Whenever someone mentions guinea pigs, people usually instantly presume that these pets originate from the Guinea region, right? Well, that is not really true. They are adorable rodents that live quite far from Guinea, which is located in Africa.
Everyone that likes guinea pigs, must be curious to know the origins and the meaning of the name behind these adorable creatures. 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, forest edges and even rocky areas. In the wild, they usually live in groups of 10 or even more guinea pigs. Guinea pigs live in burrows made by them or other animals, they will live in any shelter where they feel safe and protected from predators. Wild guinea pigs mostly show nocturnal behavior and they are quite different from our domesticated guinea pigs. First guinea pigs were domesticated in the Andes, South America, around 5000 BC. This region in present times extends through countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Columbia, and Peru.
The guinea pigs were originally living in quite different conditions than now in modern times. Also, the purpose of keeping them was different than it is now. Before guinea pigs were kept mainly as a food source. Now guinea pigs are our adorable pets but in some countries, they are still sadly used as food.
All guinea pig lovers should explore the guinea pig’s history, stay with us till the end in order to find some amazing facts about your beloved pet! Let’s begin!
Related: Where Do Guinea Pigs Come From?
The Climate and Living Conditions of Regions Where Guinea Pigs Originate From
The climate where guinea pigs originate from suits them the most of course. In the Andean region, the temperature is lower because of the high altitudes and so is 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. Peru, for example, has a dry and warm climate, sometimes with rainfalls but overall a very pleasant temperature most of the time.
In such a climate, the guinea pigs thrive the most, not too hot or too cold is perfect for them. But, what do they do in the wild? How do they survive?
Guinea pigs 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, herbs and like domesticated guinea pigs they do not eat meat.
In general, the guinea pigs are good at surviving, mostly because they don’t need to hunt for food, and they rely on plants and food that grows from the ground.
Related: What Do Guinea Pigs Eat in The Wild?
But, in the winter time, very cold temperatures are not good for the guinea pigs. It is said that the coldest temperature they can endure is around 15 degrees Celsius. So, how do they keep themselves 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 stay warm during the winter or even snuggle and keep all of the family together in a safe place. These burrows are especially important for the guinea pig pups and their protection.
Survival in the Wild During the Winter Time
The guinea pigs will always seek some shelter in the winter. 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, every creature needs more calories or special food, the same thing applies to the guinea pigs.
To keep themselves warm, they need to use 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 weather as well, while they search for safe shelter in the wild.
Guinea Pig Predators | How Do They Protect Themselves in the Wild?
In the wild, the guinea pigs have a lot of predators, unfortunately. The small size of the guinea pigs and their lack of great speed makes them incredibly vulnerable animals in the 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 the guinea pig predators are:
Sadly, the guinea pigs are small and lightweight and for these predators, this is a perfect catch (also cavies are not too fast, which makes them even more endangered). We, the humans where another treat to guinea pigs – they were bred and even sold for various purposes.
Guinea pigs face many challenges when 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 burrows. These burrows are medium-sized holes dug under the ground, and even more interesting, they are almost all made by other animals but guinea pigs find them and create a home out of them.
How Have Guinea Pigs Managed to Survive in the Wild?
Obviously, the guinea pigs of the past did not have hay or pellets for their nutritional or dental needs. Instead, they relied just on fruits or vegetables, herbs, and different grass types and similar, but mostly they would consume dandelion, some wild berries, and most weeds.
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 an adaption 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 guinea pigs are active mainly at dusk, to avoid predators.
Communication Methods of Guinea Pigs in the Wild
The guinea pigs communicate well with each other, through certain body language and special sounds only they can recognize. Usually, in the wild, they will gurgle, grunt or make rumbling noises for discrete communication.
Related: What Do Guinea Pigs Sound Like?
However, when a larger animal has already entered the habitat of the guinea pig, they will show submission by head positioned low and produce rumbling sounds – all this to avoid danger or worse. If the guinea pigs have been given the chance to hide, instead of being submissive – they will simply gather fast in the burrow.
Hopefully, you now understand where guinea pigs live in the wild. The point of this article is to learn more about your pet and to create a closer bond between you and your guinea pig.
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Related: Where Are Guinea Pigs Native To?
List of Sources
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Trillmich, F., Effects of Low Temperature and Photoperiod on Reproduction in the Female Wild Guinea Pig (Cavia Aperea), Journal of Mammalogy, 2000.
Dittmar, K., Arthropod and helminth parasites of the wild guinea pig, Cavia aperea, from the Andes and the cordillera in Peru, South America, The Journal of parasitology, 2002.
Cassini, M. H., Foraging under Predation Risk in the Wild Guinea Pig Cavia aperea, Oikos, 1991.
Asher, M., Spinelli DE Oliveira, E., Sachser, N., Social System and Spatial Organization of Wild Guinea Pigs (Cavia aperea) in a Natural Population, Journal of Mammalogy, 2004.
Kimura, B. K., LeFebvre, M. J., D. deFrance, S., Knodel, H. I., Turner, M. S., Fitzsimmons, N. S., Fitzpatrick, S. M., Mulligan, C. J., Origin of pre-Columbian guinea pigs from Caribbean archeological sites revealed through genetic analysis, Journal of Archaeological Science, 2016.
Walker, L. I., Soto, M. A., Spotorno, Á. E., Similarities and differences among the chromosomes of the wild guinea pig Cavia tschudii and the domestic guinea pig Cavia porcellus (Rodentia, Caviidae), CompCytogen, 2014.
Sachser, N., Of Domestic and Wild Guinea Pigs: Studies in Sociophysiology, Domestication, and Social Evolution, Naturwissenschaften, 1998.
Hennessy, M. B., Neisen, G, Bullinger, K. L., Kaiser, S., Sachser, N., Social organization predicts nature of infant-adult interactions in two species of wild guinea pigs (Cavia aperea and Galea monasteriensis), Journal of comparative psychology, 2006.
Künzl, C., Kaiser, S., Meier, E., Sachser, N., Is a wild mammal kept and reared in captivity still a wild animal?, Hormones and behavior, 2003.
Hinckel, P., Schröder-Rosenstock, K., Responses of pontine units to skin-temperature changes in the guinea-pig, The Journal of physiology, 1981.
Monticelli, P. F., Ades, C., Bioacoustics of domestication: Alarm and courtship calls of wild and domestic cavies, Bioacoustics, 2011.