20 facts: pigs

You may think you know this farm­yard an­i­mal, but the pig is full of sur­prises

World of Animals - - Contents -

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

porcine pro­duc­ers.

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

to them.

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.

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