Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Living in Javelina Territory

Javelinas (Tayassu tajacu) are the only native pig-like animals in the United States. The name Javelina (hav-uh-LEE-na) comes from the Spanish word for javelin or spear, which refers to their straight razor-sharp tusks. Javelinas are found in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and reach as far south as Argentina. They are also called Collared Peccaries because of their light-colored neck markings.

Though javelinas are common around the Sabino Canyon area, I haven't been able to photograph any in the recreation area, as I've yet to discover where they hang out during daylight. For the past several years, groups of them have been making their rounds around the surrounding neighborhoods late at night. These pictures were taken at a foothills home years ago.

Javelinas typically weigh between 35-60 lbs, stand about two feet tall, and have coarse salt and pepper colored hair. Having long snouts and small eyes, they resemble pigs, but are not pigs, wild boars, razorbacks, nor any sort of rodent. Prickly pear cactus, spines and all, seems to be the main food of the javelinas around here. They also eat mesquite beans, and will scrape the ground with their hoofs or snouts in search of juicy roots or irrigation hoses to munch on. We don't bother planting annuals in our front yard anymore because they are usually uprooted within 24 hours. Javelinas are opportunists and will knock over garbage cans scavenging for food scraps and will even eat meat if they find any.

My son used to work at a store a mile away from Sabino Canyon. One night, javelinas tore into bags of birdseed stacked outside the store. After the mess was cleaned up, the seeds were not made available to the javelinas again, but some nights the animals could still be seen milling about outside the store. And, I had a terra cotta water fountain set up in our front yard, but it kept getting knocked over during the night. I moved the fountain into our little walled-in back yard a few years ago, but almost every morning I still find those telltale hoof prints in the front yard where the fountain used to be. Maybe they have good memories.

Unfortunately, some javelinas end up as roadkill near the canyon as their coloring blends in with the pavement at night. At least inside the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area the roads are closed to most public motor vehicle traffic and the animals are safe from cars and trucks in there.

While the adults are mostly black and white, newborns are a light reddish-brown color. Piglets will squeal loudly when their mothers walk too quickly. The youngster below doing a fine job keeping up with its mother.

Javelinas are not the most subtle animals. People usually smell them before they see them. Peccaries have scent glands which give off a musky skunk-like odor. They have poor eyesight and depend on their sense of smell and unique musky fragrance to recognize their group members. They are social animals and prefer to be in groups of about 6 to 18. Some names for their groups are sounders, squadrons, herds, bands and packs.

They are noisy eaters, grunting and smacking while they walk, often dropping bits of food on the ground. They huff, woof, snort and growl, while fighting over food. When alarmed, the black hair along the ridge of their backs stands up, and they make scary "tooth chattering" and "jaw popping" noises. Click here to hear a 45-second medley of javelina sounds from the Desert Museum.

It is possible for people and wildlife to live together in harmony. To avoid conflict between javelinas and humans or pets, Arizona Game and Fish Department now urges people to never feed javelinas...no matter how cute they look.


BC Doan said...

Great post, Diane! I learn something new from this..Thank you!

lizzie said...

Really interesting post! Great info.

Glynis said...

I had never seen these pigs before, I learned something new today, thanks

Julie said...

Hi, Diane: Your post is so thorough and informative! I can feel your love of nature... Thank you for sharing it with us! ~ Julie

Julie said...

PS: Loved the audio clip!

Vickie said...

Great javelina post. I encounter a few of these at the Aransas NWR in TX. Thanks for the sound link. I would certainly want to know what I was hearing if I encountered these sounds in the night!

Margaret said...

Hi Diane! I've tagged you, since you've been kind enough to become a "follower" of my blog. See:


I hope you'll play. It's actually fun.