Guinea pig

Cavia aperea

SUBFAMILY

Caviinae

TAXONOMY

Cavia aperea Erxleben, 1777, Pernambuco, Brazil.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Cavy; Spanish: Quiso, cui, cori, cobaye.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Head and body length average 13.7 oz (350 mm), tailless, and weight 17.6-52.9 oz (500-1,500 g). Legs are short, large head, digits clawed and slightly reduced (three on hind foot and four on front). Color of dorsal pelage is olive brown with paler coloration underneath. The domestic species, Cavia porcellus, is larger, more robust, and varied in color. Some have short hair, while others have long, straight, or curly hair. Considerable research on genetics of coat color and characteristics of the fur has been performed on domestic varieties of guinea pigs.

DISTRIBUTION

Occurs broadly in South America from Colombia through Brazil and Argentina. Most widely distributed genus in South America.

HABITAT

Takes shelter in brush and piles of rocks. Habitat varied, consisting of savanna in both subtropical and tropical regions, grasslands, and edges of forests. Have a preference for grassy habitat.

BEHAVIOR

Displays both diurnal and nocturnal activity. Guinea pigs form colonies with a linear dominance hierarchy for both males and females. Males are less tolerant of each other in the wild species relative to the domestic species. The species is highly vocal and has calls for warning, courtship, and aggressive interactions; these calls range from "clucks" to "whets."

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Generally feed throughout the day on grasses, and have been observed feeding in groups. Feeding areas normally close to cover.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

The mating system is polygynous and involves males mating with more than one female. Gestation averages 62 days for wild species and is shorter in the domestic guinea pig. Guinea pigs breed continuously and experience postpartum estrus. Minimum age for first reproduction in females is 30 days. Young are precocial and weaned at an early age. Offspring have been observed eating solid food two to three days after birth. The social organization of guinea pig populations changes with increases in number of individuals. There is a stronger linear dominance hierarchy when populations are low, and when populations are larger, individuals form subgroups of a few males and females. In the small subgroups dominant males appear to be highly successful at monopolizing breeding of females in estrus.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Common, not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Still used for food today; presumably, the Incas used guinea pigs for food and in religious ceremonies. The domestic species has been used as an animal model for studying human diseases and toxins harmful to man. Other medical uses have involved the development of serums and vaccines as well as psychological experiments. Early studies of animal population genetics focused on variation of the guinea pig's coat color. Guinea pigs are kept as pets and become very interactive. ♦

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