Guinea pig

Domestic guinea pig
Two Adult Guinea Pigs (cropped).jpg
Two adult guinea pigs
Scientific classification edit
C. porcellus
Binomial name
Cavia porcellus
  • Mus porcellus Linnaeus, 1758
  • Cavia cobaya Pallas, 1766
  • Cavia anolaimae Allen, 1916
  • Cavia cutleri Bennett, 1836
  • Cavia leucopyga Cabanis, 1848
  • Cavia longipilis Fitzinger, 1879

The guinea pig or domestic guinea pig (Cavia porcellus), also known as cavy or domestic cavy, is a species of rodent belonging to the family Caviidae and the genus Cavia. Despite their common name, these animals are not in the pig family Suidae, nor do they come from Guinea in Africa, and the origin of their name is still unclear; they originated in the Andes of South America and studies based on biochemistry and hybridization suggest they are domesticated descendants of a closely related species of cavy such as C. tschudii, and therefore do not exist naturally in the wild.[1][2]

In Western society, the domestic guinea pig has enjoyed widespread popularity as a household pet, a type of pocket pet, since its introduction by European traders in the 16th century. Their docile nature; friendly, even affectionate, responsiveness to handling and feeding; and the relative ease of caring for them have made and continue to make guinea pigs a popular choice of pet. Organizations devoted to the competitive breeding of guinea pigs have been formed worldwide, and many specialized breeds with varying coat colors and textures are selected by breeders.

The domestic guinea pig plays an important role in folk culture for many indigenous Andean groups, especially as a food source, but also in folk medicine and in community religious ceremonies.[3] The animals are used for meat and are a culinary staple in the Andes Mountains, where they are known as cuy. A modern breeding program was started in the 1960s in Peru that resulted in large breeds known as cuy mejorados (improved cuy) and prompted efforts to increase consumption of the animal outside South America.[4]

Biological experimentation on domestic guinea pigs has been carried out since the 17th century. The animals were so frequently used as model organisms in the 19th and 20th centuries that the epithet guinea pig came into use to describe a human test subject. Since that time, they have been largely replaced by other rodents such as mice and rats. However, they are still used in research, primarily as models for human medical conditions such as juvenile diabetes, tuberculosis, scurvy (like humans, they must get vitamin C), and pregnancy complications.


The scientific name of the common species is Cavia porcellus, with porcellus being Latin for "little pig". Cavia is New Latin; it is derived from cabiai, the animal's name in the language of the Galibi tribes once native to French Guiana.[5] Cabiai may be an adaptation of the Portuguese çavia (now savia), which is itself derived from the Tupi word saujá, meaning rat.[6] Guinea pigs are called quwi or jaca in Quechua and cuy or cuyo (plural cuyes, cuyos) in the Spanish of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.[7] Ironically, breeders tend to use the more formal "cavy" to describe the animal, while in scientific and laboratory contexts, it is far more commonly referred to by the more colloquial "guinea pig".[8]

How the animals came to be called "pigs" is not clear. They are built somewhat like pigs, with large heads relative to their bodies, stout necks, and rounded rumps with no tail of any consequence; some of the sounds they emit are very similar to those made by pigs, and they also spend a large amount of time eating.[8][9] They can survive for long periods in small quarters, like a 'pig pen', and were thus easily transported on ships to Europe.[8]

The animal's name alludes to pigs in many European languages. The German word for them is Meerschweinchen, literally "little sea pig", which has been translated into Polish as świnka morska, into Hungarian as tengerimalac, and into Russian as морская свинка. This derives from the Middle High German name merswin. This originally meant "dolphin" and was used because of the animals' grunting sounds (which were thought to be similar).[10] Many other, possibly less scientifically based explanations of the German name exist. For example, sailing ships stopping to reprovision in the New World would pick up stores of guinea pigs, which provided an easily transportable source of fresh meat. The French term is cochon d'Inde (Indian pig) or cobaye; the Dutch call it Guinees biggetje (Guinean piglet) or cavia (while in some Dutch dialects it is called Spaanse rat); and in Portuguese, the guinea pig is variously referred to as cobaia, from the Tupi word via its Latinization, or as porquinho da Índia (little Indian pig). This is not universal; for example, the common word in Spanish is conejillo de Indias (little rabbit of the Indies).[7] The Chinese refer to them as 豚鼠 (túnshǔ, 'pig mouse'), and sometimes as Netherlands pig (荷蘭豬, hélánzhū) or Indian mouse (天竺鼠, tiānzhúshǔ). The Japanese word for guinea pig is "モルモット" (morumotto), which derives from the name of another mountain-dwelling rodent, the marmot; this is what guinea pigs were called by the Dutch traders who first brought them to Nagasaki in 1843. The other Japanese word for guinea pig, using kanji, is tenjiku-nezumi (天竺鼠, or てんじくねずみ), which literally translates as India rat.[11]

The origin of "guinea" in "guinea pig" is harder to explain. One proposed explanation is that the animals were brought to Europe by way of Guinea, leading people to think they had originated there.[8] "Guinea" was also frequently used in English to refer generally to any far-off, unknown country, so the name may simply be a colorful reference to the animal's exotic appeal.[12][13] Another hypothesis suggests the "guinea" in the name is a corruption of "Guiana", an area in South America.[12][14] A common misconception is that they were so named because they were sold for the price of a guinea coin; this hypothesis is untenable, because the guinea was first struck in England in 1663, and William Harvey used the term "Ginny-pig" as early as 1653.[15] Others believe "guinea" may be an alteration of the word coney (rabbit); guinea pigs were referred to as "pig coneys" in Edward Topsell's 1607 treatise on quadrupeds.[8]

Other Languages
Ænglisc: Rætswīn
aragonés: Cavia porcellus
asturianu: Cavia porcellus
Avañe'ẽ: Apere'a
Aymar aru: K'uwisu
azərbaycanca: Dəniz donuzcuğu
বাংলা: গিনিপিগ
беларуская: Марская свінка
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Марская сьвінка
български: Морско свинче
brezhoneg: Razh-Indez
čeština: Morče domácí
Cymraeg: Mochyn cwta
eesti: Merisiga
español: Cavia porcellus
Esperanto: Kobajo
euskara: Akuri
français: Cavia porcellus
Frysk: Kavia
Gaeilge: Muc ghuine
Gàidhlig: Gearra-mhuc
galego: Cobaia
ગુજરાતી: ગિનિ પિગ
한국어: 기니피그
հայերեն: Ծովախոզուկ
हिन्दी: गिनी पिग
Ido: Kobayo
Bahasa Indonesia: Tikus belanda
interlingua: Cavia porcellus
íslenska: Naggrísir
italiano: Cavia porcellus
עברית: שרקן
Basa Jawa: Tikus walanda
ಕನ್ನಡ: ಗಿನಿಯಿಲಿ
Kapampangan: Dagis sungsung
ქართული: ზღვის გოჭი
latviešu: Jūrascūciņa
lietuvių: Jūrų kiaulytė
Limburgs: Hoescavia
Lingua Franca Nova: Cavia
magyar: Tengerimalac
македонски: Морско прасе
Bahasa Melayu: Tikus Belanda
မြန်မာဘာသာ: ပူး
Nāhuatl: Cuatochtli
Nederlands: Huiscavia
नेपाली: गिनी पिग
日本語: モルモット
norsk: Marsvin
norsk nynorsk: Marsvin
occitan: Cavia
polski: Kawia domowa
română: Cobai
Runa Simi: Wasi quwi
Seeltersk: Huusmeerswien
Simple English: Guinea pig
slovenčina: Morča domáce
slovenščina: Morski prašiček
српски / srpski: Морско прасе
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Morsko prase
suomi: Marsu
svenska: Marsvin
Tagalog: Konehilyo
தமிழ்: கினி எலி
Türkçe: Kobay
українська: Кавія свійська
Tiếng Việt: Chuột lang nhà
West-Vlams: Spaansche ratte
粵語: 天竺鼠
中文: 豚鼠