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Sandpig - Fauna
Written By: Elizabeth Barrette (Writer), Deirdre / Wyld_Dandelyon (Artwork)
Sandpigs (and a little about their related cousins)
 
 

Animal Name(s): Sandpig (common name), Ridgeback (nickname)

Description: An adult sandpig stands 2-3 feet tall and 4-6 feet long, weighing between 60-100 pounds. Color ranges from buff through shades of tan and fawn to dark brown, with the sandpigs in each area tending to resemble the color(s) of rocks and sand there. They have round ears and a long snout. Their legs end in broad hooves. Along the back sprouts a tall double mane of stiff hairs.


These animals have many adaptations to their dry habitat. Their round pink ears and moist snout tips help dissipate excess heat. Most water is removed from exhaled air as it travels down the snout. Their urine is more concentrated than that of animals living in a wetter habitat, and excretes some of the dangerous alkaloids in the plants they eat. Sometimes a herd will urinate in the dust to create mud, then all roll in it to stay cool and repel pests.


Two adaptive features are visible distinctions of the species. First, they have very broad cloven hooves to help them walk over soft sand without sinking into it. The tough hooves also resist injury from sharp stones or thorns. Sandpigs often break into cacti by pawing at the plants to remove thorns. Second, a double row of stiff hairs forms a mane from ears to tail. The central hairs can grow over a foot long, shorter at ears and tail. These hairs provide shade from the harsh sun; muscles at the base of the hairs allow the animal to change the orientation for maximum benefit. Because the hairs are stiff and somewhat sharp on the ends, they help discourage predators, though not as effectively as a porcupine’s quills. (They are sharp enough to pierce skin, and the points tend to break off, causing infection.) Finally, the mane plays a role in courtship displays.


Worth noting is that newborn piglets arrive with neither of these features. Their hooves are small and their fur short to facilitate birth. The hooves soon broaden, and the mane begins to sprout after the soft striped baby coat is shed around two months of age. Until then, however, the mother must protect her young from the hot sun and rough terrain.


Sandpigs derive most of their water from eating succulent plants or fruit. They can last a week or more without access to drinking water. When they do find fresh water, they drink until their bellies swell; a single sandpig can hold up to 6-8 gallons. They are also adept at smelling out water sources, and will use their broad hooves to dig pits where water is just below the surface. After drinking their fill, they roll in the mud, further enlarging the pit. Many other desert animals benefit from their efforts to expose water.

Like other swine, sandpigs have a keen sense of hearing and smell/taste. The snout is highly sensitive to touch as well as odor, a powerful digging tool almost as nimble as a giant finger. Eyesight, however, is notably poor. A sandpig has scent glands that produce a strong musk in multiple locations: soles of the hooves, inner sides of the forelegs, under the chin, and base of the tail. (Males have an additional gland inside the penile sheath.) These glands assist in keeping the herd together – the members can identify and track each other by scent – as well as territorial claims and mating.


Sandpigs are primarily crepuscular, active for a few hours around dawn and dusk. Although they may take advantage of cool or cloudy days to forage longer, they spend most days resting, preferably in shady places. Occasionally they venture forth at night, too.


Habitat: Sandpigs range through a variety of dryland and desert regions. Their wide, tough hooves make them comfortable on sand or stone. They prefer areas with plenty of succulent and/or fruiting plants, along with some rocks or ravines for shade. They rarely venture out into deep desert areas full of nothing but sand dunes, although they sometimes cluster around an oasis in otherwise barren territory. Nor do they like true prairie with tall, thick grass. However, they thrive in overgrazed pastureland or barren cropland abandoned to go wild again.


A partial limitation to sandpig movement is water. They do require some access to fresh drinking water. However, they can tolerate muddy, mineral-rich, or slightly brackish water. They can also go for days without drinking, especially when they have plentiful access to moist foods such as succulent plants or fruits. A herd’s territory customarily includes access to at least one source of water. Their ability to dig for water means that a herd’s source may not be readily visible as open water.


Sandpigs are common throughout their home range. They form a vital part of the food web in arid habitats. Prolific breeders and rugged survivors, they can survive 15 years or more if not eaten.


Breeding Habits and Family Units: Sandpigs live in herds, averaging 6-12 animals, although herds of up to 25 have been reported. Bachelor males are occasionally single but often stick together in small groups of relatives. Mating takes place year-round in tropical regions, but it is generally restricted to a spring rut in temperate regions. A dominant boar mates with as many females as he can attract and protect. Gestation takes 130-150 days, with an average of 140 days. A sow gives birth to a litter of piglets, typically 3-6 but there can be 12 or more. (Sows have 6 pairs of teats, so piglets in excess of 12 usually starve.) Piglets are nursed for 2-3 months. Northerly habitats tend toward a longer nursing period, as breeding is seasonal there and cold winters mean the piglets need to grow fast and pack on fat for insulation. The birth interval is 6-12 months, so sows in southerly regions can have two litters per year. Piglets reach full sexual maturity in about one year, although precocious mating (as early as 6 months for males, 8 for females) is not uncommon.


Herds have strong social ties. While maturing males are usually driven away, it is common for related females to remain together. Mothers and adult daughters may stay close. (When driven out of the herd, brothers may stick together and form a new herd, sharing guardian and breeding duties.) Herd members share food, although they often fight over choice pieces.


Sandpigs are territorial, and they can be extremely aggressive. If one member of the herd is threatened or attacked, the others will rush to the defense. Herds have been known to shred a much larger attacker, such as a wolf, if they can catch one and gang up on it. They may also attack humans, so the prudent hunter remains out of reach. An injured person is easy prey for these omnivorous and opportunistic animals. They usually won’t attack unprovoked, but they respond to attacks with punishing force and great tenacity.


Sandpigs are vocal creatures, able to make a number of distinct calls. Aggressive calls include loud squeals and a grunting roar made by charging boars or sows. The submissive call is a soft, whimpering grunt. Mating calls include a long, high “EEEEEEE” squeal from the sow and a deeper, hoarser “Squeee-UNK” from the boar; a sow seeking a boar’s attention makes a low “unh, unh, unh” grunt. Location calls help the members of a herd find each other and stay together. There is a questioning “Squee?” and an answering “Oink!” A summoning call is “Gronk!” The danger call alerts other members to a threat with a loud “REE-REE-REE!”


Ecological Niche: Sandpigs can eat almost anything. By far the bulk of their diet consists of succulents and fruits. They are especially fond of star cacti, pawing away the thorns to devour the moist pulp. When fighting over the globes, they sometimes drop half-eaten pieces, which helps to spread the star cacti. Sandpigs also eat insects and occasionally mice, lizards, or other small wildlife; whatever they can find and catch. If they kill a would-be predator, they usually eat at least part of it.


Although herd bonds are tight, they are not inviolate. When food and water are very scarce, sows may eat their own young. Boars are particularly prone to kill and eat piglets sired by an unrelated boar – although, interestingly, it is quite rare for brothers to kill each other’s piglets. Piglets within a litter sometimes kill the weakest, especially if there are more piglets than teats.


Sandpigs are the favored prey of many dryland predators large enough to kill them. Coyotes and wild dogs are among the more common predators of adult sand-pigs, although only a very hungry pack of wild dogs will attack more than a loner. Dryland cats such as sandcats will attack sandpigs of any age, preferring to kill one and flee with it before the herd can arrive. Where scrub land borders on forest, bears occasionally get a sandpig; and they’re one of the few predators big enough to intimidate a herd. Foxes will go after piglets smaller than themselves. Even snakes will take advantage of an opportunity to grab a lone piglet. Of course, to humans, a herd of sand-pigs is just so much pork on the hoof.


Interaction with Humans: Sandpigs are popular prey for hunters. Snares or pit traps may be set out near a patch of star cactus. A tree or tall rock also offers a good vantage point for hunting with a bow or a javelin. The pork is delicious. Obtaining it is risky, though, since sandpig herds sometimes attack humans. In case of attack, aim for the sensitive snout; this may make the animal back off.


Many useful things besides pork come from sandpigs. The hide makes excellent, tough leather. If tanned with the hair on, the strip with the double mane may be cut out and used for decoration. The long, stiff mane hairs may be cut off, flattened, dyed, and used for embroidery or other quill work. The hooves make particularly strong and durable glue.


One odd product of value is sandpig urine. Among the ways these animals deal with alkaloids (bitter, often poisonous substances in many desert plants) is to excrete them in urine, which has a strong smell and tends to repel or even kill insects. However, it must be mixed with herbs and other substances to reduce the offensive odor and avoid attracting sandpigs. Urine from sows not currently in heat is preferred, since urine from sows in heat or from boars will definitely attract other sand-pigs which may then become aggressive.


Lore: Sandpigs are common, widely known animals across the dry regions of Torn World. In folklore they symbolize destructive greed and unpredictability – but also toughness and survival. Calling someone a “sandpig” implies an irritable temper and a prickly personality in general. A popular saying is “as prickly as a sandpig.”


Because the pork is so flavorful, this is a popular feast food. In tribal cultures, it is considered appropriate for weddings because of the animals’ prodigious sexual activity and fertility. In other cultures, particularly Southern, it is considered unlucky for weddings because of the animals’ belligerent temper.


Relatives: Swine are prolific, opportunistic, and adaptable creatures. Consequently the sandpig has relatives in various other habitats.


The marshpig is the closest of these and can interbreed with the sandpig to fair success, if individuals of each species are introduced into the same area. The broad hooves make it easy for the marshpig to travel over wet sand or mud without sinking. The double mane is more upright and the hairs wider, so as to resemble reeds. Marshpigs also retain their stripes after shedding their baby coat, providing camouflage. They usually appear in shades of brown and tan. Marshpigs inhabit warm southerly marshes, tending to stay south of where the ground and water freeze solid in the winter. They depend on the swamps for food and cover, rarely straying onto solid land away from the dense reeds and rushes. However, they are excellent swimmers and will readily dive into open water to escape a threat.


The forest boar is somewhat more distantly related. It can sometimes interbreed with the marshpig and the sandpig, but does better with the snowshoe boar. The double mane is shorter and the hairs are stiffer, perhaps evolving in the direction of a porcupine’s quills. Their coat can grow thicker if necessary in cooler regions. Forest boars are usually solid shades of black or brown, but occasionally striped or spotted. They live in a wide range of temperate forests, from the warm south to the chilly north. They tend to stay south of where the forest turns from mixed deciduous/coniferous trees to pure evergreens. Forest boars rely on the woods for cover and food, and they are not comfortable far from the trees and brush of their home.


The snowshoe boar is the farthest from the sandpig and the marshpig. These can rarely produce offspring together, and any offspring are sterile. The forest boar is a closer relative and can interbreed more successfully, producing offspring that are usually fertile. Indeed, this is the only crossover that occurs with any frequency in nature, because the habitats border each other. The snowshoe boar’s preferred territory begins in the northern edges of mixed deciduous/coniferous forest, continues through evergreen forest, and extends somewhat into open steppe and tundra regions. Snowshoe boars have a unique double mane that rises a few inches above the spine and then bends outward to curve down over the animal’s sides. The left mane curls to the right, and the right mane curls to the left, so that they cross over the spine and lace together. This causes rain or snow to slide off. The coat is typically white or gray, sometimes black; while usually solid, it may be spotted or striped. Some individuals are about one quarter to half blotched in solid sections of light and dark, which breaks up the body shape in a landscape prone to patches of snow. Broad hooves give the snowshoe boar its name, allowing it to walk across snow without sinking. The soles are rough for better traction on slick ice, and their wrinkled or wavery edges tend to smudge the tracks, making them hard to read. Although elusive and risky to hunt, the snowshoe boar is a favorite target of Northern hunters. The preferred method is to dig a pit trap, cover it with a pane of thin ice, and sprinkle snow over the area for camouflage.

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