Warthog

 

 

 
 
Kruger National Park – Mammal Guide
  Warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus)
Kruger National Park – Mammal Guide
Warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus)
 
The “pretty” ugly one

Who didn’t fall in love with the famous Pumba in The Lion King? With his great attitude, funny features, tail in the air and head-on approach to everyday things, this warthog quickly captured the hearts of people all over the world!

Although warthogs are not the prettiest in the animal kingdom, they do have some amazing characteristics that make up for it.

 
What’s in a name?

Warthogs are named after the features on their face - the warts. A lot of people have often mispronounced their names and call them “water hogs”.

There is a clear distinction between the sexes - the males (or boars) will have two sets of warts on their faces. One pair located on the side of the head, below the eyes, and another set on the bridge of the nose.

Females (or sows) will only have the pair on the side of the head.

There are a few theories as to why they have these warts or thickened skin tags on their faces. One theory suggests that it helps protect the eyes when fighting (the males) or when running through the bush.

Another theory suggests that it might have the same purpose as the whiskers of a cat. Generally, the length of the warts - as they grow - is more or less the same length as the tusks (this is if you have a look at a warthog’s face from the front).

One theory suggests that while reversing into their burrow for the night (if it’s not a burrow they’ve used before), if the warts get stuck to the sides of the entrance, there is a good possibility that the tusks won’t go through either and the warthog would then have to scrape the sides out to make the burrow bigger, or find an alternative hole to sleep in.

 
Bullet in the hole… or rather out!

Warthogs are diurnal animals, which means they are active during the daytime and, only in some very rare cases where there aren’t predators active, might move around at night.

They sleep in burrows which they either dig themselves, or abandoned burrows of aardvark (orycteropus afer), porcupine (hystrix africaeaustralis) and even hyena (crocuta crocuta).

In order to be prepared for any unexpected danger at night, they reverse into their burrow so they are prepared to attack head on at any predator or threat coming in through the entrance.

Sows with youngsters will make sure their piglets have a warm, padded step inside the burrow to sleep on, while they move in backwards as close as possible to the little ones, to provide body heat during the night. This step or platform will be covered in grass and be elevated from the ground in case there is water streaming into the burrow during the rainy season.

Even during the heat of the day, warthogs might hide away in a burrow in order to be below ground, where its cool.

They are not territorial and will swap burrows regularly - think of it as a “first come, first serve” basis. If you want to sleep in the burrow you slept in last night but find it to be occupied by someone else, you would need to find an alternative hole to sleep in!

They also use the culverts underneath the tar roads in the Kruger National Park as a quick and convenient hideaway.

Due to this sleeping arrangement, it is best to not walk in front of holes in old termite mounds or the storm drains underneath the roads, if you’re on a bushwalk in the park - you might startle a sleeping warthog, which will then most likely bolt out of its burrow at lightning speed (and you don’t want to at the receiving end of that!).

At the speed and strength that warthogs run out of their burrow, it can easily break ones bones or cause serious injury.

 
“Everyday I’m trufflin...”

Warthogs are known as omnivores - they eat plant material as well as meat, but they don’t hunt animals. They will practice osteophagia like giraffe (giraffa camelopardalis) where they chew on bones, geophagia (eating of soil for extra minerals) and coprophagia (eating of dung to obtain extra nutrients).

As part of their daily foraging, they use their hard, shovel-like noses to dig up grass, bulbs and rhizomes and can actually cause quite some damage at lodges and camps by uprooting the greenery. While grazing, they might encounter the odd caterpillar here and there and consume it with the vegetable matter.

There are also records of warthogs eating carrion. But their first choice would still be plant material. The hardened skin on their noses together with the hard cartilage disk on the tip, ensures warthogs are able to dig even in the toughest ground and uproot anything they can smell that might be edible.

Perhaps one of the most popular characteristics of a warthog (besides sticking their tail in the air when they run), is kneeling down when they are feeding. Warthogs are born with a callus on the carpal joints of their wrists (we see it as their elbows). Some would say this gesture makes them look lazy, but it actually assists them when they want to dig out bulbs and roots found underneath the ground.

 
Social structure

Warthogs are not territorial and form matriarchal groups called sounders - females and their youngsters. Males tend to either be on their own or form their own bachelor sounders, and only meet up with the females during the mating season.

Various female sounders will live in the same area and won’t compete for the territory, but they will, on occasion, have disputes when competing for food resources, mud wallows or burrows.

Even though they don’t have territories, males will still scent mark in a home range and also tusk vegetation to announce their presence to other males - more clearly when the females in the range goes into oestrus.

Both sexes have scent glands (harderian glands) found in the corner of the eyes, which they will use to scent mark in the home ranges.

These glands are also present in elephants (loxodonta africana and gives the impression of the animal looking like it’s crying. It is not real tears but instead an excretion from the gland to help moisten the nictitating membrane in elephants or a warthog’s eyes.

Not only do they have these glands in their eyes, they also have preorbital glands below their eyes, tusk glands, chin glands, salivary glands, and anal and preputial glands. Boars scent mark and the higher a boar can get his scent rubbed onto a tree or bush, the more he improves his status as a dominant male! When on a Kruger Park safari, if you come across warthogs, have a look to see if they rub against the trees and who tries to get their mark higher than the other!

 
As happy as a pig in mud

Warthogs, like most other suids, are very fond of mud and wallowing in it, and will take any opportunity they can get to utilise it. They are also very water-dependant and need to drink on a daily basis which gives them the opportunity to wallow in the mud regularly, especially during the hot seasons.

Very similar to the white rhino (ceratotherium simum), this helps with regulating their body temperature and also assists with controlling parasites.

After a wallow, they tend to go for a full body rub against trees, termite mounds, rocks - anything they feel are convenient enough to use. These rubbings and scratchings sure do make for entertaining and hilarious sightings!

 
All the little piggies

Warthogs are seasonal breeders, and will usually start their rutting as the dry season starts. Boars will follow sows around and even wait at various burrows for the females to come out in order to smell if they are ready to be mated with. During this time, the males will make clamping sounds by chomping up and down on their jaws. This might even sound like a little 2-stroke engine running through the bush during that time of the year, and is definitely funny to watch - we’re sure you can just imagine seeing warthog during the dry season in Kruger Park, and the next moment, you might have a “tik-tik-tik-tik-tik” hog running past you with his tail in the air. This sound can easily be heard around 50m away!

If another male shows any interest in a sow that is already being pursued by a male, these boars will try and fend each other off by attacking each other head on, while kneeling down on their front legs.

After mating, the boars will continue to live their more solitary lifestyle and do not have anything to do with raising the piglets.

A sow will give birth to between 2 to 5 piglets as the rainy season starts. They are kept underground for about 6 weeks before they start exploring with the mother. They might however, start grazing around the burrow as early as 3 to 6 weeks already. These piglets are very playful and will provide hours of entertainment with their overloaded cuteness!

They are exceptionally agile and fast while playing - and can do a few quick 360-degree turns in a matter of seconds.

Warthogs are born with cheek whiskers. As they get older, it gets more exposed to the harsh elements and are not so pronounced. One thing that predators try and avoid, is to get caught with a warthog’s tusks. An adult hog’s tusks will be clearly visible from a distance to any predator. But with the piglets, they have only their mother to protect them. So, these very long cheek-whiskers will serve as mimic tusks! They are able to erect these whiskers and, from a distance, it might look like little critters with huge tusks sticking out from the side of their cheeks!

The mortality rate for warthog litters is quite high - about 50% of piglets do not survive the first six weeks mainly due to temperature fluctuations and predation.

When they are born, they do not contain subcutaneous fat (the fat layer underneath the skin) to aid with keeping warm during colder nights. And, as they are born during the rainy season, the wet conditions usually accompanied with wind, can cause them to be very cold during the night, which they sometimes do not survive. If their burrow does not have elevated steps to try and keep them out of water running in, they are also known to sleep on the back of the sow.

 
Todays pig is tomorrows bacon

Warthogs are not an easy meal to catch, and they prove to be very aggressive. They are equipped with two sets of tusks. The upper tusks are modified canines that grow sideways out of the mouth and curl upwards. There has been a record sighting of these tusks on a boar, that grew to 60cm!

The lower tusks are the dangerous one though - they are sharpened as the warthog feeds everyday by grinding the lower tusk against the upper tusk and causing it to stand out like a knife. When they are attacked, they open their mouths in defence and would try and slice the threat with this razor-sharp lower tusk. It has been documented that warthogs have even killed leopard (panthera pardus) and cheetah (acinonyx jubatus) by slashing their throats!

Youngsters are preyed on by numerous predators including lion (panthera leo), but also the African rock python (python natalensis) and aerial attacks from martial eagles (polemaetus bellicosus).

 
Folklore on why warthogs run with their tails up in the air

Once upon a time, the warthog had one of the prettiest coats of the wild animals living on the savannahs of Africa.

He was very proud of this and loved showing off, parading through the bush with his chest pushed out and not afraid of anything. This didn’t make him very popular with the rest of the animals in the bush.

One day, while trotting down a game path, he came across lion, who was not in a very happy mood that day and not in the right state of mind to deal with the warthog and his attitude. Warthog started comparing his beautiful coat to lion and taunting him by saying his hair is prettiest of all. Lion got very angry and grabbed warthog by his sides with his claws and pulled while warthog tried to run away… causing all of warthog’s beautiful hair to be pulled out and only leaving hair here and there. Lion’s grip couldn’t grab the back of warthog.

Warthog’s bare skin that was not use to the sun, burnt very quickly in the hot African sun, causing his skin to get very wrinkly and tight.

Warthog kept running back to his house to hide away from lion and the hot sun. He ran and ran and as he ran through the grass in the bush, he had to squint his eyes so the grass did not go inside his eyes. And, with his skin being so tight on his body, everytime he squinted his eyes, his skin would pull tight causing his tail to go up in the air!

So, still to this day, warthog has long hair on his back and neck where lion didn’t grab him and his tail goes up in the air when he runs!

 
Fast Facts:
 

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