this to graze in larger groups, usually hiding in bushes and shrubs to protect themselves from predators. Guinea pigs forage on a variety of plants, mainly grasses. Like humans, they have a dietary requirement for vitamin C, as they cannot make their own. They communicate with one another through squeals and screams, as well as through various smells.
I think guinea pigs are pretty cute, but I also think they are quite funny looking. Their stubby legs and absence of a tail just makes them look odd. Still, the Brazilian guinea pig doesn’t look nearly as hilarious as the domestic species.