80. Beauty.

You should never judge the works of Mother Nature by human standards. But Warthogs, I’m afraid, are not very attractive.

Depending on what you're into.

Depending on what you’re into.

There are the warts, for a start; monstrous carbuncles growing from the sides of the face. Four of them.  There are the wrinkly little bodies, like those little old men you sometimes see on the beach, who’ve clearly spent the last forty years out in the sun. Then there’s the hair. It’s thick; more like wire than hair. And it’s sparse, like a balding man who refuses to acknowledge defeat and just shave it all off.

I'm afraid the battle has been lost, my good man. Time to go full Kojak.

I’m afraid the battle has been lost, my good man. Time to go full Kojak.

And to round it all off, they have mutton chops.

I say, old boy, you simply must pass on the details of your barber.

I say, old boy, you simply must pass on the details of your barber.

They are, in other words, as ugly as sin. Luckily, they are one of the most thoroughly engaging animals in the African bush. Yes, folks, it’s time for another Lowveld-ecosystem post.

Warthogs are one of the easiest things to see out in the bush. They seem to be attracted to people, and get fairly tame. At most lodges or rest-camps, you should spot one or two of them kneeling down in fervent prayer out on the lawn.

Nobody move! I've dropped a damn contact lens!

Nobody move! I’ve dropped a damn contact lens!

They’re actually kneeling down on their wrists. And they are special wrists. They have callouses on them, which appear even when the warthog is still in the womb. They are there to help the warthog get its head down to the ground. Unlike most pigs, warthogs are mainly grazers. But they also eat lots of roots and tubers. That massive, oddly shaped head is not just there to look beautiful. It’s a tool. A spade. And it’s ridiculously strong.

When I was younger, I visited a friend on a farm in Namibia. They had a pet warthog, and we went and sat outside on a low wall and fed him watermelon skins. He pushed his nose up under the soles of my boots. I pushed back. Unsuccessfully. The harder I pushed, the harder he pushed back. I ended up standing up on his nose, with only my hands still holding the wall for balance. I weigh about 85kg.

When you are that good at pushing with your head, it would seem a shame to waste it on roots and tubers. So that’s how male warthogs fight. Which is a bit of a problem. You may have noticed that warthogs have a couple of sharp things sticking out the sides of their faces. Tusks. And pretty big ones. They can measure over 25cm (10 inches). Which means that a warthog tussle is the equivalent of two men having a wrestling match with two sharpened sticks attached to their chins.

Which you'll be seeing on WrestleMania next week.

Which you’ll be seeing on WrestleMania next week.

That’s what those warts are there for. They protect the eyes during battles. They aren’t bone. They’re made of connective tissue. The female’s warts are much smaller.

Those tusks look like pretty serious weapon for fighting off predators, too. They aren’t. Here’s a warthog’s skull.

The warthog was finished with it. I promise.

The warthog was finished with it. I promise.

The big tusks have sharpish points, true, but if you’re looking for a real weapon, look at those smaller tusks on the bottom jaw. They sit snugly below the bigger ones, and are kept razor sharp by grinding against them. Warthogs are deceptively big. Males average about 80kg, but can get up to 100. And using those bottom jaw stilettos, they can, on their best days, kill a lion. Which is a pretty good reason to leave the ones you see praying on the lawn outside the lodge the hell alone.

Just ask this guy. He tried to feed one a carrot.

Just ask this guy. He tried to feed one a carrot.

But warthogs don’t survive out in the African wild by fighting lions at every given opportunity. They survive by running away. And they don’t have to run far. They live in holes in the ground; usually abandoned aardvark holes. They go into them backwards, with the sharp bits facing outwards. It would take a pretty hungry predator to go in after them.

If you can find a hole where a family of warthogs is spending the night, it’s worth going back as early as you can the next morning. When it gets light enough, the warthogs will come out. Like champagne corks. Maybe they are afraid there will be something sitting in wait for them, because I’ve seen warthogs start off the day at a flat-out run. And if the family is a big one, it’s like watching a clown car at the circus. Warthog after warthog comes bursting out of what looks like a small hole in the ground.

There’s another reason warthogs are a little challenged in the looks department. Warthogs are built fairly low to the ground. And they live in grasslands. So, just like hippos have their eyes at the top of their heads to keep them above the water, warthogs eyes are at the top of their skulls to keep them above the grass.

But that’s not their only trick for dealing with the grass. To round off their supermodel looks, warthogs have rather silly little tails. They’re long and thin, with a funny little tuft of hair at the end. They look a little odd. Until you see a family of warthogs running. Then they look very odd indeed. We call them squad cars, after those old police cars with the huge radio antennas sticking out the boot.

When a family of warthogs sets off on a run, they hold their tails straight up in the air. The tuft of hair acts like a little flag, and they can keep track of each other.

All of this is, as I said, fairly engaging. But if you really want to fall in love with warthogs (and I know you do), you need to watch one having a mud bath. It is not often that you can identify joy in another species. You can tell when an animal is angry, or frightened, or excited. But joy is not so easy to spot.

Unless you see a warthog in a muddy puddle. A muddy warthog is a happy warthog. They roll around. They splash. They root around with their noses in the mud. They lounge. They scratch themselves behind the ears on nearby rocks. They drag their backsides along the ground like dogs with worms, only with eyes half closed and an expression of absolute joy on their faces.

It’s a wonderful thing to see. And it’s worth sitting around and waiting for. Because once you have seen a 100kg pig with monstrous growths on the side of its face, huge twisted teeth jutting out its jaws, alopecia, and a skin condition dragging its butt along the ground with a beatific look on its mud spattered spade-face, you will understand that beauty isn’t just in the eye of the beholder. It’s everywhere. You just have to know what you’re looking at.

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Egbert is the sun

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Egbert is the sun

29 thoughts on “80. Beauty.

  1. Eileen says:

    Absolutely marvelous! One of my favorites of your blogs, and I like them all. Did you make the videos?

  2. narf77 says:

    Holy crap I found Earls long lost relatives! ” Unlike most pigs, warthogs are mainly grazers. But they also eat lots of roots and tubers. That massive, oddly shaped head is not just there to look beautiful. It’s a tool. A spade. And it’s ridiculously strong” You just explained Earl in a nutshell (he likes nuts too…he steals walnuts in their shell so that he can crack them in halves). He grazes constantly on my knitting projects, sofas, pillows, any chook stupid enough to venture into the Earl zone around the house, anything on the table (which he can jump onto with alarming ease), the compost bin if the stupid humans leave the pantry door open and he LOVES root veggies…especially sweet potatoes. He will steal them with impunity and the last we see of them is small grater sized shards of sweet potato chewed up and spat out in a wide circle around a most happy dog. He doesn’t seem inclined to actually “eat” them, just chew them. Not as evolved as the hog I see but he IS working on it. The head is his battering ram. He can open a door that is a mere “tad open” by wedging his nose into the crack and levering it open with that ginormous melon of a head.

    You just explained Earls strange habit of crawling under our bed and hiding in the afternoons. It must be a throwback to his primal warty urges. He pops out like a champagne cork and grabs unsuspecting passers by their socks. He spends his life in a flat out run and he is fairly low to the ground. I always suspected him of being a “pig dog” and now I am almost sure! The only thing missing are the tusks but then, according to Earl he is mid evolution and aside from the tusks he has ordered oposable thumbs. Once nature has delivered his next Christmas present, “LOOK OUT WORLD”! Earl will no doubt be back to visit his wardy African relatives. I will send advance warning to lock up the landrover. He has been watching Steve change gears intently lately, I now know what he is planning to do with those oposable thumbs…

    Icing on the cake is the tail held high (Earls flag) and the desire to rootle around with his nose and hurl himself upside down and scrape along the ground via his back. Thank goodness we now have a catagory for Earl. It makes it a lot easier to explain him to (alarmed) visitors. Egbert looks a whole lot like Donald Trump by the way…just sayin…

    • 23thorns says:

      Make yourself a wallow in the garden. If he disappears into it, you’ll know for sure. If not, you can use it yourselves. Apparently it’s wonderful for the skin. And helps you control ticks.

      • narf77 says:

        Too cold here for ticks at the moment but I will take the wallow on board…anything for a quiet tick free life…

  3. LyndaD says:

    Well i never, wart hogs. You learn something everyday. Cant say that im ever going to run into one and i certainly hope its not down a dark alley somewhere. Yes, they are rather hideous but cute in that ugly kinda way. Nope, dont think we have them in Oz. We do have wild pigs that are pretty gross in the beauty dept but there are plenty of other things in Australia to jump out and get you from the bush. Very interesting post.

    • 23thorns says:

      It’s always interested me that pigs seem to be so good and breaking free and making their home in alien environments. You would think that the fact that they are made of free bacon would be a limiting factor.

  4. rollinwithcarro says:


  5. You’ve convinced me – the Warthog is definitely a cute creature 🙂

  6. mariekeates says:

    So many strange and dangerous animals in just one country. The best we can do is adders and they hardly ever even bite anyone.

  7. sisteranan says:

    Ugly? Well, i dunno… they’re certainly… symmetrical…

  8. smallpebbles says:

    Warthogs….aah, just another pretty face! So much fun to read your posts – glad you are entertaining us each day!

  9. Yep, so ugly they’re gorgeous. Thanks for another great wildlife post. We have wild pigs in the bush here, but I ain’t going in and asking them to pose. I’ve seen a few pics though, and they’re huge!! The bush we have here is very, very dense. You’d only see one coming at you if it was too late to do anything but soil your pants before your imminent death!

  10. albertine says:

    You know that you are back in Flanders and Swann territory, right? You don’t need me to tell you that?

  11. Haven’t had a chance lately to go through your blog – so glad this is the post I started back in with. Excellent! And the quip about beauty at the end fits perfectly with weirdness I’ve been dealing with lately.

    • 23thorns says:

      You’ve been dealing with a Shakespearian warthog called Egbert? We need to swap lives. I’ve been dealing with traffic on the school run…

      • Not far from the truth, although the name was not Egbert 😉

      • Jocelyn Hers says:

        You mean you’ve never thought “Oh come let us wallow, Down in the hollow, in Mud, Glorious Mud?” Flanders & Swan were two English singers, very funny, who introduced the world to the “Gnu, I’m a Gnu, Definitely not a dreadful hartebees, g-nor a g-elk, I’m a G-nu, how do you do?”

  12. Jocelyn Hers says:

    The little families one sees, are they mostly Mum, children and aunties, or are they males, females and children? Whichever, when they all run in a straight line with their tails all neatly lined up they are just too adorable. (I know, sentimental, but true).

    • 23thorns says:

      it’s usually just females and their offspring. If the males are around, it’s not to bond with their children. If you know what I mean…

  13. billgncs says:

    are they popular to eat ?

    • 23thorns says:

      I like your style. You saw a picture of Mother Nature’s ugliest endeavour and thought “Sure. But is it tasty?”

      I’ve tried them a couple of times. they are very tasty indeed, but surprisingly not even vaguely similar to ham.

      • billgncs says:

        Well, I may be below the lions on the food chain, but I am above the wart hog…

        Here in the US, africanized honey-bees ( a cross between our mild honey bee and a colony of african bees brought to south america ) cause all kinds of trouble. Are they a problem there ?

      • 23thorns says:

        the progenitors of your killer bees are actually from a farm just outside my home town. we knew the beekeeper. the bees were shipped out to Brazil to increase the honey yield, and made their way up to you from there. the bees here can be pretty dangerous, and the odd person gets killed, but we mostly just leave them well alone.

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