The guinea pig or domestic guinea pig (Cavia porcellus), also known as cavy or domestic cavy, is a species of rodent belonging to the family Caviidae and the genus Cavia. Despite their common name, these animals are not in the pig family Suidae, nor do they come from Guinea in Africa; they originated in the Andes of South America and studies based on biochemistry and hybridization suggest they are domestic, not wild, descendants of a closely related species of cavy such as C. tschudii. The domestic guinea pig plays an important role in folk culture for many indigenous Andean groups, especially as a food source, but also in folk medicine and in community religious ceremonies. Guinea pigs are a culinary staple in the Andes Mountains, where they are known as cuy, a name also given to large animals, the result of a breeding program, that ended up in southern California. Since the 1960s, efforts have been made to increase consumption of the animal outside South America. In Western societies, the domestic guinea pig has enjoyed widespread popularity as a household pet, a type of pocket pet, ever since its introduction by European traders in the 16th century. Their docile nature; friendly, even affectionate responsiveness to handling and feeding; and the relative ease of caring for them continue to make guinea pigs a popular choice of pet. Organizations devoted to competitive breeding of guinea pigs have been formed worldwide, and many specialized breeds with varying coat colors and textures are selected by breeders. Biological experimentation on guinea pigs has been carried out since the 17th century. The animals were frequently used as model organisms in the 19th and 20th centuries, resulting in the common epithet "guinea pig" for a test subject, but have since been largely replaced by other rodents such as mice and rats.
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