Whether you are a new guinea pig owner or an experienced cavy-lover, there may be a few things you still don’t know. Aside from typical facts such as what guinea pigs eat and that they are social animals, there are definitely more interesting facts about guinea pigs than that. Keep reading to learn 10 fun facts about guinea pigs you probably don’t know!
Fact 1: Guinea pigs are not from Guinea and are not pigs.
The name ‘guinea pig’ is very misleading since they are actually from Guyana and are not related to pigs at all. It is believed that ‘guinea’ is the result of confusion or mistranslation of Guyana, which is a country that guinea pigs are native to. As for being named after pigs, guinea pigs are more closely related to the capybara and were named for pigs simply because of their pig-like shape, constant eating, and grunting noises.
Fact 2: Guinea pigs sleep in short periods, and can be awake for up to 20 hours a day.
Guinea pigs are known to sleep between four and six hours in 24 hours. Most of their sleeping is accomplished through short naps of 10 minutes or less rather than sleeping for a substantial period. They are also considered crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. This unique sleeping pattern likely developed to avoid being preyed on, since guinea pigs are prey animals in the wild.
Fact 3: Guinea pigs have four toes on their front feet, but only three toes on each back foot.
Another unique characteristic about guinea pigs is that they have an odd number of toes on their back feet. This gives them fourteen totals in total, with nails that grow continuously and need trimming. This foot structure is beneficial for burrowing and tunneling, which guinea pigs need to do frequently in the wild. Unfortunately, it also makes them poor climbers and quite clumsy animals.
Fact 4: Guinea pigs’ teeth never stop growing.
Like most rodents, guinea pigs have ‘rootless’ or ‘open-root’ teeth which continue growing for their entire life. All of their teeth can grow continually, but their front incisors are prone to becoming overgrown, causing discomfort and oral injuries. This makes it incredibly important for guinea pigs to have plenty of food, twigs and chews to help wear down their teeth to an appropriate length.
Fact 5: Baby Guinea Pigs are born fully formed and able to run around at just a few hours old.
Baby guinea pigs, unlike most rodent species, are precocial, which means they are born in an advanced state. They are born with all their hair and teeth, can see and hear, and are capable of moving around and feeding themselves. Baby guinea pigs are miniature versions of adults, able to eat solid foods, and care for themselves just hours after birth. This is a major advantage for prey animals since they are born aware of their surroundings, and fairly independent.
Fact 6: Guinea pigs ‘popcorn’ where they pop up into the air, often with twists and squeaks.
Similar to dogs getting the “zoomies” when they are really excited, guinea pigs pop up into the air and spin around. This behavior has been affectionately dubbed as ‘popcorning’ because the pigs’ sudden movement looks similar to a kernel of popcorn popping. Generally characterized by sudden jumps, turns, and hops, popcorning is a surefire way to know your pig is happy and excited!
Fact 7: Guinea pigs secrete a milky, white substance from their eyes which is used to lubricate the eyes and clean the guinea pigs’ faces.
Normal guinea pigs have a small amount of white, milky discharge which leaks from their eyes as part of the grooming process. The white liquid is simply a cleaning fluid that lubricates their eyes and helps them clean their faces. While this is totally normal, and not problematic, you should contact your veterinarian if the amount increases or decreases dramatically.
Fact 8: Guinea pigs often sleep with their eyes open, likely an evolved trait to avoid predation in the wild.
Many prey animals sleep with their eyes fully or partially open, and guinea pigs are no different. Even guinea pigs, who tend to sleep in many brief periods, sleep with their eyes at least partially open. Some owners report that they rarely see their guinea pig close their eyes at all. Keeping their eyes open is a highly beneficial instinctual behavior that helps the rodent stay vigilant and avoid predators.
Fact 9: Some guinea pigs have swirly cowlicks across their body called rosettes.
One breed of domesticated guinea pig, called Abyssinians, has circular swirls or cowlicks called rosettes. They give guinea pigs a distinct, swirly appearance made up of six to ten rosettes. Show Abyssinians must have an even number of rosettes, either eight or ten across their body, with one on each shoulder, two or four on their back, one on each hip, and two on their rump.
Fact 10: Guinea pigs have a really wide field of vision at 340 degrees.
Guinea pigs also have an impressively large field of vision, which is a major advantage for prey animals. With an estimated 340 degrees of vision, guinea pigs only have a small 20° blind spot, which is directly behind their head. This is one of the widest fields of vision in the animal kingdom, especially in mammals. This allows them to observe nearly everything going on around them, a necessary survival trait for guinea pigs in the wild.