Why is the guinea pig called that when it doesn’t come from India and has nothing to do with the pig!


Small, hairy, herbivorous, we have the right to wonder about the name “guinea pig” given to this friendly rodent, very different from our European pigs and piglets. A domestic companion in many homes, the guinea pig or Cavia porcellus undoubtedly takes its name from the story of Christopher Columbus and the hidalgos and sailors who accompanied him in his search for a new route to India.

A geography error?

By approaching the coasts of the island of Guanahani, renamed by the explorer “San Salvador”, or Hispañola, Christopher Columbus and those who accompanied him were convinced of having reached the shores of India. Legend has it that the conquistadors, when they set foot on the lands of South America, hearing the cries of the little animal and observing the shape of its body, named it “guinea pig”. It was not until 1758 that the species was truly described and joined the Caviidae family.

As early as the 16th century, the conquistadors brought back to Europe this small mammal which can measure up to 50 centimeters and flirt with 1.7 kilograms. This arrival by boat also earned them the nickname “Barbary rabbit” or “sea pig”. Their sociable character and their ease in expressing their demands through cries will invite them to join the royal zoo of Elizabeth I, in England. Very quickly, they were adopted as pets or as laboratory animals in the 19th century. Thanks to their contribution to scientists like Pasteur, Koch or Von Behring, this small animal made it possible to better understand the importance of vitamins in the human body or to discover the tuberculosis bacteria.

A delicacy that has become our children’s playmate

Its great longevity and gregarious temperament make Cavia porcellus the perfect little companion for our children as long as we take the time to tame it and give it lots of attention. When the guinea pig trusts you, it knows how to be both lively and curious. Above all, he appreciates the caresses and cuddles he shares with us.

In its country of origin, the Guinea Pig does not enjoy this exceptional life. In Peruvian culture, it is raised for its flesh and recognized as a dish with exceptional aromas by certain restaurants. Moreover, when Christopher Columbus and his traveling companions or the conquistadors cross his path, it will not be at all as a pet, but rather as an animal raised for its meat.

Are guinea pigs and pigs really alike?

Apart from the barrel shape of their body, we cannot say that guinea pigs and pigs have much in common, except their very particular cry. The size of our domestic pig is still more imposing: 55 cm for 80 kilos even when the pig is called “dwarf”. Although it is known to be omnivorous, the dwarf pig, like the guinea pig, will do much better if you offer it a purely vegetarian diet. Both the guinea pig and the dwarf pig show preferences for:

Fresh vegetables; Fresh fruit; Fodder.

Ultimately, there’s nothing more distant than a guinea pig and a pig. Even their calls are very different, with their pet pig growling in low tones while the Guinea Pig uses a higher, very high pitched sound.

A very talkative pet

Particularly enjoying the company of their peers, guinea pigs play a large behavioral and vocal role in living in a community:

They smell each other; They lick each other; They bite each other; They talk and sing!

Sharing the lives of guinea pigs means enjoying a melodious chorus of whistling, chirping, squealing, cooing, groaning, clicking and gnashing of teeth that you will have to learn to interpret. If the cries express discomfort, pain or panic in the small animal, squeaks and coos can mean many different things. The context then allows you to translate the need or request of your little companion. Guinea pigs are also known to be singers, unfortunately, to this day, no one knows why they sing!

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