A Quick History of the Guinea Pig

November 14, 2016

 

Each month for the next several months MNPPR is going to be doing a beginners class about each type of pocket pet. In honor of October's guinea pig class here are a 10 quick history facts about where the pet piggies we know and love came from.

 

1. Guinea Pigs are descendant from Phoberomys pattersoni, the largest rodent ever that weighed in at 1500 pounds and lived 8 million years ago.

 

2. Guinea pigs (or Cavies as they are sometimes called) started hanging out with humans around 9,000 years ago.

 

3. Many families in South America kept herds of around 20 cavies as a source of protein.

 

4. These cavies were sometimes kept in adobe cages and sometimes give free range of all or part of the house (most often the kitchen).

 

5. Cavies were one of the many things the Spanish Conquistadors sent back to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century along with gold and chocolate. 

 

6. No one is completely sure where the name guinea pig came from. It could be because they cost one guinea which was equal to about one pound and 21 shillings at the time, because the squeaking noise they make may sound similar to a pig, or because the trade route they took from the New World left the port of Guiana.

 

7. Guinea pigs quickly became popular exotic pets with both the European upper and middle classes and even Queen Elizabeth the first had them. 

 

8. In the mid 1880's Guinea Pigs were used as test subjects by scientists to find treatments for tuberculosis, asthma, and blood disorders because their immune system is similar to ours.

 

9. It was with Guinea Pigs that we were first able to identify Vitamin C and its importance in 1907. Humans, guinea pigs, and bats are the only mammals that are unable to produce their own vitamin C and need to get if from their diet.

 

10. Today not only are guinea pigs popular as pets but it has recently been discovered that their poop makes a great source of energy. A special bio-digester in Peru is able to break down their pellets into methane gas and plant fertilizer.

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