20 facts: pigs
You may think you know this farmyard animal, but the pig is full of surprises
How well do you know this famous farmyard animal?
1. Pacey porkers
Pigs have a rather unfair reputation as lazy animals, but pigs can sprint at almost 18 kilometres (11 miles) per hour – that’s the same speed as a runner doing a seven-minute mile.
2. It’s too muddy hot for me!
An overheating person is often described as ‘sweating like a pig’, but pigs have very few sweat glands. In hot weather, they stay cool by wallowing in mud or water.
3. They walk on their tiptoes
Along with their snouts and curly tails, trotters are one of the defining traits of the pig. Only two toes on each foot are used for walking – the other two don’t touch the ground.
4. Pigs aren’t as dumb as people think
Perhaps surprisingly, pigs are among the cleverest animals; they’re inquisitive and capable of learning, and an adult pig is thought to be as intelligent as a threeyear-old child. 5. Pigs are highly sociable – when they’re living in a group they’ll all sleep close together. After they’ve drifted off, pigs dream much like we do.
6. Pigs have green snouts
Pigs root around in the earth with their snouts to look for food. As they turn the soil over they loosen and aerate it, helping plants to grow. They’ll also eat fruit if they come across it, and spread seeds in their droppings as they move around. 7. On the island of Big Major Cay in The Bahamas, pigs swim in the clear waters and will approach tourist boats in the hope that
they’ll be fed. 8. If something goes bump in the night at the farm, it was probably a pig. While their sense of smell is powerful, their eyesight is actually
very poor. 9. Despite their reputation,
pigs aren’t dirty animals. Given enough space, they’re careful to keep the area
they eat in clean. 10. Worldwide, there are an estimated 2 billion domestic
pigs. Around half of these animals live in China, with the European Union and the US following as the next biggest
11. They’re well-trained treasure hunters
Pigs have a great sense of smell. They can be used to sniff out truffles (edible fruiting parts of fungi that grow around tree roots) because the valuable fungi emit a smell similar to the sex pheromone in a boar’s saliva. Truffles fetch a high price because they’re so hard to find. However, recently people have started swapping hogs for dogs, because the pigs kept eating the truffles.
12. Pigs and humans go way back
It’s estimated that pigs were first domesticated from boars in Western Asia as far back as 13,000 BCE. As versatile omnivores, they were easy to care for, and their meat, bones, hair and hides were all considered useful.
13. Pigs were used in ancient warfare; Alexander the Great used their squeals to scare away advancing
enemy war elephants. More recently, they’ve been employed in warzones to
sniff out land mines. 14. Pigs are not fussy eaters. They’re omnivores and will eat anything from leaves and
roots to reptiles and small mammals. On farms, pigs are
fed largely on grains. 15. Not only do pigs eat a much more varied diet than us, they’re also more sensitive to taste. While we have around 9,000 taste buds, pigs have 15,000. This helps them to find foods that cover all their nutritional needs and avoid those that might be harmful
16. There were prehistoric killer ‘pigs’
Entelodonts were pig-like creatures that went extinct 16.3 million years ago. They stood 2.1 metres (6.9 feet) tall at the shoulder and had big teeth, giving rise to the nickname ‘hell pigs’. Living across North America,
Asia and Europe, they were often apex predators on the plains and in the forests. They were classified in the group that contains pigs, but it’s been suggested that they’re more closely related to hippos.
17. Pig people are happy people
The pig is the last of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac cycle. Legend says the Jade Emperor called the animals to an important meeting, and the pig was the last to arrive because of his stout body and tendency to stop and eat along the way. Those born in a year of the pig are believed to be happy and honest but sometimes stubborn.
18. Patter of tiny trotters
Female pigs – known as sows – give birth after a gestation lasting an average of 114 days. Litters usually contain six to ten piglets.
19. Swine singing
Sows often sing to their piglets as they feed them. The litter can recognise their mother’s voice and at two or three weeks old can respond to names. 20. There are thought be eight species of pig. The domestic pig is descended from the wild boar.