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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Costa Rica Wildlife: Meet the Collared Peccary

What looks like a pig and smells like a skunk, but isn’t a pig or a skunk? You guessed it, the collared peccary.

The collared peccary is home to a very unsatisfying fact. Though they have pig-like noses and run around doing very pig-like things, they are not closely related to domestic pigs. In the scientific grouping of animals, peccaries are in the Tayassuidae family, while pigs belong to the family Suidae. Their closest relative went extinct some 50 million years ago.

There are several physical differences between pigs and peccaries related to the number of toes they have on certain feet and the shape of their teeth, among other things. Even having learned this information, every time I see a collared peccary my brain still screams “Pig! That’s a pig!”.

One stereotypical pig-like trait the collared peccary does have is a healthy stink.

The source of that stink is rather interesting. Peccaries secrete a skunk-like scent out of a special gland on their back, near the rump, called the dorsal scent gland.

If you get close enough, you can actually see the gland in a little bald spot on their back. I worked at a wildlife rescue center for several years that housed an adult peccary. When I brought food and water it would often rub its dorsal gland on the fence, shooting that skunk-like odor directly at me.

Collared peccaries use their odor to send two messages to the world. The first message is simply – This land is our land. Peccaries rub their dorsal glands on rocks, trees and other objects within their territories, sending a strong message of ownership to other groups of peccaries. The second message they send to individuals within their own group – We’re all friends.

Collared peccaries stand next to each other facing opposite directions and rub their heads on each other’s dorsal gland. This allows individuals within potentially large herds to easily recognize each other with their sense of smell. It’s kind of a family brand of skunk-like odor.

In the field I smell the odor of collared peccaries more frequently than I actually see them. Though I have had the good fortune of seeing collared peccaries several times in the forests of Costa Rica while doing camera trap projects. Once I was able to see an entire group taking leisurely dust baths in Guanacaste. But this type of relaxed viewing experience is the exception not the rule.

Frequently my interactions with collared peccaries end up with both of us thinking – AHH! Sometimes while walking through the forest to check cameras, I will accidentally frighten a peccary or group of peccaries that I don’t even know are there. An alarm call and a lot of crashing noises later, everyone is left with a raised heart rate.

Please enjoy the following video of collared peccaries from around Costa Rica. I’m always excited to see them while reviewing camera trap videos.

About the Author

Vincent Losasso, founder of Guanacaste Wildlife Monitoring, is a biologist who works with camera traps throughout Costa Rica. Learn more about his projects at: Facebook and/or Instagram

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