As fall segues into winter, we who are fortunate enough to live in the Central Highlands of Arizona will begin to see more of some of our iconic animal neighbors. This can be positive, negative, or both, depending on our perspective. If we have chosen to live here, we have chosen to share the habitat of some interesting animals, one of which is the javelina, or collared peccary.
One does not live here long before seeing a javelina. Some people think of them as pigs, but they are only distantly related, sharing a common ancestor earlier in their evolution. Originating in Central and South America, they have gradually extended their range northward. They have been considered native to the Central Highlands for the past thirty years.
PC: Felipe Guerrero
The javelina is somewhat piglike in appearance, but with a larger head, covered with dark brown/black bristly fur and having a short, straight, furred tail as opposed to the coiled pig’s tail. Adults have a white “collar” marking running across the back at the shoulders. They live in nearly all types of habitat below 6000 feet elevation, and move about continuously, seeking food and water. They have no permanent nests or dens, but congregate in communal sleeping places in sheltered areas. Javelina are very social animals that form permanent herds of (usually) 15-30 members. They can breed at any time of year, so a herd will nearly always contain a few babies, called piglings, which are born with reddish fur. Like all babies, they are appealing. Herds are led by a dominant male, which mates with all the females. Babies are protected by the whole herd. Javelinas do not see well, but have an acute sense of smell, which they use mostly to find food. They are herbivores, favoring prickly-pear cactus pads, nuts, roots, bulbs, and other plant parts. Since their eyesight is so poor, they also use their sense of smell to identify each other. The have a scent gland at the base of their tail that produces a musky odor (also unlike pigs).
Having spent much of the summer and early fall up in the cooler hills, as the temperature begins to drop, the javelina will return to the lower elevations for the winter. We may again find our garbage cans tipped over, and our garden plants dug up and eaten. This year has been hard on us all. It has not been kind to our animal neighbors either. The lack of monsoon moisture has adversely affected the plant life, resulting in smaller, or no, crops, fewer seeds, flowers, berries, anything providing food for the animals. Even though we may be tempted, do not feed javelina, but do be patient and try to understand that they are just hungry and trying to survive when they tip over your garbage or dig up and eat your prize plants.
Contributed by HCNH Naturalist Sandy Stoecker.