Photo by Richard Haddad, WNI.
Originally Published: March 26, 2017 6:03 a.m.
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With their prominent snouts and sharp tusks, javelinas are surely wild pigs, right?
Wrong, says Arizona Game and Fish Wildlife Manager Supervisor Darren Tucker.
It is perhaps the biggest myth out there about the somewhat homely wild animals that populate the forest and chaparral of Prescott, as well as other areas of the Southwest. “A lot of people think they’re pigs, but they are in a different family,” Tucker said.
Even though the animals bear some resemblance to pigs, they are of the peccary family, which Game and Fish describes as “a hoofed mammal originating from South America.”
Unlike pigs, which can have litters of anywhere from five to 10, javelinas reproduce at a relatively slow rate of about two babies at a time. They also have scent glands on their backs, and use scents to identify animals from different herds.
Another misconception that Tucker hears is that the javelina is a rodent, similar to a rat. “They’re definitely not rodents,” he said.
In truth, javelinas are among a distinctive breed that is unique to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (along with parts of Central and South America). That uniqueness helps to foster misconceptions — especially among newcomers to Arizona who are not familiar with the Southwest.
Among other common facts and fictions out there about one of Arizona’s signature animals:
• Myth: Javelinas are aggressive and will charge people unprovoked.
• Fact: Tucker notes that javelinas, with their small eyes, have very poor eyesight, and the lack of vision sometimes causes them to run randomly in an attempt to escape. Although noting, “you never say never” in wildlife management, Tucker says charging a person “would be very unusual.”
• Fact: Dogs are another story, however. “Javelinas and dogs don’t mix well,” Tucker says, pointing out that coyotes and wolves are among the natural predators of javelinas. Therefore, “Javelinas are wired to identify canine as predator,” he said. At the same time, dogs tend to be attracted to javelinas’ musky odor. The result: Javelinas and dogs often clash, with the dogs on the losing end. “They can tear up a dog pretty bad,” Tucker said.
• Myth: The population of javelinas is growing in the Prescott area.
• Fact: Tucker says Game and Fish conducts regular aerial helicopter surveys of deer and javelina. “The javelina numbers seem to be pretty stable,” he said. “They’re not necessarily decreasing or increasing.” Still, the animals might “artificially concentrate” in a particular area because of the available vegetation.
• Fact: Javelinas gravitate to certain Prescott areas because of the abundance of food. Although classified as omnivores (eating both animals and plants), javelinas focus largely on the fruit of prickly pear cactus, succulents, acorns, and manzanita berries. They also are often attracted to residential neighborhoods by dogfood, table scraps, and gardens.
• Myth: Javelinas tend to congregate in large herds.
• Fact: Tucker says the average herd size for javelinas is about 10. A herd of 10 offers the mid-sized animals some protection from larger predators such as bears or coyotes.
• Fact: Javelinas can breed year-round, although “pulse” times for giving birth occur from about March through November. Babies tend to have a reddish tint – known as “reds” – while their color turns to a peppery black/gray as the animals mature.
See Related Video
The video below is from 2013 when baby javelina "Tater Tot" was introduced at Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary in Prescott.