The Peccary is a medium-sized hoofed mammal with a strong resemblance to a pig. It has a very large head, upright ears, long flattened snouts, bristly coats and small tails. However, their legs are much longer and more slender than pigs' and they end in small hooves. Like wild pigs, peccaries have long teeth in their jaws, which are two inches long canines, or "dog teeth", and look like pointed daggars. These tusks are important for defense from predators, which include jaguars, pumas, bobcats, and coyotes.
The peccary has two distinct features. One is the smell it exudes from a musk gland on its back whenever it feels irritated. The second is its amazing nose, the tip of which is flat and reinforced with a cartilaginous disk that can lift logs and dig underground for roots and insects. A true omnivore, a peccary will eat anything from poisonous snakes to cactus. Peccaries are territorial and very social, forming groups from ten to eighteen animals. During winter group size is larger than in summer, and the animals may huddle together for warmth. Female peccaries mature at 18 months of age and give birth to one or two young. The precocial young follow the mother soon after birth.
Peccaries are also known as javelina so named by Spanish conquistadors for their ability to move as quickly as a spear. Three living species of peccaries are found from the southwestern United States through Central America and into South America and Trinidad. The collared peccary (Pecari tajacu) or "musk hog", referring to the animal's scent glands, occurs from the southwestern United States into South America and the island of Trinidad. Bands of eight to 15 peccaries can be found in cities and agricultural land, in the suburbs of Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, where peccaries feed on ornamental plants and other vegetation. Pelage color varies but generally is a coarse grizzled grayish brown. They have a light band around neck and shoulders that gives rise to the common name.
A second species, the endangered White-lipped Peccary (Tayassu pecari), is found in the rainforests of Central and South America. The white-lipped peccary roams the forest in search of palm nuts, roots, fruits, tubers, and invertebrates. It can eat very hard palm nuts by crushing them with its massive molars. When threatened, peccaries make loud clacking noises with their tusks. White-lipped peccaries occur in roving herds of up to a couple hundred individuals. The approach of a herd can be ominous. There is a cluttering noise from the tusks and the rustling of many feet through the forest litter. A strong musky odor fills the air and remains long after the animals have passed. If approached by peccaries one's best escape strategy is to climb a tree.
The third 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 Argentina. The discovery in 1976 of a 100-pound animal thought to be extinct for 10,000 years created a stir in the zoological world.