July 16 – National Guinea Pig Day

Posted on July 16, 2020

The U.S. breeders' association for a familiar fluffy pet is called American Cavy Breeders Association - because there are two common names for this rodent in the English language: guinea pig and cavy.

(I'm not at all sure why the name guinea pig ever got invented! "Guinea" comes from a Portuguese word that refers to lands and other things owned by African people - and guinea pigs originated in South America! - and these creatures are rodents, not close relatives of pigs! In other languages, too, these rodents' names are confusing; for example, German's meerschweinchen means "little sea pigs," even though they don't live in or near the sea and aren't pigs or even all that piglike!)

Did you know...?

The Incan Empire ruled the Andes
in South America for centuries.
  • The Incas of South America domesticated guinea pigs more than 3,000 years ago. They raised them to be both pets and food. Some folk medicines are based on guinea pigs. Also, the Incas sometimes offered the rodents as sacrifices to their gods (although many other things such as food, coca leaves, cloth, and other animals - including people! - were also offered in sacrifice).

  • Because guinea pigs have been used often in experiments - like mice and rats are - the term "guinea pig" is sometimes used for a human test subject. For example, someone might say to a doctor offering a highly experimental drug: "So, you want me to be your guinea pig?"
  • Guinea pigs are fairly large compared to most rodents. They can weigh between 1.4 and 2.6 pounds, and some breeds up to 6.6 pounds (3 kg)! Of course, I'm comparing that to rodents like voles (around 1 ounce, or one-sixteenth of a pound), mice (less than 1 ounce), or even the much larger rat (about half a pound). There are much larger rodents, like the beaver (24 - 66 pounds) and the largest rodent in the world, the capybara (77 - 150 pounds - and also from South America!). 

Guinea pigs can for sure be cute:


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