Collared Peccaries (Pecari tajacu) by Jim Gressinger

Collared Peccaries (Pecari tajacu) by Jim Gressinger

Ferrebeekeeper has written a great deal about pigs and swine, but the pigs are only half of a larger sub-order, the Suina (artiodactyl foragers with cloven hooves).  The new world equivalent of the pigs are the peccaries (family Tayassuidae) also known as javelinas or skunk pigs. Peccaries are superficially very similar to wild pigs: both groups have four legs, bristling hair, low & wide profiles.  Additionally, like pigs, peccaries have a sensitive nose which ends in a cartilage disk.  Both pigs and peccaries are omnivores though they have different diets.  In the wild, peccaries feed primarily on roots, tubers, grubs, cacti, seeds, and tender grasses.  Although peccaries have complex three-chamber stomachs for breaking all of this down, they are not ruminants (i.e. they do not chew cuds like goats or cows).

Not that cows and goats eat fish like this White-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) photo by Douglas PR Fernandes

Not that cows and goats eat fish like this White-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) photo by Douglas PR Fernandes

There are three (or possibly four) species of peccaries, all of which are native to the Americas (from the southwest of the United States down through Argentina).  None of the peccaries grow to be as large as pigs: the Tayassuidae usually measure approximately a meter in length (3.0 and 4.0 feet) and full-grown adults seldom weigh more than 40 kg (88 lbs). Peccaries make up for their smaller size by being more social than pigs.  Peccary herds can number up to a hundred–at least for the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) which lives in the deep rainforests of Central and South America (the other peccary species tend to form smaller herds).  Peccaries can be dangerous–recent news reports from South America involve humans being killed by large groups of peccaries.

Chacoan peccary (Catagonus wagneri) San Francisco Zoo

Chacoan peccary (Catagonus wagneri) San Francisco Zoo

Peccaries are powerful and can run very swiftly.  Like pigs, peccaries have razor sharp tusks, but peccary tusks are straight and short (whereas pigs have long curving tusks).   When peccaries are distressed, they chatter their upper and lower tusks together as a warning.  Peccaries live only in the Americas and they are concentrated in Central and South America, yet the family is ancient and dates back to the late Eocene.  Ironically, peccaries seem to have originated in Europe, but they died out there sometime in the Miocene, but not before spreading to North America.  Three million years ago, during the great American Interchange (when the Isthmus of Panama formed and linked the long-sundered continents) Peccaries thundered south, and they found South America much to their liking.

Worldwide Peccary Range

Worldwide Peccary Range

Peccaries are heavily hunted for their meat and their heavy durable hides, but populations seem to be broadly holding steady (although habitat loss may threaten some of the rain-forest sub-species) and the Chacoan peccary or tagua has remained thin on the ground since its discovery in the arid Gran Chaco region of Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina .  Additionally, humans have taken to domesticating peccaries for food and as pets, although since peccaries are aggressive, they are not entirely perfect for farming (or for snuggling).

Do not cuddle the collared peccary!

Do not cuddle the collared peccary!