The guinea pig (also commonly called the Cavy after its scientific name, Cavia porcellus) is a species of rodent belonging to the family Caviidae and the genus Cavia. Despite their common name, these animals are not pigs, nor do they come from Guinea. The guinea pig plays an important role in the folk culture of many Indigenous South American groups, especially as a food source, but also in folk medicine and in community religious ceremonies.
In Western societies, the guinea pig has enjoyed widespread popularity as a household pet since its introduction by European traders in the 16th century. Their docile nature, their responsiveness to handling and feeding, and the relative ease of caring for them, continue to make the guinea pig a popular pet. Organizations devoted to competitive breeding of guinea pigs have been formed worldwide, and many specialized breeds of guinea pig, with varying coat colors and compositions, are cultivated by breeders.
Biological experimentation on guinea pigs has been carried out since the 17th century. The animals were frequently used as a model organism in the 19th and 20th centuries, giving way to the metaphor "guinea pig" for a test subject, but have since been largely replaced by other rodents such as mice and rats. They are still used in research, primarily as models for human medical conditions such as juvenile diabetes, tuberculosis, scurvy, and pregnancy complications.
Guinea pigs in media
As a result of their widespread popularity in human domestic life, and especially because of their popularity in households with children, guinea pigs have shown a presence in culture and media. Some noted appearances of the animal in literature are The Fairy Caravan, a novel by Beatrix Potter, and Michael Bond's Olga da Polga series for children, both of which feature guinea pigs as the central protagonist. Another appearance is in The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis: in the first (chronologically) of his The Chronicles of Narnia series, a guinea pig is the first creature to travel to the Wood between the Worlds. The short story Pigs is Pigs by Ellis Parker Butler is a tale of bureaucratic incompetence; two guinea pigs held at a train station breed unchecked while humans argue as to whether they are "pigs" for the purpose of determining freight charges. In the Golden Hamster Saga books, there are two guinea pigs named Enrico and Caruso who are modern-day thespians (named after Enrico Caruso) who serve as secondary characters, and often irritate the main character, Freddy Auratus who strongly dislikes their acting antics. Guinea pigs have also been featured in film and television. In the TV movie Shredderman Rules, the main character and the main character's crush both have guinea pigs which both play a minor part in the plot. A guinea pig named Rodney, voiced by Chris Rock, was a prominent character in the 1998 film Dr. Dolittle and Linny the Guinea pig is a co-star on Nick Jr's Wonder Pets. Guinea pigs were used in some major advertising campaigns in the 1990s and 2000s, notably for Egg Banking plc, Snapple, and Blockbuster Video.
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