Tayassuidae: Peccary Family

The 3 species of peccary occur only in the New World, from the southwestern USA to central Argentina. The New World equivalent of pigs in their habits, peccaries resemble pigs, but are smaller and differ from them in a number of ways. First, they have only three toes on each hind foot (pigs have four); second, peccaries have a prominent musk gland on the back about 74 in (20 cm) in front of the tail; and third, their tusks are directed downward, not upward like those of pigs.

Collared Peccary

Range: S.W. USA, Mexico, Central and South America to Patagonia.

Habitat: Semidesert, arid woodland, forest.

Size: Body: 29 1/2 - 35 1/2 in (75 - 90 cm). Tail: 1/2- 1 1/4 in (1.5 - 3 cm).

Collared peccaries are robust, active animals, able to run fast and swim well. They live in groups of 5 to 15 individuals, and the musky secretions of the gland on each animal’s back seem to play a part in maintaining the social bonds of the herd, as well as being used for marking territory. With their sensitive snouts, collared peccaries search the ground for roots, herbs, grass and fruit; they also eat insect larvae, worms and small vertebrates. In summer, they feed only in the morning and evening, but in winter they are active all day treading well-worn, regular paths through their home range. Hearing is the most acute of this peccary’s senses.

Several males in a herd may mate with a female on heat, and there is rarely fighting or rivalry. After a gestation of 142 to 149 days, the female leaves the herd and gives birth to 2 or 3 young.

The young are soon active and the family rejoins the herd after a couple of days.

Chacoan Peccary

Range: Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay.

Habitat: Semiarid thorn scrub, grassland.

Size: 93 - 106 cm (36.5 - 42 in); 29 - 49 kg (64 - 108 lb). Height at shoulder 50 - 70 cm (19.7 - 27.5 in).

This South American peccary is named after the chaco - the dry thorn and shrubland region that lies mainly in Paraguay. Once thought to be extinct, the chaco peccary is now believed to be reasonably abundant in areas where it is left undisturbed, although the species as a whole is vulnerable. The animals have suffered from excessive hunting and from the loss of much of their thorn scrub habitat, which has been cleared for cattle ranching.

A long tailed, long-legged animal, this species is active during the day and has better vision than other peccaries. It moves in small groups of up to 6 animals, among which there are strong social bonds. The peccary mainly eats cacti, and it has specialized kidneys for dealing with the high acid content of these plants. It supplements its mineral consumption by visiting salt licks formed by ant nests.

White-lipped Peccary

Range: Mexico, Central and South America to Paraguay.

Habitat: Forest.

Size: 95 - 135 cm (37.5 - 53 in); 27 - 40 kg (60 - 88 lb). Height at shoulder 50 - 60 cm (19.7 - 23.6 in).

White-lipped peccaries live in a similar range to collared peccaries, although they are much smaller. The white-lipped peccary has a heavy body, slender legs and a long, mobile snout. A gregarious animal, it gathers in groups of 50 to 100 individuals of both sexes and all ages. Active in the cooler hours of the day, these peccaries are fast, agile runners, even over rugged ground. Using their sensitive snouts, they dig on the forest floor searching for plant material, such as bulbs and roots, and for small animals. Although their sight is poor and hearing only fair, these peccaries have an acute sense of smell and can find bulbs underground by scent alone.

The female gives birth to a litter of 2 young after a gestation period of about 158 days.