welcome to Animal Magic – a series of fortnightly columns where we take an in-depth look at some of Tilgate Nature Centre’s popular, and less well-known animal residents.
This week we delve into the past of the guinea pig, and try to translate some of their many noises!
Journey from South America
Guinea pigs are a common pet in the UK and certainly don’t seem very wild. Their ancestors however lived in the Andes mountains of South America, spending much of their time hiding in crevices and holes which their brown /grey fur camouflaged them against.
Guinea pigs were domesticated thousands of years ago and introduced to Europe in the 1500s where they became popular pets. A variety of different fur types and colours have developed over the years.
Boars and sows
Our guinea pigs live in two groups – males (boars) and females (sows). They spend most of the year outside and are always extremely popular with visitors.
In the worst winter weather we bring them into the warm stables.
Sows give birth to small litters of pups, usually around three, after a pregnancy of around 59 and 72 days.
Pups are born well developed and are able to run around and even eat solid food straight away!
Females will all work together to protect and feed the group’s youngest members.
Food and vitamin C
Like humans, but unlike most mammals, guinea pigs are unable to make their own vitamin C which is important for them to stay healthy.
To make sure they have the right level in their diet we give our groups pellets of extra vitamin C as well as a good supply of grass, hay and vegetables.
Guinea pigs are very social and vocal creatures and pet keepers will be used to their excited high-pitched squeaking when they know they’re about to be fed.
There are many different types of noise a guinea pig will use – and for a variety of reasons. Including:
A ‘wheek’ noise, which is an expression of general excitement
Bubbling, which is a noise of pleasure often heard when they are being petted, groomed or fed
Chattering as a warning, this is made by rapidly gnashing their teeth.
Come and visit us or go to www.tilgatenaturecentre.co.uk to find out more about Tilgate Nature Centre and its residents.