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Guinea Pig (Cavia porcellus) - Wiki
Subject: Guinea Pig (Cavia porcellus) - Wiki
Domestic Guinea Pig (Cavia porcellus) 1.jpg
Resolution: 700x525 File Size: 98265 Bytes Date: 2003:05:17 15:03:03 Camera: Canon PowerShot G1 (Canon) F number: f/2.5 Exposure: 1/60 sec Focal Length: 672/32 Upload Date: 2007:11:23 11:15:39

Guinea Pig (Cavia porcellus) - Wiki

Guinea pig
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Order: Rodentia
Family: Caviidae
Subfamily: Caviinae
Synonyms: Mus porcellus, Cavia cobaya, Cavia anolaimae, Cavia cutleri, Cavia leucopyga, Cavia longipilis

[Photo] Guinea Pig (Cavia porcellus). The two adult Guinea Pigs that live in my apartment. Author: Sandos (
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Guinea pigs (also commonly called cavies after their scientific name) are rodents belonging to the family Caviidae and the genus Cavia. Despite their common name, these animals are not pigs, nor do they come from Guinea. They are originally native to the Andes, and while no longer extant in the wild, they are closely related to several species that are commonly found in the grassy plains and plateaus of the region. The guinea pig plays an important role in the folk culture of many indigenous South American groups, especially as a food source, but also in folk medicine and in community religious ceremonies. Since the 1960s, efforts have been made to increase consumption of the animal outside South America.

In Western societies, the guinea pig has enjoyed widespread popularity as a household pet since its introduction by European traders in the 16th century. Their docile nature, their responsiveness to handling and feeding, and the relative ease of caring for them, continue to make the guinea pig a popular pet. Organizations devoted to competitive breeding of guinea pigs have been formed worldwide, and many specialized breeds of guinea pig, with varying coat colors and compositions, are cultivated by breeders.

Guinea pig is also used as a metaphor in English for a subject of experimentation; this usage became common in the first half of the 20th century. Biological experimentation on guinea pigs has been carried out since the 17th century; the animals were frequently used as a model organism in the 19th and 20th centuries, but have since been largely replaced by other rodents such as mice and rats. They are still used in research, primarily as models for human medical conditions such as juvenile diabetes, tuberculosis, scurvy, and pregnancy complications.

The common guinea pig was first domesticated as early as 5000 BC for food by mountain tribes in the Andean region of South America (present-day Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia). Statues dating from ca. 500 BC to 500 AD which depict guinea pigs have been unearthed in archaeological digs in Peru and Ecuador. The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped animals and often depicted the guinea pig in their art. From ca. 1200 AD to the Spanish conquest in 1532, selective breeding resulted in many varieties of domestic guinea pigs, which form the basis for some of the modern domestic breeds. They continue to be a food source in the region; most households in the Andean highlands raise the animal, which subsists off the family's vegetable scraps in kitchens. Folklore traditions involving guinea pigs are numerous; they are exchanged as gifts, used in customary social and religious ceremonies, and frequently referenced in spoken metaphors. They also play a role in traditional healing rituals by folk doctors, or curanderos, who use the animals to diagnose diseases such as jaundice, rheumatism, arthritis and typhus. They are rubbed against the bodies of the sick, and are seen as a supernatural medium. Black guinea pigs are considered especially useful for diagnoses. The animal may also be cut open and its entrails examined to determine whether or not the cure was effective. These methods are widely accepted in many parts of the Andes, where Western medicine is either unavailable or distrusted.

Spanish, Dutch and English traders brought guinea pigs to Europe, where they quickly became popular as exotic pets among the upper classes and royalty, including Queen Elizabeth I. The earliest known written account of the guinea pig dates from 1547, in a description of the animal from Santo Domingo; because cavies are not native to Hispaniola, the animal must have been introduced there by Spanish travelers. The guinea pig was first described in the West in 1554 by the Swiss naturalist Konrad Gesner. Its binomial scientific name was first used by Erxleben in 1777; it is an amalgam of Pallas's generic designation (1766) and Linnaeus's specific conferral (1758).

The scientific name of the common species is Cavia porcellus, with porcellus being Latin for "little pig". Cavia is New Latin; it is derived from cabiai, the animal's name in the language of the Galibi tribes once native to French Guiana. Cabiai may be an adaptation of the Portuguese ??avia (now savia), which is itself derived from the Tupi word sauj??, meaning rat. Guinea pigs are called quwi or jaca in Quechua and cuy or cuyo (pl. cuyes, cuyos) in the Spanish of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Paradoxically, breeders tend to use the more formal "cavy" to describe the animal, while in scientific and laboratory contexts it is far more commonly referred to by the more colloquial "guinea pig".

How the animals came to be thought of as "pigs" is not clear. They are built somewhat like a pig, with a large head relative to the body, a stout neck, and a rounded rump with no tail of any consequence; some of the sounds they emit are very similar to those made by pigs, and they also spend a large amount of time eating. They can survive for long periods of time in small quarters, like a 'pig pen', and were thus easily transported on ships to Europe.

The animal's name carries porcine connotations in many European languages. The German word for them is Meerschweinchen, literally "little sea pigs". (The Polish ??winka morska and Russian морская свинка mean exactly the same.) This derives from nautical history: sailing ships stopping to reprovision in the New World would pick up stores of guinea pigs, which provided an easily transportable source of fresh meat; Meerschwein is German for porpoise, which was another food source for sailors. The French term is Cochon d'Inde (Indian pig); the Dutch used to call it guinees biggetje (Guinean piglet) or Spaanse rat (Spanish rat) in some dialects, and in Portuguese the guinea pig is sometimes referred to as porquinho da ??ndia (little Indian pig). This is not universal; for example, the common word in Spain is conejillo de Indias (little rabbit of India / the Indies).

The origin of "guinea" in "guinea pig" is harder to explain. One theory is that the animals were brought to Europe by way of Guinea, leading people to think they had originated there. "Guinea" was also frequently used in English to refer generally to any far-off, unknown country, and so the name may simply be a colorful reference to the animal's foreignness. Another theory suggests the "guinea" in the name is a corruption of "Guiana", an area in South America, though the animals are not native to that region. A common misconception is that they were so named because they were sold for the price of a guinea coin; this theory is untenable, because the guinea was first struck in England in 1663, and William Harvey used the term "Ginny-pig" as early as 1653. Others believe "guinea" may be an alteration of the word coney; guinea pigs were referred to as "pig coneys" in Edward Topsell's 1607 treatise on quadrupeds.

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