Feeding Javelina. Photo courtesy of the Victory Page web site Photo by Randy Victory.
The first myth to break is Javelina can subsist solely on prickly pear cactus-FALSE. It can be an important part of their diet in the wild, but not the only thing they eat. The fact is some Javelina populations occur in areas where there's no prickley pear growing. While other herds residing in habitat which includes prickly pear only utilize it when it's bearing fruit in late summer or during prolonged drought.
Experiments on captive Javelina revealed they could survive for as long as 3 months on a diet solely of prickly pear.
Prickly pears nutritive value is low, containing about 15 percent fiber and 5 percent protein. A Javelina would need to consume 20 percent body weight daily to meet their protein requirements.
Prickly pear cactus fed on by Javelina. (Click on picture for a really good close up) Photo by AP Jones.
Prickly pear that Javelina have been feeding on will have fibrous edges since Javelina do not have chopping teeth to cleanly bite it off. The opposite is true of prickly pear eaten by cattle and packrats.
The Un-Classic Omnivore
Most literature lists Javelina as omnivorous (they eat plant and animal matter) in general, but plant material makes up the largest portion of their diets. Food source varies depending on which region they inhabit. They use strong molars and canine-like teeth to chew on coarse foods -- mainly cactus, mesquite beans, berries, tubars, bulbs, prickly pear, roots. They also eat flowers, acorns, and gourds if encountered.
As carnivores, their diet is supposed to include grubs, worms, insect larvae, insects, toads, lizards, snakes, eggs of turtles, eggs and young of ground-nesting birds, and carrion.
One of the worlds leading Javelina authorities, professor Lyle Sowls, dismisses the omnivore pronouncement on Javelina and considers them herbivores. The herbivore school of thought bolsters their belief by pointing to several extensive scat analysis studies which only turned up the occasional insect in Javelina fecal mater.
Barrel cactus fed on by Javelina (Click on pictures to enlarge). Javelina will often feed for days on any overturned barrel cactus they come upon. They start at the root and will tunnel completely into the cactus. photo by AP Jones.
My personal observations tend to support the strictly herbivore camp. I have never seen any sign of Javelina feeding on the many dead cattle or several horses, I have discovered in the desert (all in prime Javelina range). More importantly, I have encountered at least four rattlesnakes which were freshly killed by Javelina and not consumed. It would be very odd for a true omnivore to not take advantage of the protein offered by carrion or a fresh fill.
Rattlesnake freshly killed by Javelina, and NOT eaten, in fact it's in a Javelina bedding cave. The tracks on the ground and in the cave tell the story--the Javelina were moving along a ridge mid-morning, when they stopped by a favorite resting place. The snake was sunning its self at the mouth of the cave. A quick struggle ensued, the snake lost, the Javelina moved on. The picture on the left is the scene as I discovered it. The snake was killed in the cave. The picture on the right shows canine puncture wounds on the snake (click on pictures to enlarge). Photos by AP Jones.
Nevertheless, they can consume various cactus spines without difficulty. I'm not sure about their resilience to rattlesnake bites.
Javelina diet and feeding habits also change with the season and, since they are a desert dweller, frequency of rain has significant impact as well. In general, Javelina of the southwest desert of Arizona, rely heavily on the forbs, grasses, and tubers that sprout following the January through April showers. When annuals, grasses, and forbs are dry by late May, Javelina shift to blossoms, pads and green fruit of cholla and prickly pear. By July through September beans, seeds, and fruit of catclaw, mesquite, palo verde, jojoba, scrub oak, saguaro, and prickly pear are available. Additionally, the August summer monsoon rains have revived another crop of forbs, grasses, and tubers to carry the Javelina through Fall.
Note to readers. The Javelina University section was developed from information derived from over 20 different Javelina related informational sources. Please visit the References page.