Who Wins the Title of Best Biter: Guinea pigs, Rats, or Squirrels?

Image courtesy of Dallas Krentzel

A guinea pig (top) and small capybara skull (bottom).

Who is the best biter in the rodent world? At the University of Liverpool, that’s exactly what Biologists wanted to know.

To learn more about specific mechanism in different rodents’ chewing styles, the team from the Department of Musculo-skeletal Biology made a computer model of the anatomical features in rats, squirrels, and guinea pigs. The three models were then analyzed and compared using multiple key features. This lead the team to find the rat’s jaw, not the skull as previously believed, is responsible for both the gnawing action using the front teeth and the chewing action using their back teeth.

Guinea pigs and capybaras are considered Hystricomorphs meaning they have strong jaw muscles designed primarily chew with the back teeth. Squirrels gnaw with the front teeth putting them in the group, Sciuromorph. The ability to utilize both of these specializations puts rats in the category of Myomorphs, which includes rats and mice in the rodent family and also over a thousand other species. The success of Myomorphs can be seen in their global dominance since they comprise a quarter of all known mammals on nearly every continent.

While the virtual rats will have some differences over their real life counterparts, their strength seemed to lie in their versatility in different situations. In theory, the squirrel and guinea pig were more specialized.

“You would not expect a triathlon swimmer to beat, for example, a dedicated 1,500m swimmer,” said co-author Nathan Jeffery. “The results, however, showed that the way rat muscles have adapted over time, has increased their ability to chew more effectively than a guinea pig and gnaw better than a squirrel, even though these two species are specialists in these kinds of jaw movements.”

Read more on the study published by Philip G. Cox and Nathan Jeffery, at ResearchGate.

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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April 2012
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