“My favorite desert animal, I think, after such obvious choices as coyote, vulture, cougar, ring-tailed cat, gila monster and gopher snake, is the whimsical, cockeyed, half-mad, always eccentric, more or less loveable Pecari angulatus sonoriensis, otherwise known as the javelina or peccary.” - Edward Abbey
Taxonomy and Range
Javelina are known by many names: collared peccary and musk hog are commonly used. Javelina young are sometimes called reds because of the color their fur at that stage. No matter what you call them, javelinas are not pigs. They are however, hoofed mammals that look quite like pigs. Javelinas and pigs are classified in the same suborder, Suina. But they are each classified into their own family. Javelinas belong to the Tayassuidae family and pigs are in the Suidae family. These cousin species diverged from a common ancestor around 37–34 million years ago in South East Asia. Ancestors of today’s javelinas made the journey, over the Bering land-bridge, eventually to Central and South America.
Today there are three species of javelina living throughout the Americas but only one species, Pecari tajacu, lives in the United States, and they are found in Grand Canyon National Park. The park is likely near the northernmost end of their range, and therefore they are not commonly seen by park visitors.
Behavior and Social Structure
Javelinas are highly social animals that live in herds of a dozen or more individuals called squadrons. Each squadron can range over several hundred acres depending of food and water availability. To sleep, they are known to bed in overhangs and under trees.
Javelinas signal danger to each other through grunts and woofs. Especially as juveniles they can experience high mortality rates from predators including coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions. They tend to run from danger but can fight back aggressively with large tusk-like canine teeth when necessary.
Javelina are well known for their tough palates and ability to eat tough, spiny, cacti and yucca. Chiefly herbivores, javelinas feed on a variety of desert plants, cactus stems, pads and fruits, agave hearts, roots, and flowers. An occasional insect or bird egg may be added to the menu. One of the javelina’s favorite foods is the prickly pear cactus. They use their sharp, two-inch-long canine teeth to shred and consume the pads, spines and all.
Reproduction and Young
Javelinas can breed any month of the year, but after a five-month gestation period, most births occur in summer months when forage availability is greatest. They first breed at about one year of age and continue to breed throughout their lifetime. Most breeding is done by the most dominant male.
Females typically give birth to one to two young, each weighing about one pound. Occasionally litters can be as big as five. Young javelinas stay very close to their mother during the first two or three months after birth. Around six to eight weeks of age the young are capable of eating solid food. Around four months of age, javelinas will have lost their red fur and fully acquired the dark brown and grey adult pelage.
Javelinas are sometimes reported to have a strong odor, hence the nickname musk hog. Having poor eyesight, javelinas do heavily rely on their sense of smell. They have scent glands on their backs about eight inches from the base of the tail for marking territory. They are sometimes observed standing next to each other rubbing each other’s scent glands. This behavior may be a herd-member recognition technique.
In the wild, javelinas have a natural fear of humans. When given the chance, they will run away if people get too close. If an animal feels cornered or is protecting its young, it can act aggressively towards people or their pets.
If you come across a young javelina that you think is abandoned, leave it! Most likely, the mother was frightened away by your approach. She will return to her youngster once you have gone.
Viewing javelinas is best done from a distance. Binoculars will give you a close-up look. A camera with a telephoto lens will help you get that special picture.
Hand feeding of any wildlife can cause that animal to lose its fear of humans and may encourage it to aggressively seek out humans and their food. Please resist feeding any wildlife. Human food is unhealthy for javelinas and other wild creatures. The wild environment provides everything they need.
Last updated: April 29, 2018