The word Javelina comes from the Spanish word "javelin" (prounounced: ha vel EEN) meaning spear, a reference to their long, pointed canine teeth. Among the general public there's often confusion about the relationship between Javelina and domestic pigs or other wild boars. While they share some characteristics, the common ancestors of Javelina and domestic pigs parted ways about 30 million years ago. By comparison, humans and apes shared common ancestors as recently as 10 million years ago. They belong to the same order and suborder, but branch off into different families.
The word Javelina comes from the Spanish word "javelin" (prounounced: ha-vel-EEN) — meaning "spear."
Contrary to rumor, they are not at all related to rodents, other than being mammals. Like so many human Arizona residents, the Javelina isn't native to the area. They've slowly migrated north from South America through Mexico and then Arizona for the last couple of centuries. While the Javelina folks back home still reside in South American rainforests, the Javelina of Arizona are expert desert-dwellers, foraging in social groups of 6 to 12 during the early morning and evening, then snoozing in the shade of mesquite trees and rock outcrops during the heat of the day.
And that smell! Strolling through the Arizona high desert, you'll often smell a Javelina before you see one.
They have a gland at the base of their tails that they use to mark trees, rocks and even each other with a sharp, musky scent something like that of a skunk, though just a touch less eye-watering. The Javelina's favorite foods are prickly pear and agave, but they'll eat a variety of desert roots, fruits, bugs and the occasional lizard.
And the braver Javelina are not above rummaging through a neighborhood trash can or nice looking garden. They can get used to humans, but please, no matter how fuzzy and sweet they seem, don't run up and squeeze one. Their canine teeth are longer than those of any North American predator, and when threatened they're not afraid to use them. If a Javelina feels cornered, it will stamp, snort and clatter its jaws together and might decide to charge at the perceived threat. One Gateway staffer was chased down a Tucson wash by a group of angry Javelina who took exception to her dog harassing them. Reports of Javelina badly injuring dogs are not uncommon, and you should make every effort to avoid a meeting between the two creatures. But from a safe distance, they can be observed without a problem.
While Javelina are a hot target for game hunters in Arizona, we encourage you to enjoy their amusing demeanor and clever opportunism instead, and allow them to continue doing their piggy thing in peace.