Collared Peccaries, Citizen Science and Conducting Research

By: Reese Dorroh

Citizen Science has been and continues to be on the rise; it has made its way into classrooms ranging from elementary to doctorate level, but now citizen science is becoming a valid source for conducting scientific research. Over the summer of 2020, myself and two other undergraduates of North Carolina State University conducted research on the expanding range of Collared Peccaries due to climate change; our data was retrieved 100% virtually. iNaturalist was a leading contributor to our (scientific grade) research. iNaturalist is described as a worldwide, social network that links naturalists, biologists, citizen scientists and beyond in a shared love for nature. The app allows you to take a picture and receive help identifying the species (down to the scientific name) and if the app can’t identify it for you, one of the millions of…YES iNaturalist currently has 3,774,394 subscribers…verified observers will help. Whether it be through location, person, species, or community forum, there are a variety of ways to explore the app and differing grade levels of observations.

While collecting data on Collared Peccary ranges, we specifically used research grade observations, which ensure that sightings are verified as accurate and credible to be sourced for scientific research. We hypothesized that Collared Peccaries are expanding their range within the United States due to climate change. Using iNaturalist, museum records and old range maps, we were able to confirm an expanding range. With additional mapping systems and climate datasets we were even able to predict the species’ future range.
As range increases, more and more people will come into contact with Collared Peccaries, which are commonly mistaken for feral pigs, which are an invasive, nuisance species found in ~35 US states. To help educate those many new people who will interact with peccaries, I created the infographic at the bottom of this post. The graphic is meant not only to help differentiate between peccaries and feral pigs, but also to inform people how to have safe interactions if they are to come across one. The first step is to know the differences between peccaries and feral pigs; characteristics that can be used to tell the two apart are ears, tails, hooves and tusks. Compared to pigs, peccaries have smaller ears; tails that are hard to see from a distance; three toes on their hind feet; and straight tusks. Pigs, on the other hand, have upright ears; long, hairy tails; four toes on their hind feet; and curved tusks. The next step is to know how to interact with them and what to keep in mind if an interaction does occur. Remember that they are MUCH more scared of you than you are of them; their first reaction is to run away. Keeping that in mind, always be cautious! Any animal has the possibility of being dangerous if the interaction is not heedful. Peccaries, while typically skittish, can be aggressive when protecting their territory or young. Territory are resources are limited, so it is especially important NOT to feed them because they WILL come back over and over again looking for food, which could lead to human injuries and even the death of the peccary. If one, or many, manage to get into your backyard, land, etc. make loud noises to scare them away. Bang pots together, yell, whatever you can to get them to go away. If loud noises do not work, throwing small rocks or pebbles at them or spraying them with water are also effective. Mostly just remember that they are not there to hurt you and there are safe ways to interact without either human or animal being hurt. If you see what you think might be a Collared Peccary, take a picture and upload it to iNaturalist, you may just contribute to scientific research!

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Welcome to the Forum, enjoy your stay!

Kudos on the work you’re doing, and don’t let this take away from it, but the “research grade” flag is misleading and doesn’t really mean what you think it means. It does not at all mean the observation is credible or more or less appropriate for scientific research. All that flag tells you is that the observation checks the following boxes:

Most observations will check most of those boxes on their own. Then all it takes is one person to misidentify an organism, and one more to agree for it to become “research grade” but completely wrong.

On the complete flip side of this, restricting observations to “research grade” will completely block out many very interesting observations by enthusiasts working on more obscure organisms. For instance, the vast, vast majority of my observations will never meet “research grade” because they are of microbial life. Identification of ciliates to the species level is very difficult and sometimes completely impossible by visual means alone, so often the genus is the best you can possibly hope for (and even that can be quite challenging). But that doesn’t make the observations any less rigorous.

Just something to keep in mind for the future.

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Interesting project, thanks for posting this. In my state (New Mexico), collared peccaries (or javelina as they are usually called here) are definitely showing up farther north than they did in the 20th century and seem to be filling in some of the presumed holes in their distribution in the southern part of the state. I’ve seen some of this range expansion myself and collect reports of these outlier sightings. There’s even fairly recent records from as far north as near Santa Fe and Albuquerque (not on iNat). I’ve heard it suggested that this expansion is actually a rebound from a range retraction in the 1800s and early 1900s when they were hunted without restrictions, often as a range pest or for the bristly hide which was supposedly used for brushes. I don’t know if the rebound hypothesis is true as there are few records from those earlier times to support the idea they used to range into these recently occupied areas.

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Range map of javelina in New Mexico in 1965. The dark lines indicate suitable but mostly unoccupied habitat, as understood then. Compare to records map on iNat today.

This looks great! I am curious, as it looks like you’ve done some background research on them- living in south Texas (some of my obs are in your dataset!) I’d never heard the name ‘peccary’ used for javelinas before other than in scientific publications and field guides, where it is generally listed as an alternative to javelina. A nearby uni even has the Javelinas as the mascot. Is it primarily a regional thing between javelina/peccary or was I just in a very non-representative bubble?

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My understanding is that the word peccary is derived from South American indigenous language(s) and is also generally used by English-speaking mammalogists for the species as the “official” name – Pecari is the scientific name, after all. But javelina, derived from an Old World Spanish word, is the more popular name in the U.S. Southwest where there is large Spanish-speaking population. I never hear them called peccary in my area unless the speaker is a mammalogist, and often not even then.

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There are two species of peccaries, but only one of javelinas. By which I mean, javelina refers to the collared peccary, but not to the larger white-lipped peccary. You are unlikely to see white-lipped peccaries outside South America.

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