warthog. What do you think of when you hear that word? All sorts of images probably pop into your mind. We doubt many of them are very attractive. After all, who wants to have “wart” as part of their name?
Warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus) are wild members of the pig family that live on the grasslands and savannahs of Africa. They look very fierce. Their large heads are shaped a bit like a shovel.
Plus, they have sharp lower canine teeth that look like straight tusks. Older warthogs also have curved upper tusks. The lower tusks can grow to be up to six inches long. The upper tusks can grow to be up to two feet long!
And, of course, there are the “warts” on their heads. The “warts” that give warthogs their name are actually protective bumps. They store fat and help protect warthogs during fights. Sometimes, males will fight for mates, and the protective “warts” help to cushion blows during these battles.
Although warthogs might look rough and tough, they usually try to avoid fights. There are many predators who would like to snack on warthogs, including lions, cheetahs, leopards and hyenas. Warthogs can run really fast, though. How fast? Not as fast as cheetahs, but warthogs have been known to run as fast as 30-35 miles per hour!
When they sense a predator nearby, most warthogs will either run away or dive for the nearest underground aardvark burrow. They’ve also learned to adapt to new threats, which has kept them off the endangered species list so far.
For example, most warthogs like to graze on plants, grass and berries during the early morning and early evening. If they live in an area where they are hunted by people, though, they adapt to hunt for food at night instead. They often use their large snouts to smell out and then dig up roots and plant bulbs.
Male warthogs are called boars. Female warthogs are known as sows. They communicate with their babies — called piglets — with a wide variety of grunts, groans, growls, squeals and snorts. A family group of warthogs is called a sounder.
Warthogs share a special relationship with a bird called the oxpecker. Oxpeckers ride on warthogs, eating tiny bugs that like to live on the warthogs. This provides food for the oxpeckers and constant cleaning for the warthogs. Scientists call such mutually-beneficial relationships among animals symbiotic relationships.