If you see your guinea pig jump and throw their hind legs into the air, you might be alarmed. But this spastic action isn't necessarily cause for concern. It's a normal behavior called guinea pig popcorning.
What is Guinea Pig Popcorning?
The act of "popcorning" is nearly as cute as the name. When guinea pigs, or cavies, exhibit this behavior, they tend to jump into the air, kick up their hind legs, twist, and pop around on the floor-just like a popping kernel of popcorn.
Owners might see their guinea pig popcorn across the floor several times in a row, or they could complete only a single popcorn. Popcorn behavior typically only lasts for a few seconds, then the guinea pig returns to their natural, relaxed demeanor. Given their erratic and unpredictable nature, popcorning is challenging to capture on camera.
Why Guinea Pigs Popcorn
Different emotions can trigger a guinea pig to popcorn, but they typically perform this action out of joy.
A happy cavy might popcorn when offered their favorite food or when playing with a mate. Young guinea pigs' popcorn more frequently than adults, but this behavior can be seen in individuals of any age.
Although the evolutionary origin of this behavior is unknown, some people believe that popcorning alerts other guinea pigs in the community that the area is free of predators. They popcorn as a signal that it's safe to relax.
While popcorning is generally a happy dance in most guinea pigs, some might perform the action out of fear. Loud noises and new people or animals are a few of the most common triggers for stress and fear in guinea pigs. A fearful cavy may let out a shrill squeak or popcorn and leap into a hiding place. Other signs of fear include freezing in one position, grinding teeth, incessant squeaking, showing the whites of their eyes, or shivering.
Do Other Species Exhibit Popcorning Behaviors?
Guinea pigs aren't the only species who popcorn -- chinchillas can do it, too. They popcorn for similar reasons as guinea pigs. The unique thing about chinchilla popcorning is that they do so while enjoying a dust bath. Chinchillas have a more athletic body composition; therefore, they can popcorn several feet in the air, whereas a guinea pig might only gain a few inches of height.
While this spontaneous behavior in cavies and chinchillas is called popcorning, other species exhibit similar actions. For example, rabbits do a comparable jumping motion when they are happy, called "binkying." Similarly, gazelles perform "stotting," although this behavior may have less to do with joy and instead serve as a signal to predators.
Promote This Guinea Pig Happy Dance
If you're a guinea pig owner who has not seen your pet popcorn, there's no need to worry. Some cavies rarely or never exhibit this behavior. It's also possible for juvenile guinea pigs to stop popcorning as they get older, so if you acquired your guinea pig as an adult, that could be the case.
Promote popcorning by ensuring that your guinea pig is happy. Make sure they have plenty of space to explore, a clean, interactive enclosure, ample water, and a variety of healthy foods. You could even consider getting your cavy a friend. With the right combination of healthy elements, your happy guinea pig may reward you with a popcorn sighting!