Peccaries (PECK-ar-eez) weigh 30.9 to 110.3 pounds (14 to 50 kilograms), depending on the species, and are 20 to 24 inches (50.8 to 61 centimeters) tall. The body is similar to that of a pig, but the legs are longer and slimmer. Peccaries’ coats are bristly and short but get longer from the midsection to the hindquarters. There is a scent gland located near the base of the tail that emits a musky smell. The snout is well developed. Peccaries have canines (the cone-shaped side teeth found in the front part of the mouth on both jaws). They have numerous stomachs, which enhance digestion, but do not have a gallbladder (a muscular organ attached to the liver used to store bile, which aids digestion).
Peccaries are found in southwestern North America to Mexico and Central America, as well as South America.
Peccaries live in the desert areas of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. They also occupy the tropical forests and rainforests of Central America as well as the wetlands and forests of South America. They can be found in the dry tropical thorn forests of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina known as the Chaco.
Peccaries eat a wide variety of foods, allowing them to flourish in habitats other animals might find harsh. Depending on the species and where they live, they feed on fruit (especially the prickly pear), roots, bulbs, grass, acorns, pine nuts, and thistles. They find food by rooting (digging with the snout) through mud and soil. White-lipped peccaries break through seed shells using their muscular jaws and strong teeth. The food is fermented (broken down) by microorganisms in the fore stomach, which makes it easier to digest.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Peccaries are social animals that live in herds ranging in number from three to more than five hundred. Home ranges vary in size, depending on the species and location. For the most part, peccaries are active during the daytime, though in Arizona and Texas, the collared peccary becomes nocturnal (active at night) in summer.
These animals are territorial and will become aggressive when threatened by trespassers. They growl, click their teeth, squeal, and make alarm-like barking sounds when threatened. When alarmed, they bristle the hairs along their neck and back. Peccaries groom one another. They are hunted by jaguars, bobcats, coyotes, and pumas.
Peccaries can give birth year-round, and litter sizes range from one to four, with the average size being one to two offspring. Pregnancy lasts 145 to 162 days, depending on the species.
PECCARIES AND PEOPLE
Peccaries are hunted throughout their range for their meat, hides, and just for sport. Books abound on the subject of trapping and hunting these animals. Selling the meat and skins is how many local populations earn their living. The peccary skin trade has slowed down considerably in recent years, and Peru is the only exporter of peccary skin today. Peccaries are considered spiritual guides of several game animals in the native communities of Amazonia.
The Chacoan peccary is listed as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction, by the IUCN, primarily due to habitat loss, but also because it is hunted for bushmeat (wild meat).