Collared Peccary Dicotyles tajacu.|
A peccary is a medium-sized mammal of the family Tayassuidae. Peccaries are related to pigs and hippopotamuses, but are found in the southwestern area of North America and throughout South America. Peccaries usually measure between 90 and 130 cm long, and a full adult usually weighs between about 20 and about 40 kilos.
People often confuse peccaries, which are found in the New World, with pigs which originated in the Old World, especially since some domestic pigs brought by European settlers have escaped over the years and now run wild in many parts of the United States. These feral pigs are popularly known as razor-back hogs. Relatives of the Old World pigs include the Warthog of Africa. One of the ways to tell the two groups apart is the shape of the canine tooth or tusk. In the Old World pigs the tusk is long and curves around on itself, whereas in the New World peccaries the tusk is short and straight. Peccaries are plant eaters and use their tusks for defense. By rubbing the tusks together they can make a chattering noise that warns potential predators to not get too close.
The only peccary in the United States is the Collared Peccary (Dicotyles tajacu), also known by its Spanish name, Javelina. It is often found in dry arid habitats.
A second species is the White-lipped Peccary (Tyassu pecari) which is found in the rain forests of Central and South America.
The last 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 Southern Brazil. The Chacoan peccary has the unusual distinction of having been first been 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. This third species of peccary was well known by the native people but it took a while for scientists to discover its existence.
Peccaries have a long history in North America. They first appear in the Early Oligocene, about 32 million years ago and a variety of different species are present in faunas of different ages across the continent. Some of these extinct peccaries have been found at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon and at Badlands National Monument in South Dakota.
Although common in South America today, peccaries did not reach that continent until about 9 million years ago. Prior to that, there was no Isthmus of Panama, and South America was an island continent. As the Panamanian isthmus formed, many North American animals entered South America. Along with peccaries, llamas and tapirs also migrated south. Today, many people think these animals are South American, yet all come from North American ancestors. The exchange was a two-way street however, and some of the ancient South American species, like the Ground Sloth, migrated north.
Modern peccaries are social animals and often form herds. Over 100 individuals have been recorded for a single herd of White-lipped Peccaries, but smaller size groups are usually the case in the Collared Peccary and Chacoan Peccary. Such social behavior seems to have been the situation in extinct peccaries as well.
Original source: National Parks Service: Hagerman Fossil Beds' Critter Corner by Dr. Greg McDonald (public domain).