The first Guinea Pigs were domesticated in about 5000 B.C. by the Incas, but were probably used for food. In the 1600’s, the Spaniards were the first Europeans to see these animals. Dutch merchants brought Guinea Pigs back from the Americas to Europe, where they became popular pets with aristocrats. In the early 1900’s, British immigrants took them to the United States.
Guinea Pigs have been around for a very long time – fossil records of the guinea pigs existence date back to the Miocene period over 18 million years ago. In August 2003 archeologists in Venezuela discovered the fossilized remains of a huge guinea pig like creature called ‘Phoberomys Pattersoni’, which grew to around 9 feet long and lived around 8 million years ago.
However, guinea pigs were not bred by the Incas only for food. In Peru guinea pigs have a hallowed place in native folklore.
Legend holds that guinea pigs are mystical beings that can heal the sick and assist the dying in the journey from the world of the living to the great beyond, yet another good reason to make sure that your domestic pets are happy and comfortable.
The wild ancestors of the guinea pig looked very different to the colourful varieties which we know today as domestic pets. Their coats had a greyish agouti patterning similar to that of the wild rabbit and this coat provided them with a good level of camouflage.
Selective breeding of guinea pigs began in Europe and spread to North America during the 1920s when fanciers began exhibiting their pets in competitions.
Why call them Guinea Pigs?
The origins of the guinea pigs name are lost in history and there have been various theories put forward.
Guinea pigs are found, among other places, in the South American country of Guyana which was a Dutch colony in the 16th century and the name could be a corruption of Guyana. Another explanation could be that they originally changed hands at the cost of a guinea (twenty-one shillings in pre-decimalised British money)… a princely sum in those days.
As for the ‘pig’ end of the name, an explanation is much easier to guess… the rounded rear end is so similar and they run and squeal much as little piglets do.
What has made the Guinea Pig so popular for so many years? Guinea pigs have a friendly temperament with no tendency to bite. Guinea pigs do not jump or climb and therefore have minimal caging requirements. Guinea pigs are easy to feed and very hardy with few health problems.
Since baby Guinea Pigs are born fully developed, with fur, teeth and their eyes open, they are easy and fun to breed.