What The Heck Is A Javelina Anyway?

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The javelina, unlike feral hogs, is a species native to Texas that doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

Are javelinas pigs?

Some call them “cactus pig” and they certainly have pig-like attributes but they are not a true “pig”.

According to biologists with Texas A&M University at Kingsville, a “javelina is not a pig, a feral hog or a wild boar. Although similar in appearance to a pig, it is a collared peccary.”

Both javelina and pigs are members of the order artiodactyla and the suborder suiformes and share a common ancestry.  Due to key anatomical and genetic differences, however taxonomists placed them in separate families: javelina in tayassuidae and pigs tin suidae.

Texas A&M Kingsville biologists wrote that the confusion probably started as soon as European explorers arrived in the New World.

“The javelina is native to the Western Hemisphere, while true pigs developed in the Eastern Hemisphere. Distinguishing characteristics include size. Javelinas are small and compact, weighing from 30 to 55 pounds, while adult feral hogs can reach 100 pounds or more. Javelinas are a grizzled brown and black with a white band of coarse hair, its ‘collar,’ around the neck. Feral hogs come in a variety of colors and combinations of colors. Less obvious differences include that the javelina has four-hoofed toes on its front feet, but only three-hoofed toes on the hind feet, where the outer dewclaw present on a pig is absent in javelinas. Javelinas also have shorter tails and their canine teeth or ‘tusks’ grow vertically rather than away from the face.”

For years a popular rumor has been javelinas are actually rodents while another asserts they are kin to raccoons. In fact, in middle school one of our book lessons described javelinas as a type of rodent that had more in common with capybaras, which are the world’s largest rodent. That always seemed ridiculous, as anyone who has spent time around them knows they definitely are more like pigs than rats or raccoons for that matter.

Javelinas weigh from 30-60 pounds and stand about 1.5 feet tall at maturity. When seen at a distance they look much larger than but when upon closer examination their diminutive size is obvious. They range from southern Texas across the deserts to Arizona, throughout Mexico and into the northern tier of South America.

The name “javelina” comes from the word Spanish word “javelin” which they used to describe the teeth of the animal. “Peccary” comes from a Brazilian tribal word meaning “many paths through the woods”. Anyone who hunts in javelina country can attest to the myriad well worth paths dotted by tiny hoof prints.

I always thought the collared peccary ranged into southern Mexico and then the larger white-lipped peccary took over going into South America but I learned firsthand this was not true while traveling to Venezuela to fish for peacock bass in 1999.

After arriving at a lodge on the edge of 300,000-acre Lake Guri in the middle of the night, I was excited as to what kind of wildlife roamed the area. In the morning, exotic sounds echoed through the thick forest surrounding the property. My imagination soared as I explored the grounds in search of encounters. Would there be a tapir or sloth? Maybe I would be one of the lucky few to see a majestic jaguar which is my favorite animal on the planet.

As soon as I walked out the door what did I see?

A whitetail deer!

Having traveled thousands of miles I felt ripped off seeing something that lives within a mile of my house. Then across the way by a garden I saw what looked like white-lipped peccaries. I stealthily made my way toward them and quickly realized they were plain old javelinas.

These were tame however and one came up to sniff me so I snapped a picture in case it decided to rip off my knee which it seemed fascinated with. At least I would have proof. Otherwise, people might have a hard time believing I was damaged by a Texas native in the jungles of South America.

Chester Moore


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