A peccary (Pecari maximus) (plural peccaries; also javelina and skunk pig) is a medium-sized mammal of the family Tayassuidae, or New World Pigs. Peccaries are members of the artiodactyl suborder Suina, as are the pig family (Suidae) and possibly the hippopotamus family. They are found in the south western area of North America and throughout Central and South America.
Peccaries usually measure between 90 to 130 centimetres (3.0 to 4.3 ft), and a full-grown adult usually weighs between about 20 to 40 kilograms (44 to 88 lb). People often confuse peccaries, which are found in the Americas, with the pig family which originated in Afro-Eurasia, especially since some domestic pigs brought by European settlers have escaped over the years and now run wild as razorback hogs in many parts of the United States.
Peccaries are medium-sized animals, with a strong superficial resemblance to pigs. Like pigs, they have a snout ending in a cartilagenous disc, and eyes that are small relative to their head. Also like pigs, they use only the middle two digits for walking, although, unlike pigs, the other toes may be altogether absent. Their stomach is non-ruminating, although it has three chambers, and is more complex than that of pigs.
Peccaries are omnivores, and will eat small animals, although their preferred food consists of roots, grass, seeds, and fruit. Pigs and peccaries can be differentiated by the shape of the canine tooth, or tusk. In European pigs, the tusk is long and curves around on itself, whereas in peccaries, the tusk is short and straight. The jaws and tusks of peccaries are adapted for crushing hard seeds and slicing into plant roots, and they also use their tusks for defending against predators.
By rubbing the tusks together they can make a chattering noise that warns potential predators not to get too close. Peccaries are aggressive enough in temperament that, unlike some pig species, they cannot be domesticated as they are likely to injure humans.
In recent years in north-western Bolivia near Madidi National Park there have been reports of people being seriously injured and killed by large groups of peccaries.
Peccaries are social animals, and often form herds. Over 100 individuals have been recorded for a single herd of white-lipped peccaries, but collared and Chacoan peccaries usually form smaller groups. Such social behaviour seems to have been the situation in extinct peccaries as well.
Peccaries have scent glands below each eye and another on their back. They use the scent to mark herd territories, which range from 75 to 700 acres (2.8 km2). They also mark other herd members with these scent glands by rubbing one against another. The pungent odour allows peccaries to recognize other members of the herd, despite their myopic vision. The odour is strong enough to be picked up by humans, which earns the peccary the nickname of skunk pig.
Today there are reportedly four living species of peccary, found from the southwestern United States through Central America and into South America and Trinidad. The Collared Peccary (Pecari tajacu) or “musk hog,” referring to the animal’s scent glands, occurs from the southwestern United States into South America and the island of Trinidad. They are found in all kinds of habitats, from arid scrublands to humid tropical rainforests.
The Collared Peccary is well adapted to habitat disturbed by humans, merely requiring sufficient cover; they can be found in cities and agricultural land throughout their range. Collared Peccaries are generally found in bands of eight to 15 animals of various ages. They will defend themselves if they feel threatened, but otherwise tend to ignore human beings. They defend themselves with their long tusks, which sharpen themselves whenever the mouth opens or closes.
A second species is the White-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), which is found in the rainforests of Central and South America. The third species, the Chacoan peccary (Catagonus wagneri), is the closest living relative to the extinct Platygonus pearcei. It is found in the dry shrub habitat or Chaco of Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina.
The Chacoan peccary has the unusual distinction of having been first described based on fossils and was originally thought to be only an extinct species. In 1975 the animal was discovered to still be alive and well in the Chaco region of Paraguay. The species was well known to the native people.
A fourth species, the Giant Peccary (Pecari maximus) was recently described from the Brazilian Amazon by Dutch biologist Marc van Roosmalen. Though recently discovered by science it has been known to the local Tupi people as Caitetu Munde, which means “great peccary which lives in pairs. It is thought to be the largest extant peccary, and can grow to 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) in length. Its fur is completely dark gray, with no collars whatsoever. Unlike other peccaries it lives in pairs, or with one or two offspring. (Source: Wikipedia – The Free Online Encyclopedia)
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