Cavia porcellus (domesticated guinea pig)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Air Temperature
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Impact Summary
- Impact: Environmental
- Threatened Species
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Links to Websites
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Cavia porcellus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Preferred Common Name
- domesticated guinea pig
Other Scientific Names
- Cavia cobaya Pallas, 1766
International Common Names
- English: domestic cavy; domestic guinea pig; domestic guineapig; guinea pig; guineapig
- Spanish: cobayo; conejillo de Indias; cuy; cuyo
- French: cobaye; cochon d’Inde
- Portuguese: cobaia; porquinho da India
Local Common Names
- Germany: Hausmeerschweinchen
- Netherlands: meerzwijn
DADIS local name
DADIS main name
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
Cavia porcellus, commonly known as the guinea pig, is a small, tailless rodent with hair that varies greatly in length and colour. It originates from the Andean region of South America, where it was domesticated for meat production and continues to be a food source. It has been widely introduced, around the world, as a domestic pet and laboratory animal. Guinea pigs were first documented in Europe in 1554 then, since the mid-1800s, have been used worldwide in laboratories for research on pathology, nutrition, genetics and other disciplines. C. porcellus has also been introduced to various countries of sub-Saharan Africa, and to the Caribbean, as a livestock animal, although the extent is little documented. Feral populations of C. porcellus have been suggested but there is no published evidence of long-term establishment.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Metazoa
- Phylum: Chordata
- Subphylum: Vertebrata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Rodentia
- Family: Caviidae
- Genus: Cavia
- Species: Cavia porcellus
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
The genus Cavia comprises eight species: C. porcellus, C. aperea, C. tschudii, C. guianae, C. anolaimae, C. nana, C. fulgida and C. magna. However there is confusion as to whether some populations and species actually represent feral domestic guinea pigs. According to Woods and Kilpatrick (2005), the genus is in need of revision because the origin of the domesticated form and the number of species that occur in the wild remains unclear.
According to Nowak (1999), C. porcellus is a domesticated descendent of wild cavy species, with no established wild populations. It was probably derived from C. aperea, C. tschudii or C. fulgida. Based on molecular data, Dunnum and Salazar-Bravo (2010) conclude that C. tschudii is the closest wild species to the domesticated guinea pig and probably gave origin to the domesticated form.
DescriptionTop of page
According to Nowak (1999), it is a small mammal, with a head and body length of 200-400 mm and weight of 500-1,500 g. It has no external tail. Hair is smooth or coarse, long or short, and may display rosettes. Colour is varied and includes brown, white, black and grey, and mixtures of colours. C. porcellus is stocky with short legs, and short, rounded, unfurred ears. They have four digits on the front foot, and usually three on the hind (Wright, 1934), with sharp claws. Females have a single pair of inguinal mammae.
DistributionTop of page
C. porcellus originates from the Andean region of South America, where it was domesticated for meat production. It is considered to be present in almost every country in the world as a domestic pet, laboratory or livestock animal.
Nowak (1999) suggests there may be feral populations where guinea pigs are domesticated and a couple of newspaper articles report the existence of feral guinea pigs in Nu'uanu on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii (Arakawa, 2008) and Bermuda (Jones, 2012) after pets escaped or were released by their owners. However, there appear to be no scientific reports confirming these occurrences or establishment.
ISSG (2015) includes a record of invasive C. porcellus in Hawaii but this is based on occurrence prior to 1944 on Laysan Island (see BirdLife International, 2012); SPREP (2000) reports that C. porcellus “formerly existed” on that island.
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
IntroductionsTop of page
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
C. porcellus has already been widely introduced around the world as a domestic pet, laboratory animal and livestock.
HabitatTop of page
As C. porcellus is a domesticated species, it does not have a ‘natural’ habitat. Where C. porcellus is kept as a source of food in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia it is sometimes kept in huts and hollows in domestic walls; in other places they are allowed to range freely and scavenge. In some places this may have resulted in feral populations being established. Cavies in general occur in a wide variety of habitats including open grasslands, forest edge, swamps and rocky areas, at elevations up to 4200 m (Nowak, 1999).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Buildings||Present, no further details||Productive/non-natural|
|Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Rocky areas / lava flows||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Scrub / shrublands||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Wetlands||Present, no further details||Natural|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
The following information on biology and ecology is adapted from Nowak (1999).
In captivity, C. porcellus breeds year-round, with a birth peak in the spring. Females are polyoestrous, with an oestrous cycle of 16.5 days on average. They can produce up to five litters a year, and experience a post-partum oestrous immediately after giving birth. Gestation period averages 68 days, with an average of 2.3 young per litter (maximum five). Sexual maturity is reached after two months in females and three months in males.
C. porcellus may live for up to eight years.
Guinea pigs are most active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular) and most feeding occurs during this period.
Population Size and Structure
C. porcellus is gregarious and prefers close contact with other guinea pigs. Wild species of cavies generally associate in small groups of five to ten individuals, and groups may converge into apparently larger colonies.
C. porcellus feeds largely on grass, but is unusual in requiring a dietary source of vitamin C (ascorbic acid). They can obtain sufficient vitamin C (about 10 mg/day) from fresh raw fruits and vegetables. C. porcellus also has an unusually high requirement for certain amino acids, which is usually met in captivity by providing a protein-rich diet (Wagner and Manning, 1976).
Optimal temperatures for C. porcellus in captivity are in the range of 18–24°C; a minimum night-time temperature of –7°C is tolerated. In their native range they can occur at altitudes from sea level up to mountainous regions of 4000 m. Their current native range of Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia stretches from the equator to about 22°S.
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Absolute minimum temperature (ºC)||-7|
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
As a domesticated species generally kept in domestic circumstances, C. porcellus is not predated upon. Wild relatives of C. porcellus are predated on by ferrets, domestic dogs, cats, coyotes, wolves, owls and some species of hawks (Animal Diversity Web, 2015).
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
C. porcellus has been widely dispersed around the world as a domestic pet and laboratory animal, and probably exists in most countries worldwide. In cases noted in Hawaii and Bermuda, feral populations have been observed where pets have accidentally (or deliberately) been released into the wild, but there is no published evidence of long-term establishment.
C. porcellus has been introduced to a number of countries as a livestock animal, most notably in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Maass et al., 2014), and other West African Countries. There is no data on feral populations of C. porcellus resulting from these intentional introductions.
Pathway CausesTop of page
|Animal production||Throughout Latin America and parts of West Africa||Yes||Maass et al., 2014; Nowak, 1999|
|Pet trade||Global; since 1550s C. porcellus has been transported and later bred as a pet||Yes||Morales, 1995|
|Research||Global; since 1800s C. porcellus has been used as a laboratory animal||Yes|
Impact SummaryTop of page
Impact: EnvironmentalTop of page
According to BirdLife International (2012), the Laysan rail (Zapornia palmeri) became extinct on Laysan Island, Hawaii (USA) between 1923 and 1936 as a result of habitat destruction by rabbits and guinea pigs introduced by guano diggers. This bird became globally extinct in 1944.
Threatened SpeciesTop of page
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Has a broad native range
- Abundant in its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Is a habitat generalist
- Highly mobile locally
- Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
- Has high reproductive potential
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Threat to/ loss of endangered species
- Threat to/ loss of native species
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
UsesTop of page
C. porcellus is widely kept in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia for domestic consumption and sale. Peruvians alone consume an estimated 65 million animals every year, where it provides a vital source of protein in rural communities (Vecchio, 2004) and livelihoods for families. Similarly, in eastern Africa, smallholder farmers use guinea pigs as a useful source of meat, manure and cash (Matthiesen et al., 2011).
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a survey in 2014 estimated that more than 2 million C. porcellus are kept in the county, contributing to nutritional security and income generation for hundreds of thousands of poor households. Cavies were included in ‘rehabilitation kits’ provided by humanitarian NGOs and in the agricultural portfolio of development agencies seeking to address malnutrition (Maass et al., 2014).
C. porcellus is used in laboratories around the world for research on pathology, nutrition, genetics and other disciplines. It is a particularly valuable animal for nutritional research because of its unusually high requirement for some vitamins and amino acids (Nuwanyakpa, 1997).
In its originating range of the Andean Region in South America, C. porcellus has great cultural importance for the indigenous population, where it is considered a delicacy, is commonly sacrificed and plays an important part in folk medicine (Sandweiss and Wing, 1997). The animal is also greatly valued as a pet worldwide.
Uses ListTop of page
- Botanical garden/zoo
- Laboratory use
- Pet/aquarium trade
- Research model
- Ritual uses
- Sociocultural value
Human food and beverage
- Meat/fat/offal/blood/bone (whole, cut, fresh, frozen, canned, cured, processed or smoked)
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
C. porcellus is similar in form and behaviour to wild species of cavie. It is thought likely that C. porcellus was derived from C. aperea, C. tschudii, or C. fulgida but became distinct from these species through domestication more than 3000 years ago (Nowak, 1999).
ReferencesTop of page
Animal Diversity Web, 2015. Animal Diversity Web. Michigan, USA: Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan. http://animaldiversity.org/
Arakawa L, 2008. Feral guinea pigs infest Nu'uanu. Hawaii, USA: Honolulu Advertiser. http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2008/Jul/10/ln/hawaii807100326
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ContributorsTop of page
04/06/15 Original test by:
Sophie Higman, Consultant, Cambridge, UK