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Diversity of Living Peccaries

The family Tayassuidae (peccaries) is one of a number of families in the mammal order Artiodactyla. There are three extant peccary species:

1) Collared Peccary (Pecari tajacu)

2) White-lipped Peccary (Tayassu pecari)

3) Chacoan (Catagonus wagneri)

A fourth species, the Giant Peccary (Pecari maximus), was described in 2007 from the southern Brazilian Amazon, but its status as a distinct species is controversial.

Peccaries are found from the southwestern United States south through Mexico and Central and South America to northern Argentina. Collared Peccaries are found across this entire range (and are expanding northward in the United States); White-lipped Peccaries are found from southern Mexico to Argentina; the Chacoan Peccary is endemic to the lowland Gran Chaco of Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia. In montane areas near the Equator, peccaries are found up to 2000 m above sea level or even higher.

The New World peccaries are clearly closely related to the Old World pigs. The upper canines of peccaries point downward, unlike those of pigs, which point upward. Like pigs, peccaries have poor vision, moderately good hearing, and a superb sense of smell.

Collared and White-lipped Peccaries are found in a wide range of lowland and montane habitats, including tropical moist forest, cloud forest, tropical dry forest, thorn-forest, oak grasslands, desert, seasonally flooded palm savanna, and mangroves. Collared Peccaries are also adapted to drier and cooler habitats, with their range extending north through Mexico to the United States.

All peccaries are highly social and live in stable groups. Collared Peccaries are typically found in groups of around six to 30 individuals, although while foraging and resting during the day these herds typically break up into smaller groups of three or four individuals. White-lipped Peccary groups typically include 30 to 150 individuals (reportedly as many as 500!)

Peccaries have a broad diet. They feed mainly on fruits, seeds, rhizomes, bulbs, and roots, but also small mammals, snakes, grubs, insects, and other small vertebrates and invertebrates. The Chacoan Peccary feeds mainly on cactus. Peccaries significantly shape the ecosystems in which they live through seed predation, seed dispersal, herbivory, trampling, and rooting. Peccaries are apparently not dependent on access to standing water.

The primary non-human predators of White-lipped Peccaries are Pumas (Felis concolor) and Jaguars (Panthera pardalis). The smaller and more broadly distributed Collared Peccary is also preyed upon by smaller felids, as well as Coyotes (Canis latrans) and American Black Bears (Ursus americanus).

Peccaries and Humans

Peccaries are highly preferred game for indigenous and other rural people throughout Central and South America. They are hunted both for food and as a source of skins and meat that can be sold. In past decades, hundreds of thousands of peccary skins were exported each year, with skins being used in the manufacture of gloves, shoes, and other items. but in recent years, regulation of hunting across much of their range has reduced this trade dramatically.

Where not hunted, Collared Peccaries can persist in human-dominated agricultural mosaics with pockets of primary and seconday forest habitat or other cover. Collared Peccaries are present even in suburbs of Phoenix and Tuscon, Arizona, in the United States, where they often feed on ornamental plants and have been found swimming in swimming pools. Chacoan and, especially, White-lipped Peccaries are more dependent on large areas of intact habitat.  Hunting and habitat loss are the two main conservation threats faced by peccaries. The IUCN lists the Chacoan Peccary as Endangered and the White-lipped Peccary as Near Threatened.

(Taber et al. 2011 and references therein)


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© Leo Shapiro

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