|Bornean bearded pig at the London Zoo.|
A pig is any of the animals in the genus Sus, within the even-toed ungulate family Suidae. Pigs include the domestic pig and its ancestor, the common Eurasian wild boar (Sus scrofa), along with other species; related creatures outside the genus include the peccary, the babirusa, and the warthog. Pigs, like all suids, are native to the Eurasian and African continents. Juvenile pigs are known as piglets. Pigs are highly social and intelligent animals.
With around 1 billion individuals alive at any time, the domestic pig is among the most populous large mammals in the world. Pigs are omnivores and can consume a wide range of food. Pigs, biologically, are very similar to humans. Because of the biological similarities between pigs and humans, pigs are used for human medical research.
The Online Etymology Dictionary provides anecdotal evidence as well as linguistic, saying that the term derives
The Online Etymology Dictionary also traces the evolution of sow, the term for a female pig, through various historical languages:
It is entirely likely that the word to call pigs, "soo-ie," is similarly derived.
Description and behaviour
A typical pig has a large head with a long snout that is strengthened by a special prenasal bone and by a disk of cartilage at the tip. The snout is used to dig into the soil to find food and is a very acute sense organ. There are four hoofed toes on each trotter (foot), with the two larger central toes bearing most of the weight, but the outer two also being used in soft ground.
The dental formula of adult pigs is 18.104.22.168.1.4.3, giving a total of 44 teeth. The rear teeth are adapted for crushing. In the male, the canine teeth form tusks, which grow continuously and are sharpened by constantly being ground against each other.
Occasionally, captive mother pigs may savage their own piglets, often if they become severely stressed. Some attacks on newborn piglets are non-fatal. Others may cause the death of the piglets and sometimes, the mother may eat the piglets. It is estimated that 50% of piglet fatalities are due to the mother attacking, or unintentionally crushing, the newborn pre-weaned animals.
Distribution and evolution
With around 1 billion individuals alive at any time, the domesticated pig is one of the most numerous large mammals on the planet.
The ancestor of the domesticated pig is the wild boar, which is one of the most numerous and widespread large mammals. Its many subspecies are native to all but the harshest climates of continental Eurasia and its islands and Africa as well, from Ireland and India to Japan and north to Siberia.
Long isolated from other pigs on the many islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, pigs have evolved into many different species, including wild boar, bearded pigs, and warty pigs. Humans have introduced pigs into Australia, North and South America, and numerous islands, either accidentally as escaped domestic pigs which have gone feral, or as wild boar.
Habitat and reproduction
The wild pig (Sus scrofa) can take advantage of any forage resources. Therefore, it can live in virtually any productive habitat that can provide enough water to sustain large mammals such as pigs. If there is increased foraging of wild pigs in certain areas, it can cause a nutritional shortage which can cause the pig population to decrease. If the nutritional state returns to normal, the pig population will most likely rise due to the pigs' naturally increased reproduction rate.
Diet and foraging
Pigs are omnivores, which means that they consume both plants and animals. In the wild, they are foraging animals, primarily eating leaves, roots, fruits, and flowers, in addition to some insects and fish. As livestock, pigs are fed mostly corn and soybean meal with a mixture of vitamins and minerals added to the diet. Traditionally, they were raised on dairy farms and called "mortgage lifters", due to their ability to use the excess milk as well as whey from cheese and butter making combined with pasture. Older pigs will consume three to five gallons of water per day. When kept as pets, the optimal healthy diet consists mainly of a balanced diet of raw vegetables, although some handlers may give their pigs conventional mini pig pellet feed.
Relationship with humans
Domesticated pigs, especially miniature breeds, are commonly kept as pets, and are known to be one of the most intelligent domesticated animal species in the world. Domestic pigs are raised commercially as livestock; materials that are garnered include their meat (known as pork), leather, and their bristly hairs which are used to make brushes. Because of their foraging abilities and excellent sense of smell, they are used to find truffles in many European countries. Both wild and feral pigs are commonly hunted.
The relatively short, stiff, coarse hairs of the pig are called bristles, and were once so commonly used in paintbrushes that in 1946 the Australian Government launched Operation Pig Bristle. In May 1946, in response to a shortage of pig bristles for paintbrushes to paint houses in the post-World War II construction boom, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) flew in 28 short tons of pig bristles from China, their only commercially available source at the time.
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Pigs have been domesticated since ancient times in the Old World. Archaeological evidence suggests that pigs were being managed in the wild in a way similar to the way they are managed by some modern New Guineans from wild boar as early as 13,000–12,700 BP in the Near East in the Tigris Basin, Çayönü, Cafer Höyük, Nevalı Çori. Remains of pigs have been dated to earlier than 11,400 BP in Cyprus that must have been introduced from the mainland which suggests domestication in the adjacent mainland by then. A separate domestication also occurred in China.
In India, pigs have been domesticated for a long time mostly in Goa and some rural areas for pig toilets. This was also done in China. Though ecologically logical as well as economical, pig toilets are waning in popularity as use of septic tanks and/or sewerage systems is increasing in rural areas.
Pigs were brought to southeastern North America from Europe by Hernando de Soto and other early Spanish explorers. Pigs are particularly valued in China and on certain oceanic islands, where their self-sufficiency allows them to be turned loose, although the practice is not without its drawbacks (see environmental impact).
The domestic pig (Sus scrofa domesticus) is usually given the scientific name Sus scrofa, although some authors call it S. domesticus, reserving S. scrofa for the wild boar. It was domesticated approximately 5,000 to 7,000 years ago. Their coats are coarse and bristly. They are born brownish coloured and tend to turn more grayish coloured with age. The upper canines form sharp distinctive tusks that curve outward and upward. Compared to other artiodactyles, their head is relatively long, pointed, and free of warts. Their head and body length ranges from 0.9 to 1.8 m (35 to 71 in) and they can weigh between 50 and 350 kg (110 and 770 lb).
In August 2015, a study looked at over 100 pig genome sequences to ascertain their process of domestication. The process of domestication was assumed to have been initiated by humans, involved few individuals and relied on reproductive isolation between wild and domestic forms. The study found that the assumption of reproductive isolation with population bottlenecks was not supported. The study indicated that pigs were domesticated separately in Western Asia and China, with Western Asian pigs introduced into Europe where they crossed with wild boar. A model that fitted the data included admixture with a now extinct ghost population of wild pigs during the Pleistocene. The study also found that despite back-crossing with wild pigs, the genomes of domestic pigs have strong signatures of selection at DNA loci that affect behavior and morphology. The study concluded that human selection for domestic traits likely counteracted the homogenizing effect of gene flow from wild boars and created domestication islands in the genome. The same process may also apply to other domesticated animals.
Pigs are highly intelligent and can be trained to perform numerous tasks and tricks. Recently, they have enjoyed a measure of popularity as house pets, particularly the dwarf breeds.
Cultural and religious reference to pigs
Pigs appear in the traditional and popular arts, media, and cultures of many societies, where they sometimes carry religious symbolism. In Asia the wild boar is one of 12 animal images comprising the Chinese zodiac, while in Europe the boar represents a standard charge in heraldry. In Islam and Judaism pigs and those who handle them are viewed negatively, and the consumption of pork is forbidden. Pigs are frequently alluded to in folk art, idioms, metaphors, and proverbs, and also occasionally in parables (e.g. Parable of the Prodigal Son). "the three little pigs" is a folk-tale and "Peppa Pig" is a popular British television show.
Domestic pigs that have escaped from urban areas or were allowed to forage in the wild, and in some cases wild boars which were introduced as prey for hunting, have given rise to large populations of feral pigs in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and other areas where pigs are not native. Accidental or deliberate releases of pigs into countries or environments where they are an alien species have caused extensive environmental change. Their omnivorous diet, aggressive behaviour, and their feeding method of rooting in the ground all combine to severely alter ecosystems unused to pigs. Pigs will even eat small animals and destroy nests of ground nesting birds. The Invasive Species Specialist Group lists feral pigs on the list of the world's 100 worst invasive species and says:
Because of the biological similarities between each other, pigs can harbour a range of parasites and diseases that can be transmitted to humans. These include trichinosis, Taenia solium, cysticercosis, and brucellosis. Pigs are also known to host large concentrations of parasitic ascarid worms in their digestive tract. Some religious groups have dietary laws that make pork an "unclean" meat, and adherents sometimes interpret these health issues as validation of their views.
Pigs have health issues of their own. Domestic pigs have small lungs in relation to their body size, and are thus more susceptible than other domesticated animals to fatal bronchitis and pneumonia. Some strains of influenza are endemic in pigs (see swine influenza). Pigs also can acquire human influenza.
Pigs can be aggressive in defending themselves and their young. Pig-induced injuries are thus not unusual in areas where domestic pigs are raised as livestock (typically due to the non-sympathetic handling of the animals) or where they form part of the wild or feral fauna.
In November 2012 scientists managed to sequence the genome of the domestic pig. The similarities between the pig and human genomes mean that the new data may have wide applications in the study and treatment of human genetic diseases.
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