Pet

The origins of the beloved guinea pig

New research from the University of Otago sheds light on the domestication of the guinea pig (guinea pig) and how and why these furry critters are distributed around the world.

The results, published in the international scientific journal Scientific Reports, report that using ancient DNA from the archaeological remains of guinea pigs, researchers revealed that the animals were used as a food source for wild animals 10,000 years ago, from which they were domesticated and later beloved of pets and animal models in medicine.

The work builds on earlier research conducted over the years by biological anthropology professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith, which traced the DNA of plants and animals carried in canoes by Pacific settlers to identify population origins. and follow them across the Pacific Ocean. As part of their dissertation research in Matisoo-Smith’s laboratory, Edana Lord, now at Stockholm University, Sweden, and Dr Catherine Collins, Otago’s Department of Anatomy, and other international researchers set out to identify the source of Guinea’s introduction to the Caribbean islan pig.

Matisoo-Smith explained that modern guinea pigs are widely believed to have been domesticated in what is now the Andean region of Peru. As an important food and also included in religious ceremonies, they are transported and traded throughout South America. Around AD 500, guinea pigs were brought to the Caribbean islands via at least one of several established trade networks. Researchers expected the guinea pigs found in the Caribbean to come from Colombia, one of the closest places to the Caribbean in South America.

Using ancient DNA from Guinea Pigs remains unearthed from various locations in the Caribbean, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Europe and North America, they found that the island’s guinea pigs did not originate from Colombia, but most likely from Peru.

What surprised the team most was that the guinea pig remains found in the Columbia Heights appeared to be from a completely different species. This suggests that guinea pig domestication may have occurred independently in Peru and Colombia. Genetic information, along with the archaeological background, also shows how guinea pigs have functioned differently over time.

The professor explains: “It was and still is an important food in many parts of South America and in cultures derived from South America: people brought it to life on new islands that are not not natives, or they did it in exchange for other things. . ” Mattisu-Smith

Guinea pigs were brought to Europe by the Spanish in the late 16th or early 17th century and brought to North America in the early 19th century as part of animal trade. In the 18th century, gray pigs began to be used by medical researchers, such as laboratory animals, because they have many living things like humans, so

“All pigs today (animals sold for meat in South America and Puerto Rico used for medical research) come from Peruvian guinea pigs.”

The reason why guinea pigs are considered pets in some cultures and food in others may be due to the pre-established cultural norms about what can be eaten as food. The expert noted that this study shows that the history of guinea pigs is more complex than previously known, and has implications for other studies of mammalian domestication, translocation and distribution.

“Knowing the origins of the Caribbean guinea pig body helps us understand how the human trafficking network in the region has operated for the past 1,000 or so years. important animals. It also provides important historical perspective.”

Date and place of domestication

Guinea pigs were domesticated from wild guinea pigs (probably Cavia tschudii, although some scholars believe Cavia aperea) found today in the western (C. tschudii) or central (C. aperea) Andes. Scholars believe that domestication occurred in the Andes between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago. The changes identified as domestication effects were increases in body size and litter size, changes in behavior and hair color. Guinea pigs are naturally gray, and domesticated guinea pigs have multicolored or white fur.

Breeding guinea pigs in the Andes

Since wild and domestic guinea pigs can be studied in the laboratory, behavioral studies of the differences have been done. The differences between wild and domestic guinea pigs are partly behavioral and partly physical. Compared with domestic guinea pigs, wild guinea pigs are smaller, more aggressive, and more concerned about the local environment. Wild guinea pigs do not tolerate each other and live with one male and several females. Domestic guinea pigs are larger and more tolerant of multi-male groups, exhibiting higher levels of mutual social grooming and increased courtship behavior.

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