Animal Moments

Wonderful Warthogs

The common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) is not a very attractive animal by most people’s standards, but a closer look increases one’s appreciation for these intriguing members of the Suidae family (hogs and pigs). (Male and female shown side by side below.)

The common name refers to the large fleshy protuberances on the warthog’s face, most prominent on the male. The “warts,” especially visible just below the eyes, are actually made of cartilaginous tissue and serve to protect the animal’s face during fighting. When friendly warthogs meet, they often rub their preorbital warts together in greeting. A third pair of warts, below the jaw line, is usually covered in white bristles.

The warthog has a double pair of tusks, both growing upward. In the male, the upper pair can exceed two feet in length. However, it is the shorter lower tusks that inflict the most damage when animals fight.

Warthogs have rather skimpy coats, and this, combined with their lack of subcutaneous fat, obliges them to seek protection against temperature extremes. During the heat of the day, warthogs often seek the shade or wallow in mud or water. To keep warm in cold temperatures, warthogs sleep huddled together or make use of an aardvark hole.

Female warthogs spend most of their lives in groups called “soundings.” A sow isolates herself only to give birth and tend her newborns. For this purpose, she finds or digs a burrow, where she stays for some weeks. At first the piglets have no way to regulate their body temperatures. Hence the need for a protected underground den and mama’s warmth.

Warthogs look quite ungainly. They have large heads, long bodies, and short-looking legs. The surprising thing to me is how gracefully and fast they can run. When alarmed, a warthog raises its tail straight up and dashes away.

I have heard from a keeper that warthogs are smart and love to learn. She said that when she goes back for a session of training after a lapse, the animals (two young females in this instance) are eager to demonstrate that they remember what they learned the time before.

As of this writing, we are looking forward to introducing a male warthog to our two “wart girls” at the zoo. I look forward to the sight of wart piglets following their mom around their habitat.

March 30, 2009