In Search of the Natural Guinea Pig Sleep Cycle

pignicimage courtesy of Rubicat Photography

Guinea pigs mingling at the Boston Pignic in 2009. This might be as "wild" as it gets.

Crepuscular, Diurnal, and Nocturnal. You might have heard one of these scientific words for the first time in relationship to your pet and their sleep schedule. There is some debate among them when it comes to guinea pigs but first lets find out what they really mean.

Crepuscular, diurnal, and nocturnal are all used to describe the period of the day during which an animal is active in the wild. Many animals customize their behavior and develop adaptations to help them best deal with their period of activity.

Crepuscular means an animal is most active at dawn and dusk. The word comes from a latin word which means “twilight.” Rabbits and hamsters are usually crepuscular. Nocturnal means an animal will only come out at night when it is completely dark. Most species of bats and owls are nocturnal. Diurnal means an animal is active during the daylight hours. Humans are diurnal. When a person has an opposite schedule, we refer to them as a “night owl,” a reference to these natural sleep rhythms and the animals that embrace them.

All animals are thought to have biological rhythms that instinctively tell them what times to be awake and when to be asleep even if they can’t see the outdoors. In humans, we call these circadian rhythms and these patterns can cause us to feel stressed or unhappy when they are disrupted. Living in opposition to our biological rhythms over a long period of time has been proven to have a negative impact on our health. This is why it’s important to know your pets’ natural sleep cycle.

Guinea pigs are rodents from South America, originally domesticated by the Incas of Peru roughly 5,000 years ago. Because of this, our domestic cavies do not have a direct wild counterpart. The pets we know today instead have common ancestors which exists in the wild. They are Cavy Porcellus, found in Brazil, Cavy Boliviensis, located in the high Andes, and Cavy Cutleri which lives in Peru. Also, as recently as 2003, scientists are saying they now believe our pets were possibly domesticated from a extinct wild species that lived in northern and western South America.

Scientists have found the domestic guinea pig and their wild cousins have many differences. Lars Lewejohann, a researcher in Germany found when testing domestic guinea pigs and wild cavies, the domestic guinea pig had adapted to life with humans. He says, “It seems that domesticated animals had the advantage in spatial orientation, while wild cavies were the stronger swimmers. This suggests an adaptation to the man-made environment in domesticated animals that allows more efficient problem solving.” Other domestic guinea pig traits that have changed since their days in the wild are mating, lifespan, and coat color.

Domestic guinea pigs have developed different biological rhythms from their wild cousins, and have longer periods of activity followed by short periods of rest. This has lead to some debate in classification as to whether they should be considered traditionally crepuscular like their wild cousins or diurnal because they appear to have adapted to the schedule of their humans.

What do you think?

Source: Science Daily, Michigan Museum of Zoology


If you have a great idea for an article about guinea pigs, please let us know. Guinea Pig Today is a network of guinea pig lovers and we’re always looking for the next great story. View our submissions page for more information on how to submit your idea.

Angela, Editor-in-Chief, GPT

Angela founded Guinea Pig Today and guest writes for CavyMadness. She volunteers with Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue and supports the ROUS Foundation. Her guinea pig, Papua, is the star of WHEK-TV/DT.

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One Response to “In Search of the Natural Guinea Pig Sleep Cycle”
  1. Else T says:

    All my guinea pigs seem to have adjusted to when I am around–that is, they are awake and active when I am home from work. That is the time they look for attention and food. So I would say they have adjusted to my schedule. On weekends, when I can observe them during the day, they mostly sleep, and become active again around the time I would come home on a weekday.

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