The behavioral endocrinology of domestication: A comparison between the domestic guinea pig (Cavia aperea f. porcellus) and its wild ancestor, the cavy (Cavia aperea)

Horm Behav. 1999 Feb;35(1):28-37. doi: 10.1006/hbeh.1998.1493.


In this study spontaneous behavior and endocrine parameters were compared between the domestic guinea pig (Cavia aperea f. porcellus) and its wild ancestor, the cavy (Cavia aperea), to elucidate the process of domestication in this species. In 120 h of observation time the behavior of five groups of wild and seven groups of domestic guinea pigs, each consisting of one adult male and two adult females, was analyzed quantitatively. To assess the activities of the pituitary-adrenocortical (PAC), the pituitary-gonadal (PG), and the sympathetic-adrenomedullary (SAM) systems, serum cortisol, testosterone, epinephrine, and norepinephrine concentrations, as well as adrenal tyrosine hydroxylase activities, were determined in males of both forms. The following significant differences between wild cavies and domestic guinea pigs were found: the domesticated animals displayed less aggressive but more sociopositive and more male courtship behavior than their wild ancestors. In addition, they were distinctly less attentive to their physical environment than the wild cavies. The basal activity of the SAM system, as well as the reactivity of the SAM and the PAC systems, was distinctly reduced in the domesticated animals. In contrast, the basal activity of the PAC system did not differ between both forms. The activity of the PG system was significantly higher in males of the domestic guinea pig than in male wild cavies. Thus, in guinea pigs the process of domestication has led to typical behavioral traits-reduced aggressiveness, increased social tolerance-which have also been found in comparisons between wild and domestic forms of other species. The decreased reactivity of the organism's stress axes can be regarded as a physiological mechanism which helps domesticated animals to adjust to man-made housing conditions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adrenal Glands / chemistry
  • Adrenal Glands / enzymology
  • Aggression / physiology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic / physiology*
  • Animals, Wild / physiology*
  • Body Weight
  • Cortisone / blood
  • Epinephrine / blood
  • Female
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Male
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology*
  • Ovary / physiology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Testis / physiology
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / analysis


  • Testosterone
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Cortisone
  • Epinephrine