Whenever someone mentions guinea pigs, people instantly think of the ‘piggies’ from the Guinea region, right? Well, that is not what guinea pigs are. They are adorable rodents that live quite far from Guinea, which is located in Africa. Everyone that likes cavies, must be curious to know the origins and the name meaning of these adorable pets. Their history and origins are interesting and amazing, and they are more than just modern-pet rodents.
Where do guinea pigs live in the wild? Guinea pigs originate from the wild regions of South America. These regions are filled with grassland areas, forest edges and even rocky areas. The first guinea pig noted was seen in the Andes of South America, around 2000 BC. This region is also known as Bolivia and Peru in present times.
The guinea pigs were originally found to be in quite different living conditions than those now in modern times. Also, the purpose of keeping them was different than it is now when we like cavies as pets. All cavy lovers should explore the guinea pig’s history to find some amazing facts!
The Climate and Living Conditions Where Guinea Pigs Originate From
The climate where guinea pigs originate from suits them the most of course. In the Andean region, the temperature drops on high elevations so do the humidity and atmospheric pressure. Mainly, this is a rainy climate, with mostly dry conditions in the central regions. There is a lot of rain and warm air with average temperatures of 18 degrees Celsius.
It is the same in the surrounding regions and Peru for example; a dry and warm climate, sometimes with rainfall but overall a very pleasant temperature most of the time.
In such a climate, the guinea pigs thrived the most, not too hot or too cold is perfect for them. But, what do they do in the wild? How do they survive the best? The cavies love vegetarian food. In the wild, they munch on various herbs, leaves, flowers, most types of grass, hay, and plants. Their favorites are the clovers. The domesticated guinea pigs are not much different – they still love leafy greens, vegetarian foods, and herbs, instead of meats and all other foods humans eat.
In general, the cavies survive pretty much well, considering they don’t need to hunt for food, and they rely on nature’s plants and food that grows. But, in the winter time, very cold temperatures are not good for the guinea pigs. It is said that the coldest they can endure is around 15 degrees Celsius. And how do they keep warm? They simply gather around, in their packs of several cavies at once, and snuggle together in their burrows.
In these holes in the ground, they feel safe against predators and can quickly escape from danger, by going beneath the ground. Besides, in these burrow holes, they can keep warm during the winter or even snuggle and keep all of their own kind and family together in a safe place. These burrows are especially important for the cavy pups and their protection.
Survival in the Winter Time
The guinea pigs would always seek some shelter in the winter time. Most of the time burrows are practical at this point, but even more important is the nutrition for survival in harsh conditions. In the winter time, every creature needs more caloric or special food, so do the guinea pigs.
To keep themselves warm, they need to use up more energy and this requires very nutritious foods. Most of the time, they depend on many types of grasses, wild plants, and even wild vegetables which are a real treat as well. All these foods give them enough nutrition to withstand the cold weathers as well, in their search for safe shelter in the wild.
Which Animals Are Their Predators and How Do Guinea Pigs Protect Themselves?
In the wild, the cavies have a lot of predators, unfortunately. The small size of the guinea pigs and their lack of great speed makes them incredibly vulnerable in wild regions. An animal like the cavy, of such a small weight and 4 limbs, is an easy target, easily visible – unless hidden in the burrows.
For example, some of their predators are:
Sadly, the cavies are small and lightweight and for the predators, this is a perfect catch (also cavies are not too fast and run an average speed, which makes them even more endangered).
The cavies face many challenges if they live in the wild. This is why they made themselves safe spots for hiding when the outside is too dangerous. One of these spots are the burrows. These burrows are medium sized holes dug under the ground, and even more interesting, they are almost all made by other animals, still, they are used by guinea pigs.
How Did Guinea Pigs Survive in the Wild?
Obviously, the guinea pigs of the past and of the wild did not have hay or pellets for their nutritional or dental needs. Instead, they relied just on fruits or vegetables, herbs, and grass types and similar, but mostly they would consume dandelion, some wild berries, and most weeds.
Mostly they preferred the grass areas in South America (in Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, and Ecuador). The cavies were always grouped up and highly sociable – males, females, and pups too. Each group would most likely have the male as a leader, and the sows as ‘mothers’, meaning at any time pups would be able to switch their moms, as a reflex for survival when the real mother was absent at the moment. This made guinea pigs’ survival instinct perfect – being able to rely on ‘another mother’ in times of need and safety.
Whenever a danger approached or was noticed, one of the cavies would ‘whistle’ as a warning sign to other cavies nearby. In the wild they are active mainly at dusk, to avoid the predators.
The Dangers and Communication Methods of Guinea Pigs in the Wild
We, the humans where another treat to guinea pigs – they were bred and even sold for various purposes.
The guinea pigs communicate well with each other, through certain body language and special sounds they recognize. Usually, in the wild, they would gurgle, grunt or make rumbling noises for discrete communication. The grunts and growls were a sound of welcoming another of their own kind. However, when a larger animal has already entered the habitat of the guinea pig, the latter would show submission by head positioned low and a rumbling sound – all this to avoid danger or worse. And, if the guinea pigs have the chance to hide, instead of being submissive – they would simply gather fast in the burrow.