a pig that eats cactus

We often see javelina, or collared peccaries, along the roadside in the southwestern U.S. deserts. They don’t seem to be shy, but they don’t stick around waiting for you to get a good photo either, always on the move to find the next meal.

Peccaries seem to be mostly head, and they do have stout jaws capable of crunching tough tubers, roots, and fruit.
I don’t think they have particularly good eyesight, and this peccary seemed more intent on smelling me than seeing me, although I wasn’t far away. Of course if your nose is always to the ground smelling out potential food sources, eyesight seems less important for that.

There are four species of peccaries endemic to the Americas, although fossils of their relatives dating 30 million years ago have been found all over Europe and Asia. It is thought that peccaries lost the competition for the “pig niche” to the true pigs (swine originating in Asia), and thus went extinct in EurAsia. Actually, only the Collared Peccary (above) inhabits North America, the other species disappearing when humans colonized western North America 10-15,000 years ago. Perhaps they made an excellent meal roasted over the campfire…

A small group of peccaries, including a few juveniles, foraged for prickly pear cactus along the roadside at Cave Creek, near Portal Arizona. I don’t know how they keep the prickles of the prickly pear from stabbing their tongues, but they tilt their head, bite into the cactus with molars, and then start crunching away on big bites of it.
One female had two tiny (new?) youngsters glued to her side, and another juvenile following her — perhaps last year’s offspring? The average litter size for collared peccaries is just two, unlike domestic pigs that might have a dozen piglets at a time.
Newborn peccaries are kind of cute, and might make good pets. Peccaries, unlike pigs, however, have not been intensively domesticated because they don’t reproduce at a young-enough age or have big enough litters to make it economically feasible to maintain them, although they were kept captive for food or use in rituals by the native people in Meso America prior to the Spanish conquest of the region.

7 thoughts on “a pig that eats cactus

  1. Pigs eat prickly pear too. It is not easy to watch. I can not imagine how they do it. They do not do it all the time, but will eat it when new growth is developing, or when fruit ripens. (I only remember that because they like the fruit, and sometimes take all the fruit without eating much of the stems.) Cultivars of prickly pear are of course not very prickly, but the native sort (down south) looks wicked.

      • Well, they will eat anything that they ‘can’ eat. Some of the native prickly pears do not seem to be edible without serious injury. I eat them too, but only after removing all the glochids. They are like the spineless garden varieties, but take more work to process. I think that the fruit is actually better.

  2. Really interesting … and not to confuse the peccary with the similar looking but different invasive feral pig, I checked my friends in Hawaii who have a love-hate relationship with the latter, mostly hate. The pigs dig up roots and most any form of vegetation, ruining gardens, farmlands, lawns and orchards. There is a pretty liberal hunting permit costing $10 for feral swine. They are believed to have been imported to the Islands about 800 years ago by the Polynesians, or more recently by Captain Cook, who knows.

    • Feral pigs are the bane of most folks that believe in natural ecosystems. They have done incredible damage in the Channel Islands of California, where their prodigious number of offspring changed the food supply and the entire food web there, in addition to the amount of erosion they caused from rooting. Send them back to Asia (to quote an infamous, not-to-be-named person).

    • Yes, they must all have pretty tough mouths and guts to tolerate those spines. But on the other hand, it provides nutritious fruit and much needed water.

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