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An Ultimate Ungulate Fact Sheet
Tayassu pecari
White-lipped peccary
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Tayassu pecari [Link, 1795].
Citation: Beitr. Naturgesch., 2:104.
Type locality: French Guiana, Cayenne.

The taxonomic record (above) is taken from Wilson and Reeder (1993). The white-lipped peccary was originally named Sus pecari due to its superficial resemblance to true pigs (Suidae). Five subspecies are generally recognized; March (1993) lists them (in geographical order) as Tayassu pecari ringens (Southern Mexico to northern Nicaragua), T. p. spiradens (southern Nicaragua to Colombia), T. p. aequitorius (south-western Colombia and north-western Ecuador), T. p. pecari (from Colombia to Brazil, north of the Amazon river), and T. p. albirostris (the southern part of the peccary's range, south of the equator). Mayer and Wetzel (1987) recognized five subspecies, but included T. p. albirostris as a synonym for T. p. pecari, giving the range as that for March's T. p. albirostris. These authors recognized T. p. beebei as a valid subspecies, occupying the place of T. p. pecari in northeastern South America as described by March (1993). Synonyms for T. pecari include T. aequatoris, Sus albirostris, T. beebei, Dicotyles labiatus, T. ringens, and T. spiradens (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Wilson and Reeder, 1993).

Physical Characteristics

There is little difference between male and female white-lipped peccaries, both in size and general appearance (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Nowak, 1991). Reported measurements are very similar, with body length between 90 and 140 cm, shoulder height 40-60 cm, and body weight 25-40 kg.

Reported measurements for white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari)
Source Adult Weight Head & Body Length Shoulder Height Tail Length
Kiltie, 1982 25-40 kg - - -
Mayer and Wetzel, 1987 25-40 kg 90.5-139 cm 40-53 cm 1.0-6.3 cm
Schmidt, 1990 25-40 kg 95-120 cm 40-60 cm 3.0-6.5 cm

The bristly pelage of the white-lipped peccary is an overall dark reddish-brown or black, with each hair being two-toned: light at the base, and then dark for the distal three-quarters (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Schmidt, 1990; Nowak, 1991). The hair on the sides of the body is short (2.8-6.0 cm in length), while the hair along the upper back may be up to 11.5 cm long (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). These longer hairs form an erectile crest which can be raised (usually when the animal is excited) to increase the apparent size of the animal. The pelvic region is light cream in color (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987)

Like all peccaries, T. pecari has a body form very similar to the Old World pigs (Suidae) (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). The rounded body is supported by long, slender legs (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). The hooves are small, and while dewclaws are paired in the forelimbs, there is only a single medial dewclaw on the hind legs - this species, therefore, has the same number of toes as the tapirs (Tapiridae, Perissodactyla) (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). A scent gland located on the lower back (approximately 10 cm long and 5.5 cm wide) produces a distinctive, pungent odor (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Schmidt, 1990). The gland exudes its secretions though a nipple-like projection found just above the origin of the small tail (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Schmidt, 1990).

The face is elongated, and terminates in a naked nasal disc supported by cartilage (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). The ears are rounded, 6.4-9.0 cm long, and are usually held erect (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). The head is the same brown-black color as the rest of the body, except for the namesake white lips. These striking stripes of white hair run from the corner of the mouth to the jowls and under to the throat, extending up to the tip of the chin on the lower jaw (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Schmidt, 1990; Nowak, 1991).

Reproduction and Development

The breeding season(s) of the white-lipped peccary are highly variable depending on location. T. pecari may breed throughout the year, for example in Mexico and Suriname, or may have a strictly defined breeding season dependent on food resources (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Schmidt, 1990). March (1993) reports that breeding in Peru peaks between July and August, while in Chiapas, Mexico this season extends from April to November. Altrichter et al. (2001), studying T. pecari in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica, observed a marked increase in copulations in the first half of February, noting that the resulting births occurred in July and August during the peak of fruit availability. Following this, a second burst of breeding activity (presumably post-partum) occurred in July and August (although with few successful pregnancies). Roots (1966, in Mayer and Wetzel, 1987) reported two breeding seasons in captivity, noting that females became receptive 3 weeks and again 7 weeks after parturition.

156-162 days is often quoted as the gestation period of white-lipped peccaries, derived from three captive individuals at Dudley Zoo (Roots, 1966 in Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). This is corroborated by observations of wild peccaries, which give birth approximately 5 months after breeding (Altrichter et al., 2001). The great majority of births are twins, although occasionally a singlet or triplets are born (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Schmidt, 1990). Young weigh 1,100-1,350 grams at birth (Schmidt, 1990).

Neonates are born with a reddish brown coat, with a dark brown or black middorsal stripe and cream-colored underparts and legs (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Schmidt, 1990). Mayer and Wetzel (1987) report that young are born with the characteristic white rostrum, while Schmidt (1990) states that neonates do not possess cheek markings. After a tan intermediate stage, young achieve their adult coloration in their second year (Schmidt, 1990). Babies stick closely to their mothers (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). Altrichter et al. (2001) did not observe any nursing activity between January and April among Costa Rican peccaries, inferring that young are weaned by 6 months of age. Young may suckle until they are three-quarters the size of their mother (Altrichter et al., 2001)

Sexual maturity is reached between one and two years of age (Schmidt, 1990; March, 1993). The maximum recorded life span is 13 years, 3 months (Crandall, 1964 in Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Schmidt, 1990).


The white-lipped peccary inhabits numerous habitat types across its large range (Nowak, 1991). This species typically prefers dense, humid tropical forests, usually with primary growth, although they do inhabit drier regions such as dry savannas, the Paraguayan Chaco, and tropical dry forests (Schmidt, 1990; March, 1993). In any case, T. pecari stays close to a source of water (Nowak, 1991; March, 1993). Habitat selection, and seasonal movements between habitats, is driven by availability of fruit (Carillo et al., 2002). In Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica, T. pecari utilized primary forest most during the period of February to May, corresponding with the peak in fruit production there. Likewise, secondary and coastal forests were used by peccaries during the main fruiting period from June to September (Carillo et al., 2002).

Herds inhabit large home ranges, estimated to be 60-200 km2 for animals in the Peruvian Amazon (Kiltie and Terborgh, 1983 in March, 1993). However, other authors, through radiotracking, have found some herds inhabit much smaller areas: a herd of around 150 animals (split into three subherds) in Brazil lived in an area 18.7-25.5 km2 in size (Keuroghlian et al., 2004), while the range of a herd in Costa Rica covered 32-38 km2 (Carillo et al., 2002). Population densities as low as 1.0-1.6 animals per km2 have been reported, although in Brazil there may be as many as 4.5-9.3 peccaries per km2 (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Nowak, 1991; Keuroghlian et al., 2004). The adult sex ratios of herds is strongly skewed towards females, with 1.4-1.8 females per male (Altrichter et al., 2001).

White-lipped peccaries are a major prey species of the jaguar (Panthera onca), and are also hunted by puma (Puma concolor) (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Schmidt, 1990; Carillo et al., 2002). White-lipped peccaries enjoy a fearsome reputation, and these large cats will typically kill only solitary individuals or the last animal if the group is travelling in a column (Schmidt, 1990). American President Theodore Roosevelt, while travelling in Brazil, reportedly found a jaguar which had been killed by peccaries (Schmidt, 1990). Although these two cat species are the only documented non-human predators of T. pecari, several authors also count the boa constrictor (Boa murina) as a predator (see Mayer and Wetzel, 1987).

T. pecari is omnivorous, although there is a marked preference for fruits in the diet (March, 1993). In a study of stomach contents from 34 animals collected in Amazonian Peru, Kiltie (1981a) found that plant reproductive parts (i.e., fruits, nuts, and seeds) comprised 61% of stomach contents, followed by vegetation (39%). Trace amounts of animal content (including invertebrates) were found in 82% of stomachs in the same study. Despite the high proportion of fruit material consumed by this species, the majority of seeds are well-masticated, discounting the theory that the white-lipped peccary plays a role as a seed disperser (Kiltie, 1981a). Anecdotal reports of food items taken by white-lipped peccaries include fruits, leaves, roots, seeds, fungi, worms, insects, frogs, lizards, turtles, bird eggs, and carrion (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Schmidt, 1990; March, 1993). More than 40 plant species have been identified in the diet of this species, including wild figs (Ficus sp.) and the seed pods of Acacia aroma (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; March, 1993). However, palm nuts appear to be particularly favored, including those of Astrocaryum sp., Mauritia flexuosa, Jessenia sp., Iriartea ventricosa, and Socratea exorrhiza (Kiltie, 1981a; Kiltie, 1982). White-lipped peccaries are well-adapted to cracking these tough nuts, as dislocation of the jaw is prevented by the canine teeth, which interlock and prevent any sideways motion (Kiltie, 1981a; Schmidt, 1990; Nowak, 1991). Because of the hard exterior of palm fruits, few other animals are able to consume them, providing the white-lipped peccary with a food reservoir when other fruits become rare (Kiltie, 1982). Several rodent species apparently hoard the nuts at the bases of trees, a habit which peccaries exploit by selective foraging (Kiltie, 1981b). T. pecari is sometimes reported to raid crops (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987).


T. pecari is the only large neotropical mammal to form large herds, and thus plays a significant role in the region's ecology (March, 1993). While anecdotal accounts of herds exceeding 2,000 animals exist (see Mayer and Wetzel, 1987), groups typically contain 40-300 animals. Smaller herds are usually found in drier regions, or where there is greater hunting pressure (Kiltie and Terborgh, 1983 in Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). Large groups contain animals of both sexes and all ages (Schmidt, 1990; Nowak, 1991). Ten herds observed by Altrichter et al. (2001) in Costa Rica contained 21-70 animals, while groups with 100-200 animals are frequently observed in Peru (Nowak, 1991). On the Atlantic coast of Brazil, Keuroghlian et al. (2004) tracked a population of peccaries containing around 150 animals. While these animals shared the same home range, they were frequently divided into three to four subherds (each containing 47.2 individuals on average) which were temporally separated in their visits to the same regions. Between these subherds there was a high frequency of movement (one individual was a member of three subherds in 13 months), although the authors were unable to measure this quantitatively due to a low number of marked individuals. Keuroghlian et al. (2004) observed that two subherds occasionally fuse into larger aggregations for a few months, while other authors report this same phenomenon in different terms, implying that large groups are the norm, and may break up into smaller herds during certain seasons due to food availability (March, 1993). Several theories have been proposed as to why this species forms such large aggregations, such as increasing efficiency at foraging for a food source with a clumped distribution, or improving predator defense (see Mayer and Wetzel, 1987).

With such a large number of herd members, it is necessary for white-lipped peccaries to constantly move in order to obtain enough food. Often described as nomadic, a herd can cover about 10 km per day (Kiltie and Terborgh, 1983 in March, 1993; Schmidt, 1990; Nowak, 1991). These animals may use regular trails and travel in single file, but some observers have reported that peccaries move in compact groups and may forage away from the route in a criss-cross fashion (see Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). A great proportion of the time budget of T. pecari is spent feeding (34%) and moving (33%) (Altrichter et al., 2002). The rest of the day is spent resting (28%), interacting with conspecifics (3%), and engaging in other activities. During months when fruit is scarce, Altrichter et al. (2002) observed a decrease in the time spent resting, as more time was spent foraging.

Herds are kept together by a combination of physical, olfactory, and acoustic contact (Schmidt, 1990). Throughout the day, animals continuously bump their snouts into other members of the herd, keeping them in close contact - this behavior also seen in the collared peccary (Pecari tajacu), but only when individuals rejoin the herd or settle down to rest (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Schmidt, 1990). Despite the strong odor of the dorsal gland, there have been no observations of white-lipped peccaries using the secretions for territorial markings (March, 1993). It therefore appears that its main function is in forming a group identity, with reciprocal grooming spreading an individual's scent to the rest of the group, forming a herd-specific scent (Schmidt, 1990). T. pecari has a large vocal repertoire, and members of a herd are usually in contact acoustically, which is especially important when travelling through dense vegetation (March, 1993). The contact call, made while travelling, is a low growl or moan, but white-lipped peccaries will also clatter their teeth and bark sharply during conflict and use a deep bark as an alarm call (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). Adults and juveniles also make a raspy bleat (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). While the distinctive white lip markings have been suggested as a visual stimulus, aiding in conspecific recognition (Schmidt, 1990), the usefulness of this in dense rainforest seems unlikely.

The white-lipped peccary is primarily diurnal, although some authors report that activity is centered around dawn and dusk, indicating a crepuscular lifestyle (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). Carillo et al. (2002) found radio-collared peccaries to have activity peaks in the morning (centered around 09h00s) and afternoon (15h00). This species may extend its hours of activity into the night when the moon is full (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). T. pecari can reportedly swim well (Schmidt, 1990). They appear to enjoy wallowing in mud or dust and in the dry season do so during the midday hours (Schmidt, 1990; Nowak, 1991; Carillo et al., 2002).


White-lipped peccaries are found from southern Mexico south to southern Brazil and northern Argentina, at altitudes as low as sea level to as high as 1,900 meters. T. pecari was introduced to Cuba in 1930, but wild populations no longer survive (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Reyna-Hurtado et al., 2008).

Countries: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador (extinct), French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay (extinct), and Venezuela (March, 1993; Reyna-Hurtado et al., 2008).

Range Map
(Adapted from March, 1993)

Conservation Status

The white-lipped peccary is listed as near-threatened by the IUCN (Reyna-Hurtado et al., 2008), but is listed on CITES Appendix II (2009) under a blanket listing for the Tayassuidae. Although not immediately endangered, T. pecari is threatened by widespread deforestation, especially in Mexico and Central America (March, 1993; Reyna-Hurtado et al., 2008). With a home range nine times greater than sympatric collared peccary (Pecari tajacu), white-lipped peccaries require extensive, continuous tracts of land are far more impacted by human encroachment and fragmentation (March, 1993; Keuroghlian et al., 2004). This species is economically important, and one of the principal game species for neotropical hunters (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). Overhunting continues to contribute to the species' decline (Reyna-Hurtado et al., 2008).


Captive white-lipped peccaries have been known to interbreed with the collared peccary (Pecari tajacu), and on at least two occasions produced offspring which survived to maturity, although it is not known if the hybrids were fertile (see March, 1993).

Tayassu is derived from tayasú, the the Tupi-Guarani name for peccary (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987). Pecari (and the derived form "peccary") is a Cariban name for peccaries meaning "an animal which makes many paths through the woods" (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987; Gotch, 1995).

Local names
Tayasú tanyihka ti, tanyihka ti, pecari labiado, queixo branco, queixada, and tayasú tiragua [Argentina] (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987).
Tagnicate, Tâchycâtí [Chaco, Paraguay] (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987).
Senso, marina [Mexico] (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987).
Pingo, witlippeccarie [Suriname] (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987).
Jagilla, tayasu citam, baquira, pécari, and pecarí [Honduras] (Mayer and Wetzel, 1987).
Le pécari à lèvres blanches (Schmidt, 1990)
Le pécari aux babines blanches (Schmidt, 1990)
Le pécari à barbe blanche (Schmidt, 1990)
Weißbartpekari (Schmidt, 1990)
Bisamschwein(Schmidt, 1990)
El chancho cariblanco (Altrichter et al., 2002)
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