Occasionally, as keepers are working in and around the animal enclosures, we hear some very interesting comments about the animals in our care. Many are endearing, some very intelligent, and a few give us a good laugh. However, there are those that are just not right.
An example of this is the javelina (most pronounce it ha-vuh-LEAN-a, others hah-vay-LEE-nah). A common misconception is that the collared peccary, or javelina, is a pig. We are not the only ones who noticed this. There is even a popular children’s book written on the subject entitled “Don’t Call Me Pig!” by Conrad J. Storad. Do not get me wrong, some of my best friends are pigs. Of course, I am talking of our two delightful pot bellied pigs, Esmerelda and Mabel. Let us set the record straight and see why javelinas are not pigs.
Pigs and javelina are in the same order Artiodactyla (even toed, hooved animals) and suborder, Suiformes. However, they belong to different families. Their scientific classification is as follows: Class Mammalia, Order Artiodactyla, and Suborder Suiformes. Suiformes are broken down into families including Suidae (pigs, hogs, wild boars), Tayassuidae (peccaries), and Hippopotamidae (hippos).
Pigs, hogs, and wild boars are Old World (eastern hemisphere). Javelina and two other species of peccaries are New World (western hemisphere). There are pigs in North America, but all are descendents of Old World species brought over by early settlers. In time, some of the domestic pigs and wild boars escaped and established feral populations, which can, and do, interbreed. These feral populations are found mostly in eastern and mid-western states, but the largest population is in Texas. It is in Texas, where both the razorback boar and javelina are found. Here, the two species are often mistaken for each other. They do have similarities, such as their snouts and a good sense of smell, but the razorbacks are considerably larger—an average of 200lbs compared to a range of 35-60lbs for javelina.
Beyond size, there are many other differences between javies (as we call them at Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary) and pigs. One of the most obvious is teeth. Javelina get their name from the Spanish word for a straight spear or javelin. Their canine teeth grow down and straight whereas pig canines grow out and are curved. Not obvious is their stomachs; javies are more complex with three chambers as opposed to the simple stomach of pigs.
Think back to the last time you visited the sanctuary. Did you notice that the potbellied pigs, which are descended from wild boars, have longer tails? Next time you visit the sanctuary, look closely, and compare the potbellies with our javies, Sparki and Hannah. Try to notice the differences and similarities.