Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Cavia porcellus
(domesticated guinea pig)

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Datasheet

Cavia porcellus (domesticated guinea pig)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 13 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Documented Species
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Cavia porcellus
  • Preferred Common Name
  • domesticated guinea pig
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Mammalia
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • 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 domesticate...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Cavia porcellus (domesticated guinea pig); adults.
TitleAdults
CaptionCavia porcellus (domesticated guinea pig); adults.
CopyrightPublic Domain/via wikipedia - released by Marzper
Cavia porcellus (domesticated guinea pig); adults.
AdultsCavia porcellus (domesticated guinea pig); adults.Public Domain/via wikipedia - released by Marzper

Identity

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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

  • acure
  • acurito
  • curi
  • cuyo

DADIS main name

  • cuy

Summary of Invasiveness

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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 Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Mammalia
  •                     Order: Rodentia
  •                         Family: Caviidae
  •                             Genus: Cavia
  •                                 Species: Cavia porcellus

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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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. 

Description

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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.

Distribution

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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.

C. porcellus livestock is often free to roam within and outside of houses in South America (Chauca de Zaldivar, 1997), including in the Galapagos Islands (Phillips et al., 2012); sub-Saharan Africa (Manjeli et al., 1998); and Cuba (Borroto-Páez, 2011Borroto-Páez and Woods, 2012) and Haiti (Woods and Ottenwalder, 1992) in the Caribbean; but feral populations derived from escapees have not been confirmed to have established. 
 
In sub-Saharan Africa, C. porcellus is kept as livestock in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo Democratic Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo (Ngou-Ngoupayou et al., 1995). As C. porcellus is generally not covered by livestock statistics, its full extent in Africa is almost unknown (Nuwanyakpa et al 1997; Perry et al., 2002). In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), C. porcellus was included in ‘rehabilitation kits’ provided by humanitarian NGOs and in the agricultural portfolio of development agencies seeking to address malnutrition (Maass et al., 2014). 
 

History of Introduction and Spread

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C. porcellus was originally domesticated probably in the area of today’s Peru (Spotorno et al., 2007; Dunnum and Salazar-Bravo, 2010), where archaeological finds from about 3600 BC corroborate early domestication (Stahl, 2008). It had been spread across South America and was introduced to the Caribbean around 500 AD (LeFebvre and deFrance, 2014). During the Inca Empire (1200-1532), C. porcellus had its largest distribution from northwestern Venezuela to central Chile in South America (Gade, 1967). It is still commonly kept as a household animal for meat production by the people of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and southern Colombia – Stahl (2009) argues that the disjunct distribution of cavid rodents hints at possibly feral status of the northern distribution.
 
Guinea pigs were first documented in Europe in 1554 by a Swiss naturalist, Conrad Gessner (Kusukawa, 2010). A guinea pig (as a pet) was painted in an English portrait by an unknown artist, c.1580 (National Portrait Gallery, 2013) and an archaeological find in England is dated similarly (Pigière et al., 2012). Since 1780, C. porcellus has been used in laboratories around the world for biomedical research in various scientific fields, including pathology, nutrition, genetics, pharmacology, allergy, radiology and immunology among others (Gad and Peckham, 2013). No feral guinea pig populations are known in Europe. 
 
La Molina National Agrarian University in Lima, Peru, began successfully breeding larger guinea pigs in the 1960s for more efficient meat production (Chauca de Zaldívar, 1997). 
 

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Europe South America 1500-1600 Pet trade (pathway cause) No Morales (1995)
Hawaii 1930s Live food or feed trade (pathway cause)BirdLife International (2012)

Risk of Introduction

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C. porcellus has already been widely introduced around the world as a domestic pet, laboratory animal and livestock. 

Habitat

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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 List

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CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial-managed
Buildings Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial-natural/semi-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 Ecology

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The following information on biology and ecology is adapted from Nowak (1999).

Reproductive Biology

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.

Longevity

C. porcellus may live for up to eight years.

Activity Patterns

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.

Nutrition

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).

Environmental Requirements

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 Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) -7

Notes on Natural Enemies

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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 Dispersal

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Accidental Introduction

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.

Intentional Introduction

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 Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Animal productionThroughout Latin America and parts of West Africa Yes Maass et al., 2014; Nowak, 1999
Pet tradeGlobal; since 1550s C. porcellus has been transported and later bred as a pet Yes Morales, 1995
ResearchGlobal; since 1800s C. porcellus has been used as a laboratory animal Yes

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive
Environment (generally) Negative
Human health Positive

Impact: Environmental

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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 Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Zapornia palmeri (Laysan rail)EX (IUCN red list: Extinct) EX (IUCN red list: Extinct)HawaiiBirdLife International, 2012

Risk and Impact Factors

Top 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
  • Gregarious
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately

Uses

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Economic Value

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).

Social Benefit

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 List

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General

  • 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)

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Traditional/folklore

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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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).

References

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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

Bindelle J; Ilunga Y; Delacollette M; Kayij MM; M'Balu JUdi; Kindele E; Buldgen A, 2007. Voluntary intake, chemical composition and in vitro digestibility of fresh forages fed to Guinea pigs in periurban rearing systems of Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo). Tropical Animal Health and Production, 39(6):419-426. http://springerlink.metapress.com/link.asp?id=103008

BirdLife International, 2012. The IUCN red list of threatened species, version 2015.1. IUCN. www.iucnredlist.org

Borroto-Páez R, 2011. The invasive or introduced mammals. (Los mamíferos invasores o introducidos.) In: Mamíferos en Cuba [ed. by Borroto-Páez, R. Mancina, C. A. Larramendi, J. A.]. Vaasa, Finland: UPC Print, 220-241.

Borroto-Paez R; Woods CA, 2012. Status and Impact of Introduced Mammals of the West Indies. In: Terrestrial Mammals of the West Indies - Contributions [ed. by Borroto-Paez R, Woods CA, Sergile FE]. Florida, USA: Florida Museum of Natural History and Wacahoota Press.

Chauca Zaldivar Lde, 1997. Guinea pig production (Cavia porcellus) (Produccion de cuyes (Cavia porcellus)). Rome, Italy: FAO, 80 pp. http://www.fao.org/docrep/w6562s/w6562s00.htm

Dunnum JL; Salazar-Bravo J, 2010. Molecular systematics, taxonomy and biogeography of the genus Cavia (Rodentia: Caviidae). Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research, 48(4):376-388. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1439-0469.2009.00561.x/full

Everglades Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, 2009. Everglades invasive species distribution maps: plants. USA: University of Georgia. http://www.evergladescisma.org/distribution/plants.cfm

Febvre MJle; France SDde, 2014. Guinea Pigs in the Pre-Columbian West Indies. The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, 9(1):16-44.

Gad SC; Peckham J, 2013. The Guinea Pig - Chapter 5. In: Animal Models in Toxicology, third edition [ed. by Gad, S. C.]. Boca Raton, Florida, USA: CRC Press, 341-498.

Gade DW, 1967. The Guinea Pig in Andean Folk Culture. Geographical Review, 57:213-224.

GBIF, 2015. Global Biodiversity Information Facility. http://www.gbif.org/species

HEAR, 2015. Alien species in Hawaii. Hawaii Ecosystems at Risk. Honolulu, USA: University of Hawaii. http://www.hear.org/AlienSpeciesInHawaii/index.html

ISSG, 2015. Global Invasive Species Database (GISD). Invasive Species Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. http://www.issg.org/database/welcome/

ITIS, 2015. Integrated Taxonomic Information System online database. http://www.itis.gov

Jones S, 2012. Environment Special: Ecosystem Threatened by Invasive Species. Bermuda, UK: Bermuda Sun. http://www.bermudasun.bm/Content/NEWS/News/Article/Environment-Special-Ecosystem-threatened-by-invasive-species/24/270/59092

Kusukawa S, 2010. The sources of Gessner's pictures for the Historia animalium. Annals of Science, 67(3):303-328.

Maass BL; Metre TK; Tsongo F; Mugisho AB; Kampemba FM; Ayagirwe RBB; Azine PC; Bindelle J; Chiuri WL, 2014. From taboo to commodity: history and current situation of cavy culture in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Livestock Research for Rural Development, 26(8):Article 151. http://www.lrrd.org/lrrd26/8/maas26151.htm

Manjeli Y; Tchoumboue J; Njwe RM; Teguia A, 1998. Guinea-pig productivity under traditional management. Tropical Animal Health and Production, 30(2):115-122.

Matthiesen T; Nyamete F; Msuya JM; Maass B, 2011. Importance of Guinea Pig Husbandry for the Livelihood of Rural People in Tanzania: a Case Study in Iringa Region. In: Development at the Margin, TROPENTAG conference, Bonn, Germany, 5-7 October 2011. Germany: University of Bonn.

Morales E, 1995. The Guinea Pig: Healing, Food, and Ritual in the Andes. Arizona, USA: University of Arizona Press, 204 pp.

National Portrait Gallery, 2013. News release: earliest portrait of a guinea pig discovered as exhibition reveals unseen painting. London, UK: National Portrait Gallery. http://www.npg.org.uk/about/press/news-release-earliest-portrait-of-a-guinea-pig

Ngou-Ngoupayou JD; Kouonmenioc J; Fotso Tagny JM; Cicogna M; Castroville C; Rigoni M; Hardouin J, 1995. Pig-breeding Development Opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa - the Case of Cameroon. (Possibilites de Developpement de l'elevage du Cobaye en Afrique Subsaharienne - le Cas du Cameroun). World Animal Review, 83(2). FAO/AGA, 21-28. http://www.fao.org/ag/aga/agap/frg/feedback/war/v6200b/v6200b08.htm

Nowak RM, 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, sixth edition. Baltimore, USA: The John Hopkins University Press, 2015 pp.

Nuwanyakpa M; Lukefahr SD; Gudahl D; Ngoupayou JD, 1997. The Current Stage and Future Prospects of Guinea Pig Production Under Smallholder Conditions in West Africa; 2. Cameroon Case. Livestock Research for Rural Development, 9(5). http://lrrd.cipav.org.co/lrrd9/5/gp952.htm

Perry BD; Randolph TF; McDermott JJ; Sones KR; Thornton PK, 2002. Investing in animal health research to alleviate poverty [ed. by Perry BD, Randolph TF, McDermott JJ, Sones KR, Thornton PK]. Nairobi, Kenya: International Livestock Research Institute, vi + 140 pp.

Phillips RB; Wiedenfeld DA; Snell HL, 2012. Current status of alien vertebrates in the Galápagos Islands: invasion history, distribution, and potential impacts. Biological Invasions, 14(2):461-480. http://www.springerlink.com/content/w057 g81616262710/

Pigiere F; Neer Wvan; Ansieau C; Denis M, 2012. New Archaeozoological Evidence for the Introduction of the Guinea Pig to Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39(4):1020-1024.

Roskov Y; Abucay L; Orrell T; Nicolson D; Kunze T; Culham A; Bailly N; Kirk P; Bourgoin T; DeWalt RE; Decock W; Wever A De, 2014. Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life, 2014 Annual Checklist. Leiden, Netherlands: Naturalis Biodiversity Center.

Sachser N; Kunzl C; Kaiser S, 2007. Animal Welfare - The Welfare of Laboratory Guinea Pigs, 2., Netherlands: Springer.

Sandweiss DH; Wing ES, 1997. Ritual Rodents: The Guinae Pigs of Chincha, Peru. Journal of Field Archaeology, 24(1):47-58.

Spotorno AE; Manriquez G; Fernandez-L A; Marin JC; Gonzalez F; Wheeler J, 2007. Domestication of Guinea Pigs from a Southern Peru-Northern Chile Wild Species and their Middle pre-Columbian Mummies. In: The Quintessential Naturalist - Honouring the Life and Legacy of Oliver P Pearson [ed. by Kelt, D. A. \Lessa, E. P. \Salazar-Bravo, J. \Patton, J. L.]., USA: University of California Publications in Zoology, 134 pp.

SPREP, 2000. Invasive Species in the Pacific - A Technical Review and Draft Regional Strategy. South Pacific Regional Environment Programme. Apia, Samoa. http://www.issg.org/database/reference/Invasive_strategy_and_species.pdf

Vecchio R, 2004. Peru pushes guinea pigs as food. USA: CBS News. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/peru-pushes-guinea-pigs-as-food/

Wagner JE; Manning PJ, 1976. The biology of the guinea pig. Academic Press, 317 pp.

Woods CA; Kilpatrick CW, 2005. Infraorder Hystricognathi Brandt, 1855. In: Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference, third edition: 1538-1600 [ed. by Wilson DE, Reeder DM]. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Woods CA; Ottenwalder JA, 1992. The Natural History of Southern Haiti - Report. Haiti, USA: USAID. http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/Pnadr534.pdf

Wright S, 1934. An Analysis of Variability in Number of Digits in an Inbred Strain of Guinea-pigs. Genetics, 19:506-536.

Links to Websites

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WebsiteURLComment
Animal Diversity Web ~ Cavia porcellushttp://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cavia_porcellus/
Catalogue of Lifehttp://www.catalogueoflife.org
Galapagos Species Checklisthttp://www.evergladescisma.org/distribution/plants.cfm
Integrated Taxomonic Information Service (ITIS)http://www.itis.gov

Contributors

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04/06/15 Original test by:

Sophie Higman, Consultant, Cambridge, UK