Peccaries

peccary in a field Peccary (Collared Peccary: Tayassu Tajacu)

by Barry R. Koffler

Collared peccaries are adaptable to a wide variety of habitats, from deserts to tropical rain forests. This species has the second largest latitudinal range of all the ungulates (hoofed mammals) in the New World. Collared peccaries are found from Arizona to northern Argentina, and only the white-tailed deer has a larger range. With their well-developed pig-like snout they are reminiscent of long-legged, tiny-tailed, bristly wild boars, and indeed are close relatives of the pigs and hippotamuses. The average collared peccary weighs about 36 pounds. Its coat is black, with a white collar running from the shoulder down to the front of the chest. It also has a very dark mane composed of long hairs which can be made to stand upright.

Peccaries are herd animals their entire lives. On BCI they usually travel in groups of two to ten. When moving from place to place they go single file, but fan out when they get to feeding areas. Peccaries tend to feed early and seek shelter during the heat of the day, sometimes under logs or in burrows created by other animals. On BCI they often sleep lying on the forest soil in a sheltered location, or an entire group may squeeze into a large hollow in a big tree. Each group is made up of individuals who use scents from skin glands to mark each other for easy recognition. They rub against each other and all pile together when they are relaxing.

Peccaries eat fruits, seeds, berries, nuts, vines, snakes, and insects. They locate underground bulbs and tubers by smell and root them up with their sturdy snouts. On BCI the flesh of various palm fruits and the seeds of Dipteryx make up an important part of the peccaries' diet. They have strong jaws which act like a vise and are used to squeeze hard seeds until they pop loudly. They eat the edible interiors and spit out the shells. They cannot chew sideways like deer because their large canine teeth interlock; therefore they chop up vegetation and swallow it largely unchewed. Most non-carnivores have small canines but in peccaries these teeth are very large and sharp. The canines continue to grow into the fourth year. They are used for defense and in social displays between individuals, especially when groups compete for food at a fruiting tree.

One of the warning sounds used by collared peccaries is a "clack" produced by clashing the canines together. They also make a sound like a dog barking, a "woof" that warns other peccaries of danger. Peccaries that have been frightened usually give off a strong "sweaty" odor that lingers long after they have left the area.

On BCI most young are born early in the year after a gestation of about 145 days. Peccaries can have litters ranging from 1-4 young, but two is most common and more females are born than males. The young have dark grey backs, are tan below, and have the collar at birth. Weaning occurs at around two months of age. Collared peccaries can live to 15 years but most wild peccaries die by the age of 4. They are a favorite prey of jaguars, and also of humans. They are quickly hunted out in forests that are not protected from over-hunting.