Peccaries are funny animals. They’re pretty much like pigs, which makes them funny because pigs are funny. Peccaries are basically the pigs of South America, though they’ve spread through Mexico and into Texas (domestic pigs were brought over from Europe by settlers). Collared peccaries are one of four extant species of peccary. Though they are very pig-like, peccaries are only somewhat related, being classified in a separate family, Tayassuidae.
Collared peccaries have adapted to live in a variety of different habitats. In South America, it lives in tropical rain forests, while it does very well in the deserts of Mexico and the US. Peccaries even live in residential areas, coexisting with people who provide them with refuse as food.
In terms of their looks, collared peccaries are very much like pigs. They are grey-black, with a white or yellow collar around their shoulders and throat. They grow up to 25 kilograms, with males and females being similar in appearance. Both sexes of peccaries have sharp pointy tusks in their mouths. These are fitted in their mouths so that each time the animal opens and closes its jaws, the tusks rub against each other and sharpen.
Peccaries live in groups, usually about five to fifteen animals. Animals in the group spend most of their time together, eating, sleeping and foraging with their friends. The only animals that don’t stay in the heard are old or sick animals, which leave to die alone. Which is sad. Each herd has a dominant male, with the rest of the rankings determined by size. This dominant male is the only one who breeds within the group.
Females give birth to 1 to 3 young, and excuse themselves from the group while giving birth. This is for one very simple reason: a newborn peccary might be seen as a tasty meal by some members of the group. After a day, the mothers rejoin the herd with their young. Still, she doesn’t let just anyone near her precious kids; only her sisters can come see them, and these lovely ladies often help nurse the new litter.
Collared peccaries are omnivorous, but have a complex (though not quite as complex as a ruminant’s) stomach. This stomach allows them to digest a large amount of coarse food, which makes up a majority of the peccary’s diet. The peccary is particularly attached to prickly pear cacti, and eat a large number of these, especially in their northern, arid, range, as the cacti have large stores of water.
Peccaries are remarkably adaptable, living in a range of environments and coexisting with humans. In some areas, peccaries are domesticated from birth and are raised as farm animals, much like pigs. Who knew such robust little animals lived in South America? I didn’t. I had no idea they existed until I was doing some research on jaguars and discovered that peccaries are a main food source for those majestic cats. So there’s another reason to like these fellas: they help keep jaguars around. Hooray for peccaries!
Cover image By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE – Collared Peccaries (Pecari tajacu), CC BY-SA 2.0