photograph of Long-nosed Peccary Skeleton

Flat-headed Peccary skeleton from Welsh Cave, Kentucky

Peccaries are members of the artiodactyl family Tayassuidae. They are New World relatives of the Old World true pigs (family Suidae). Peccaries can easily be distinguished by the fact that their upper canines (tusks) point downward. In true pigs (suids) the tusks curve upward. In addition, peccaries have less complex cheek teeth, reduced side toes, and large, dorsal musk glands.

photograph of 
Long-nosed Peccary skeleton

Long-nosed Peccary skeleton from Friesenhahn Cave, Texas

Two species of peccary were present in North America north of Mexico 16,000 years ago, and remains of both are found in the midwestern U.S. The two species are the flat-headed peccary (Platygonus compressus) and the long-nosed peccary (Mylohyus nasutus).

Both the flat-headed peccary and the long-nosed-peccary stood about three-quarters of a meter (about 30 inches) tall at the shoulder and probably weighed around 50 kg (110 pounds). Both were probably fairly omnivorous, although the long-nosed peccary consumed more browse (trees and shrubs) than did the flat-headed peccary.

The flat-headed peccary apparently lived in herds. Sometimes these herds used caves as shelters. Large numbers of peccary bones have been found in several caves in Kentucky, Missouri, and Texas. In some cases, such as Welsh Cave, Kentucky (specimen shown above), Bat Cave, Missouri, Zoo Cave, Missouri, and Laubach Cave, Texas, these finds probably represent long-term usage of a cave by herds of peccaries. Unlike the flat-headed peccary, Mylohyus was probably a solitary animal and did not frequent caves. In spite of the fact that they did not frequent caves, occasionally long-nosed peccary remains are found in caves.

To the left is a fragment of a long-nosed peccary jaw was recovered from a cave in Jefferson County, Missouri. The teeth are shorter and have more rounded cusps than do the teeth of the flat-headed peccary (on the right). These differences in the teeth are due to the fact that long-nosed peccaries lived in woodlands and ate mainly shrubs while flat-headed peccaries lived in open areas and ate coarser vegetation.

Bat Cave, Missouri contained the remains of at least 98 individual flat-headed peccaries. The material from this site is in the collections of the Illinois State Museum.

You can also view a QTVR object movie of the jaw fragment.

Both Platygonus and Mylohyus became extinct in North America approximately 11,500 years ago. The reason for their extinction is being studied by paleontologists.

Peccary Finds in the Midwestern U.S.

map of Peccary Finds

This map shows some of the sites at which the flat-headed peccary (red triangles) and long-nosed peccary (green dots) have been found in the midwestern United States. The sites on this map are all relatively well-dated and well-studied. These sites contain peccary remains that are between 40,000 and 11,500 years old.

Peccaries have a long fossil history. They first evolved around 33 million years ago in either North America or Eurasia. They are present in North America from that time right through to the present. Between about 5 and 33 million years ago they were also found in the Old World. Peccaries dispersed into South America approximately 2.5 million years ago and have been successful in that area since. Three species of peccary are alive today. The Chacoan peccary (Catagonus wagneri), which is found in the Gran Chaco region of Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, is a close relative of the extinct Platygonus. The collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu) ranges from Arizona and Texas south to northern Argentina. The white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari) ranges from southern Mexico to northern Argentina.