If you’ve spent much time outside in Arizona, you have more than likely encountered a group of javelina along the way. Maybe driving through a park, or along a hiking trail...These stinky, hoofed raiders of the night have been known to invade campsites and residential gardens in search of an easy snack. Otherwise known as the collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu), javelina range is relatively widespread and they can be found in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, through Mexico and into the South American country of Argentina! After reading this Arizona wildlife guide, and checking out this other great javelina resource, we hope you have a better understanding of this often misunderstood, and certainly unique Arizona resident.
Taxonomy and Distribution
Although they resemble pigs, javelina are actually members of the peccary family. Pigs are an old-world species that were introduced to North America from Europe back in the days of heavy exploration. Peccaries are a new-world species and native to the western hemisphere. Of the four types of peccaries found throughout north, central, and southern Americas, the collared peccary is the only one to have taken up residence in Arizona. Undoubtedly the collared peccary was named this because of the white “collar” found at the junction of head and body.
Javelina Size and Senses
Javelina size varies among distinct populations; however, they are usually about 18-24 inches tall (think medium-sized dog) and weigh between 35-55 pounds. Individuals and herds that live near established agricultural areas may tend to be somewhat larger (up to 80 pounds!), but javelina encountered during a state park visit typically trend more toward average size.
As you may have guessed by the size of their pig-like noses, javelina have a great sense of smell. They rely on this sense to identify other herd mates as well as to detect danger. Javelina have average hearing capabilities and very poor eyesight.
Javelina are very social animals and live within herds from only a few individuals to more than 20 animals. They use a variety of methods in which to communicate, including audible grunts, growls and “pops,” body language, and odor. A small scent gland about the size of a dime is located near their rump on the lower back that emits a pungent scent that helps to identify individual members of the herd. When startled or facing danger, javelina will emit their scent and flare the bristly hair on their back (to appear larger) before bounding off into the desert. Fights for dominance often occur within the herd and scars on individuals will clue you in to just how sharp javelina tusks are!
In Arizona, javelina can be found anywhere between the desert floor and up to 7,000 feet in elevation. “Typical” habitat is often within desert-type ecosystems below 5,500 feet. Washes, rolling hills, and other topography features are often present as well as access to a water source. Javelina herd home ranges are on average 800 acres or so, and unless banished from the herd, these individuals will live out their entire lives within their home region. Herd overlap occurs within good javelina habitat, which results in herd conflict from time to time. For the wildlife observer, areas with overlapping herds ensure that your chance of an encounter is greatly increased, and several state parks have herd overlap areas within, or very close to the park!
What Do Javelina Eat?
Javelina eat a variety of roots, fruits, nuts, flowers, and succulent desert plants. Throughout their range it’s very easy to see exactly what the local herds are feeding on because javelina are extremely messy eaters! They will uproot plants to access the soft roots, rip apart prickly pear cactus pads leaving a shredded pad as evidence of their feast, destroy your garden while eating just about everything you are growing, smash hedgehog cactus with their hooves and remove the slimy green cactus insides…you get the point! If you’re looking for a javelina encounter, and see any of the above signs, you are in the right area.
Are Javelina Dangerous?
The short answer is, not intentionally…Because of their poor eyesight, javelina when escaping a potential threat may seem as if they are “charging” you, but in reality they just aren’t able to see you as they barrel through the brush. There are instances when cornered, or when their young are threatened, that javelina may exhibit aggressive behavior. Still, it’s best to watch javelina from a safe distance, just in case!
Where Can You Find Javelina?
Javelina and other awesome native wildlife species can be found in many of Arizona’s state parks. Take a look below to visit wildlife pages for each respective park before taking a trip. Other wildlife species like mule deer, coues whitetail deer, elk, various predators and more have information sections there as well. Read up to increase your chance of a wildlife encounter in the parks!
- Catalina State Park
- Dead Horse Ranch State Park
- Kartchner Caverns State Park
- Lost Dutchman State Park
- Oracle State Park
- Patagonia Lake State Park
- Red Rock State Park
- Slide Rock State Park
- Tonto Natural Bridge State Park
As you can see, Arizona's state parks make up a large section of great javelina habitat and are awesome places to have an encounter. Javelina are somewhat nocturnal, although daytime encounters are very common. Since javelina lack fur and instead have coarse, hollow hair they have little insulation capabilities. On cool nights the herd will be piled up on top of one another to conserve heat. As soon as the sun hits a south or east facing hillside, they can be found actively feeding and lounging about in the sun.
We're lucky to have the opportunity to experience these amazing, unique creatures in so many places across the state. We urge you to get out and look for javelina during your trip to the parks but ask that you watch them from a safe distance. Please tag us on social media with your javelina photos and video at @azstateparks - we would love the chance to share your pics and story! Learn even more about javelina from our agency partner the Arizona Game and Fish Department.