Why do warthogs have warts?

A face only a mother could love. See more African animal pictures.
James Hager/Robert Harding World/ Getty Images

Pigs and hogs might rank pretty low on the list of the world's most attractive animals. Nevertheless, you'll encounter some people who find the squealing barnyard residents appealing. But while pigs sometimes are characterized as cute, you'd be hard pressed to get anyone to say the same for warthogs.

Almost every warthog reference seems compelled to start off by mentioning the animal's haggard appearance. And indeed, these sturdy, mostly hairless creatures do make quite an impression. Upon coming across one for the first time, your eyes are initially drawn to their namesake warts protruding from each side of the head.

At lengths of up to 4.7 inches (12 centimeters), these facial warts garner many curious looks [source: Bothma et al]. Most people want to know why on earth warthogs have warts, because they're obviously not helping these animals win any porcine pageants. Don't judge a book by its cover though. Looks aside, warthogs are rather interesting animals.

While the curious bumps might give the animal its name, the fascinating features don't stop there. Both males and females sport two pairs of large tusks. The lower two, larger versions of canine teeth, point downward and come in handy for digging up roots, tubers and bulbs, part of the wild pig's largely vegetarian diet (which occasionally includes a small animal).

­Although they rarely need to brandish their toothy weapons against potential predators since they can run up to 34 mph (55 kph), the sharpness of the lower tusks makes them excellent for deterring stalkers like lions, cheetahs and hyenas [source: San Diego Zoo]. These menacing daggers can reach lengths of 6 inches (15 centimeters) [source: Kirkpatrick].

The upper pair of tusks can grow to impressive lengths of up to 2 feet (61 centimeters) [source: Kirkpatrick]. This pair curves upward in a "U" shape and is used in intraspecies fights. Though warthogs may not engage in many scuffles with other animals, come mating season, the males do get pretty feisty with each other.

Typically male warthogs, or boars, are relatively docile animals; however, they become highly competitive when eligible females are around. During mating time, boars rush at one another, ramming their heads and tusks together in an attempt to push each other to the ground and determine which animal is strongest. The weaker male usually retreats, and the winner is awarded mating rights.

Surprisingly, the boars rarely get injured during these shows of testosterone. Their secret: warts.


Warthog Warts: the Bigger, the Better

Animal armor
Animal armor
James Hager/Robert Harding World/Getty Images

While humans generally put warts into the "ick" category, for warthogs, warts are a saving grace. People generally rush to the dermatologist at the first sight of a tiny bump, but as far as warthogs are concerned -- the bigger, the better.

This is because warthog warts aren't really warts at all: they're thick, fleshy growths of skin that serve as a form of protection. You can actually tell the sex of a warthog just by looking at its face. Males have four warts, two large ones beneath the eyes and two smaller ones just above the mouth; females have two small ones right below their eyes.

A boar's warts serve as a type of armor during their fights with other males -- somewhat like the padding a football player might wear. When the boars charge with their pointy tusks, the warts shield their face and eyes from the blow. Since the females are sensible enough not to fight one another, they don't need all that protection, and thus, have fewer warts.

­When they're not fighting over mating partners, male warthogs tend to stick to themselves. Females, however, may live with their young and other females in groups of up to 40. Opportunistic creatures, warthogs like to rest in holes abandoned by other animals. Since they don't have fur or extra fat for warmth and protection against the elements, they use these holes to shield themselves from extreme temperatures. The holes also make good hideouts: When the warthogs need to escape a threat, they back into the hole and guard the entrance with their threatening tusks.

For more on warthogs and other animals with interesting appendages, nose through the links on the next page.


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  • "Bothma, J. Du P.; Rooyen, Noel Van; and Toit, J.G. Du. "Antelope and other smaller herbivores." (Sept. 15, 2008)http://bigfive.jl.co.za/pdf_files/ch17.pdf
  • Kirkpatrick, Jennifer. "Warthogs." National Geographic Kids. 2008. (Sept. 15, 2008)http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/Animals/CreatureFeature/Warthog
  • "Mammals: Warthog." San Diego Zoo. 2008. (Sept. 15, 2008)http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-warthog.html
  • "Warthog." African Wildlife Foundation. (Sept. 15, 2008)http://www.awf.org/content/wildlife/detail/warthog
  • "Warthog." National Geographic. (Sept. 15, 2008)http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/warthog.html