Caviidae – Cavies

Native to South America, this family includes pet guinea pigs and the largest rodent alive; the capybara

These endearing creatures possess continuously growing teeth, a typical trait of rodents, which serves them well in their herbivorous diet, which consists primarily of grasses and vegetation. Unlike many nocturnal rodents, caviids are diurnal, remaining active during the day and seeking shelter in burrows or dense vegetation at night for protection and rest.

One of the most remarkable aspects of caviid behavior is their highly social nature, with individuals within a group communicating vocally through a variety of sounds, including whistles, purrs, squeaks, and even screams. These vocalizations play crucial roles in social bonding, territory marking, and warning of potential threats, facilitating cohesive group dynamics and cooperative behaviors among cavies.

Caviidae can be broadly classified into three main groups, each exhibiting unique morphological and behavioral adaptations to their respective environments. The first group comprises the short-legged guinea pigs, characterized by their compact build and docile temperament, making them popular pets and research subjects worldwide. The second group consists of the longer-legged maras, which bear a striking resemblance to rabbits and are adapted for life in open grasslands and semi-arid habitats. Finally, the third group includes the rock cavies and capybaras, the latter being the largest rodents in the world and weighing up to a staggering 66 kilograms (114 pounds). These diverse morphologies and ecological niches highlight the adaptability and evolutionary success of caviids across a range of habitats.

The evolutionary history of caviids dates back approximately 23 million years, with the earliest members of this family appearing in South America during the Miocene epoch. Since then, caviids have undergone significant diversification, spreading to various habitats across the continent, including grassy plains, mountainous regions, and wetlands. This geographic and ecological diversity underscores the remarkable adaptive radiation of caviids and their ability to exploit a wide range of ecological niches.