Guinea pigs are one of the most popular pets, especially as pets for children. They are very social animals. They are affectionate pets to humans and they aren’t hard to take care of. If you own this little pet or if you are planning to buy one, we are sure you’ve always wondered why they are called guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs are not real pigs. They are completely different species. Guinea pigs are rodents while real pigs belong to the class group of mammals called Artiodactyla. In terms of their character, social life, diet, and behavior, guinea pigs are completely different from real pigs.
In fact, they don’t even come from Guinea. Their place of origin is South America where they could previously be found living in the wild.
Guinea Pigs vs. Real Pigs
Guinea pigs are rodents, a mammal known for their sharp front teeth. To some people, guinea pigs could appear to have some physical similarities with actual pigs, such as the shape of the body. Still, guinea pigs and real pigs are totally different species. It is important to note that guinea pigs are domesticated animals, as the wild ones had been extinct for a long time now.
The most obvious difference lies in character, as guinea pigs are very affectionate pets and simply irresistible. They are social creatures that can’t stand to be lonely, which makes them the perfect pet for kids and adults.
While real pigs tend to eat meat, and even their young ones, guinea pigs are herbivores, thriving on fruit and vegetables. Guinea pigs also come in different breeds. So, you’ll find a whole range of patterns and colors when deciding on one. They’re active in sunrise and the evening, continually exploring and seeking attention.
Origins of a Guinea Pig’s Name
When it comes to naming, these poor creatures suffered throughout history, with the French variation “Barbary rabbits” being the worst.
Germany is not far behind by calling them “small sea pigs.” The English version, “Cavies,” however, is based on the scientific Latin name Cavia Porcellus which translates as “small pig.” The reasons for the “Guinea” part of the name bring even more discussion to the table.
Guinea pigs were originally found in South America, quite far away from Africa. So the origin of the name is not related to the country of origin.
All of the theories differ, and it’s hard to say which one was the real reason behind the name. While the guinea part of the name at least opens a discussion, why they decided to name their pigs is way harder to tell.
Related: Where Do Guinea Pigs Come From? | All You Need to Know!
Are Guinea Pigs Related to Rats?
Guinea pigs are somewhat related to rats because they are rodents as well. The difference is in a way obvious, given the size and the shape of guinea pigs.
Still, many argue that the domestication of guinea pigs affected their genetics in a way that separated them from their long-tailed rodents like mice. The physical similarities are evident because of their short limbs and sharp incisors.
Still, the physical features also differ in a few points. As an example, rats have shorter hair due to their evolution and survival in different habitats. They’re much less interested in socializing and are usually considered invasive.
Rats can sometimes show signs of aggression. However, guinea pigs, in most cases, don’t show aggressiveness, even though they possess an equal amount of energy as rats. They do share the same physique, but rats have a hard time adjusting to the human habitat, while guinea pigs don’t, given that they are domesticated for way too long to recall their initial environmental setting.
Unfortunately, rats and guinea pigs are also used in experimental trials for new medicines. In this particular matter, guinea pigs receive better treatment. On the other hand, rats are often considered replaceable and less important due to their nature. While there is significant controversy in using guinea pigs for lab trials, the truth is that they still are used in experiments just as much as actual rats.
Related: Guinea Pigs vs. Rats | Which One Is Better to Have as a Pet?
Are Guinea Pigs Related to Rabbits?
This question has no simple answer to it. Even though some people put rabbits and guinea pigs in the same category, the truth is much more complicated. Based on the assumption that had been around for ages, guinea pigs are rodents, and rabbits are not.
With guinea pigs being rodents, there is a small chance of them sharing a genetic trait with rabbits. Still, research sparked controversy with a new view on the matter. Now, people have a reason to believe guinea pigs are not rodents at all.
While this theory can’t neglect the fact that guinea pigs still share some similarities with rats and other rodent species, there is a strong argument that the guinea pig is an entirely different branch of species, which opens the chance of rabbits being related to guinea pigs after all.
The fuzziness, the physique, and the overall character of these two surely do fit in the description. Though some genetic traits of guinea pigs may be a result of evolution because they were domesticated.
No matter the side you chose, you still must agree on the fact that both rabbits and guinea pigs share something in common, and we’re not talking about physique. We are talking about the fact that they remain the favorite pet choice for many people across the world. They can even coexist in the same cage, if not spoiled individually before.
Related: Can Guinea Pigs and Rabbits Live Together?
Are Guinea Pigs Related to Hamsters?
Guinea pigs are related to hamsters and they really look like long-lost brothers. You’ll find that porcupines are as close as it gets to guinea pigs in physical appearance. However, when it comes to lifestyle and food choices (apart from the fact that hamsters can eat meat), hamsters and guinea pigs are more alike than you’d think.
For its difference, guinea pigs are a bit chubbier and larger than hamsters, which makes them more attractive to some owners.
The actual difference lies in the fact that hamsters are nocturnal pets, while guinea pigs are not. Apart from that, hamsters are a bit possessive when it comes to food or space. Guinea pigs share everything without a problem, which is why they are easily paired up with any species, from rabbits to rats. However, this is still not recommended to do and guinea pigs really only flourish with their own species.
Hamsters are more like distant relatives who have their own set of rules and refuse to change even when caged for quite a while. Guinea pigs, on the other hand, are flexible, easy to care for, and easy to clean up after. They also eat a portion of their poop. They are tamed to the maximum level and can completely adjust to the owner.
Related: Do Guinea Pigs and Hamsters Get Along?
Are Guinea Pigs Related to Chipmunks?
The surprising fact is that guinea pigs are related to chipmunks. Even though chipmunks had never been thoroughly domesticated, these cute little rodents are surely close relatives to guinea pigs.
Most people don’t get the chance to inspect it for themselves, but once you put these two next to each other, you’ll realize that it’s not just their physical appearance that defines them.
These two are really different in behavior, with one being domesticated and the other becoming a forest rodent, yet both remaining as clean as possible.
The interesting fact is that chipmunks are much more active than guinea pigs, which is most likely because guinea pigs have been domesticated and used as a pet for a few centuries now. The lazy lifestyle changed their habits, and even though guinea pigs still have energy spikes, compared to chipmunks, they are far less active.
If you decide to compare the two, you’ll see that survival completely changed the appearance of a chipmunk. From the cheek pouches to the rapid movements, while guinea pigs altered for the worse, decreasing their activity over the years.
So, while they do share a few genetic traits with the chipmunks, guinea pigs are still unique because of their many other different features. After all, they are thoroughly domesticated which means they have adjusted to us, more than any other rodent.
Guinea pigs are not real pigs, that’s for sure. Guinea pigs have nothing in common with the actual pigs, other than a few features which are common for most mammals. They’re more intelligent than pigs, and indeed a better choice for a pet.
List of Sources
Is the English “Guinea Pig” a Pig From Guinea, and the German “Meerschweinchen” a Piggy From the Sea?, or Two Old Problems Revisited
Origin of Rodents and Guinea-Pigs
Comparison of the Histologic Structure of the Compact Bone of the Long Hollow Bones of Mouse, Hamster, Rat, Guinea Pig, Rabbit, Cat, and Dog During Development
Comparison of Digestive Function Among Rabbits, Guinea-Pigs, Rats and Hamsters. I. Performance, Digestibility and Rate of Digesta Passage
All Rodents Are Not the Same: A Modern Synthesis of Cortical Organization