Guinea pigs are rodents. They are called “piggy” because they squeak like pigs. “Sea” comes from the fact that they were brought to Europe from South America, across the sea.
The free-living species inhabit both the grassy plains and barren rocky landscapes and the high mountains of the Andes. There they can be found up to 4200 meters above sea level. They live in groups of five to ten animals in dense bushes or in burrows. They dig them themselves or take them over from other animals. The main food of guinea pigs in their homeland is grass, herbs, or leaves.
There are three different families of guinea pigs: The pampas rabbits from the mountains of South America are 80 centimeters long from snout to bottom and weigh up to 16 kilograms. Another family is the capybara, also known as water pigs. They are the largest rodents in the world. They live in the humid areas of South America.
The third family is the “actual guinea pigs”. Of them, we know the domestic guinea pig best. They are popular pets as they are very easy to care for. They have been bred for a few hundred years. So they no longer live like their ancestors in nature.
How do pet guinea pigs live?
Domestic guinea pigs are 20 to 35 centimeters long and weigh about one kilogram. Their ears are small and their legs are short. They don’t have a tail. They have particularly long and strong incisors that keep growing back. The fur of guinea pigs can look very different. It can be smooth, shaggy, short, or long.
The little animals breathe about twice as fast as humans. Your heart beats about five times a second, about five times as fast as humans. They can see far around without turning their heads but are poor at estimating distances. Their whiskers help them in the dark. They can see colors, but hardly know what to do with them. They hear higher-pitched sounds than humans. Their nose is very good at smelling, which is the mouse guinea pig’s most important sense.
Domestic guinea pigs spend the day differently from us humans: They are often awake and often sleep, both for much shorter periods of time. Around the clock, they eat about 70 times, so small meals again and again. Therefore they constantly need food, at least water, and hay.
Guinea pigs are sociable little animals, except for the males among themselves, they don’t get along with each other at all. Individual animals feel uncomfortable. You should therefore keep two or more females together. They lie down close to each other to sleep. However, they only touch each other when it is very cold. Of course, it is different with young animals. Guinea pigs don’t get along with any other animal except rabbits.
Guinea pigs need space to move. For each animal, there should be an area of one meter by one. So not even two animals should be kept on the surface of a mattress. They also need straw or sawdust, wooden houses, cloth tunnels, and other things to nibble on and hide from.
How do domestic guinea pigs reproduce?
Above all, domestic guinea pigs reproduce very quickly! A few weeks after their own birth, they can make their own offspring. The mother carries her babies in her stomach for about nine weeks. Two to four babies are usually born. They wear fur, can see, walk, and quickly begin to nibble on anything they find. They weigh around 100 grams, which is about as much as a bar of chocolate. The young animals drink milk from their mother because guinea pigs are mammals.
Immediately after giving birth, a mother guinea pig can mate again and become pregnant. The young animals should be about four to five weeks old and weigh about 250 grams before they are taken away from the mother. If cared for properly, they can live to be around six to eight years old, some even older.