Meet a Teeth Clacking, Jaw Grinding, Squealing and Woofing Peccary of the Desert Southwest….. the Javelina  

March 21, 2023

Another species we searched for while visiting the Sonoran Desert surrounding Tucson last December, was the javelina. Certainly this elusive little pig-like critter was nearly everywhere we went, as attested to by the thousands of hoof prints echoing their presence. And many of those hoof prints were fresh! Certainly there must’ve been squadrons of javelina hiding behind every mesquite tree around the next countless bend in the trail? 

But alas …. we never saw, heard or even sniffed out a single javelina. All we could do was record (and sketch) the herd of hoof prints, and then research this animal in the following months. Oh boy, did we really miss such a fascinating encounter.

Back at home, several months later, our friend Jim Silva was happy to share one of his javelina skull mounts for study and sketching. I’m thinking we may have been lucky not to have met up with a herd of their clacking canines during our travels! 

Maybe another time?  

Meanwhile …. If you’ve got a thirst for javelina knowledge, or just want to see my journal sketches, read on!

Meet a Teeth Clacking, Jaw Grinding, Squealing and Woofing Peccary of the Desert Southwest….. the Javelina  

Javelina (pronounced ‘have-a-LEEN-a’) is the common name used for the desert Southwest collared peccary, one of three living species of peccary belonging to the Tayassuidae family. Peccaries are even-toed hoofed ungulates (herbivores) in the Order Artiodactyla, which also includes pigs (Suidae family), hippopotamuses, camels, llamas, deer, giraffes, pronghorn, antelopes, sheep, goats, and cattle.

So is a Peccary a Pig? 

Even though javelina (peccary) may resemble pigs, they are not pigs. Once I compared and contrasted a few notable characteristics of these two distantly related animals, it became obvious why scientists classified each into a different families.

ComparisonsJavelina (Peccary)Pig
Ears and tailsSmall and not easily seen from a distanceEars upright and long; tails are hairy
Toes3 toes on hind foot which includes 1 inner dewclaw4 toes on hind foot, includes 2 dewclaws
Teeth38 teeth44 teeth
Canines (tusks)Straight, long and sharp canines which protrude from the jaws about an inch Curved
Size2 feet tall; 3-4 feet long; weight 35-55 pounds3 feet tall; 5 feet long; weight 75-400 pounds
Scent glandA scent gland on the back near the rumpNo scent gland
Life span10+ years in the wild, up to 20 years in captivity 4-5 years in the wild, up to 20 years in captivity 
Litters1-3 young (twins are most common) which are up and running hours after birth. Called “reds” due to their skin coloring at birth. 8-11 helpless young 
Gall bladderPresentAbsent
Classification originNew World animalOld World animal 
Comparisons between Javelina and Pigs

More About the Javelina 

Javelina (Dicotyles tajacu) are medium-sized animals that have short, thick, and bristly salt-and-pepper colored hair, short legs, and a pig-like nose. A lighter band of hair around the neck and shoulder looks like a collar, which gives the javelina its name “collared peccary.” 


Javelina are primarily herbivores (vegetarians), but will occasionally eat insects, lizards, dead birds and rodents.  The availability of food will often determine a herd’s location.

The variety of native plant foods consumed by javelina include cacti, agave, and mesquite beans, as well as roots, tubers, acorns, manzanita berries, pine nuts, grasses, juniper, and other green vegetation. Succulent plants, especially cacti, make up the bulk of their diet; research shows prickly pear cactus is their main staple.

What’s that Odor?

Even though javelina have poor eyesight, they have a good sense of smell. A scent gland covered by long hairs, located on their back near the rump is the source of a strong and unmistakably musky smell. This scent is used to mark their territory by rubbing rocks, shrubs and tree stumps. Bed grounds (birthing areas), feeding areas, and watering holes are also usually marked.

Members of a group will rub cheek-to-hip to share this scent amongst themselves. Each individual’s slightly different musky scent, when mingled with other javelinas in their group, form a sort of “herd perfume” used to identify family members. If a strange javelina tries to butt in, the invader is instantly recognized by its unfamiliar scent and quickly given the boot. 

Many people have said they can smell a herd of javelina before they see them! This may be why javelina are also known as skunk pigs.

Breeding and Newborns

Between javelina, there’s no definite male-female bonding; females may actually have several mates. Breeding can take place throughout the year, but peaks during late winter and spring so that birthing coincides with the July and August monsoon season.  After a 145-day gestation period, the pregnant female, accompanied by one or two other javelinas, gives birth to one pound newborns in an area scent marked as a ‘bed ground.” Within a few hours of birth, these tiny squealers are able to travel and keep up with the herd.  Since females have a very limited capacity for milk storage, newborns, called “reds” due to their skin color, must nurse frequently.  In the wild, nursing ceases after 16 to 24 weeks.


Javelina are typically desert creatures, living in washes, saguaro and palo verde forests, oak woodlands, and grasslands with mixed shrubs and cacti, and even on the fringe of pine forests.  To keep their cool during the heat of the day javelina will rest in the shade of a mesquite tree or under rocky outcroppings.

Squadrons of Hoofed Woofers

A major survival adaptation is credited to their herding behavior; living in large family groups. The average group size consists of 6-20 individuals, but a few herds (referred to as squadrons or bands) have known to number up to 53 animals. Each group defends a territory which includes their bed grounds, sleeping and feeding areas. They communicate with their own family group and other groups using sounds and smells.  

When herds encounter one another at overlap areas, individuals will display aggressive behavior. They will chase an intruder at full speed, with jaws or teeth clacking and the animal woofing loudly. Although most boundary disputes leave the animals unharmed, injury can occur.

Predators and Reaction Behavior 

The main predators of javelina are mountain lions, humans, domestic dogs, coyotes, bobcats and jaguars.  Javelina are also frequent prey for black bears, mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes. Golden eagles have been known to swoop down and grab a newborn javelina in their talons.

When they smell danger, javelina will freeze, let off that musky odor and clack their tusks in warning. They may even charge at the perceived threat. But more likely, due to their poor eyesight and hearing, javelina may leap 6-10 feet in the air when startled before scattering in all directions in an attempt to escape.


Currently, javelina populations are stable, but disease, poor weather such as severe snowstorms or drought, and habitat degradation can negatively impact their survival.


Javelina are found in the deserts of southwest Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, southward through Mexico and Central America and into northern Argentina.


Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (2008). Javelina information flyer 

Murie, O.J. (1974).  A Field Guide to Animal Tracks (Peccary or Javelina). Pages 294-296.

NM Department of Game and Fish (1993). Wildlife Notes: Javelina. (March 19, 2023)

What’s on your nature agenda for this spring? Ours is filling up fast!

Until next time! 


  1. This story reading time we can understand,it is a wonderful animal 🦔 rare to see 🌹🙏👍🏻
    Very interesting lines and photos to view 👌😊Thank you for sharing 🌹🙏♥️🌹

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for reading my post, Thattamma! I so glad you enjoyed learning about javelina!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes 🙏 thank you so much and most welcome 🌹❤️🌹

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Michele Lee says:

    Excellent post! They are fascinating to watch. Unless it is knocking over trashcans which they like to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for the comment, Michele! I’d be happy with a trash can encounter for a chance to see just one javelina!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Michele Lee says:

        You are welcome! I wish that for you! They are fascinating to watch and the babies are cute. It is exciting to see them because if you see one there are usually several more.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. sgoodman56 says:

    So are the huge canines just for noise making? It doesn’t like they need them to eat vegetation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an excellent question! I’m not sure, as they don’t seem wicked enough to use in fights.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s