Sunday, January 17, 2016

Where Guinea Pigs Came From: The Montane Guinea Pig

We've talked a bit about guinea pig history in the past. You may remember that guinea pigs had a giant ancestor called Josephoartigasia monesi about 4 - 2 million years ago, and that we were eventually domesticated and began showing up in Peruvian art around 200 AD. Between those two times, we had a wild ancestor that we were most likely domesticated from called the Montane guinea pig (Cavia tschudii), also known as Tschudi's Cavy or cuy silvestre in Spanish. Unlike that giant ancestor, the Montane guinea pig is still around today:

A black and white photo of one from 1964. (Source) Looks like he's about to wheek about something.

Artwork by Ed Stauffacher. (Source) Looks like he's on the move for food.
Image from Foobie. (Source) Looks like he's wondering what that human with the camera is up to.
Here's a video of a trapped Montane guinea pig in Tanti, Argentina. He doesn't seem to like being in a cage, and the boy lets him out at the end.

Although we look very similar to the Montane guinea pig, "the domestic guinea pig has a somewhat more pointed, narrower skull that the wild tschudii." The Montaine guinea pig can be found in Peru, Chile, and Argentina, and the coloration varies by location: "in Peru the dorsal fur is dark reddish-brown mixed with black, and the underparts are dark buffy-grey; in Chile the dorsal surface is pale agouti brown with paler underparts; in Bolivia, the upper parts are agouti olive and the underparts creamy-white or white." When you look at some of the above examples, you can see the color differences and might be able to guess where they're from.

If you're ever in Peru, Chile or Argentina, say hi to our adorable living ancestor for us!


  1. I have always wanted to visit there for that one reason.

    1. You've already heard about the Montane guinea pig, then? If you go there and take some pictures, let us know. We'd like to see more of our living ancestor. :-)