One of the most successful mammal species is the pig. Because of their edibility and domesticability, there are now approximately 1 billion porkies in the world. And they can be very cute, like my sister’s pet potbelly Henkie.
The extended family of the pig, the suids, consists of 17 species, including familiar faces like the wild boar and warthog (Pumbaa!). The oddball of the family is the Babirusa of Sulawesi. Its name is a compound of the Malay words babi, pig, and rusa, deer. One look at the male babirusa explains why. It has antlers! Or well, not exactly antlers, but something much more bizarre.
In most pig species, the boar has tusks, large, outwards curving canines. The same is true for the Babirusa, but with one difference. Instead of going outwards, their upper canines grow upwards, right through the skin of the snout. After penetrating the skin, they continue to grow in a curve towards their forehead. It’s nature’s own version of the nose piercing.
With such weaponry, you might think that the male Babirusa is a formidable fighter. In reality, their tusks are very brittle and will break off easily. When two male babirusas enter a fight, they prefer boxing over fencing, standing on their backlegs and swinging their fronthooves.
So if they’re not for combat, what is their function? The inhabitants of Sulawesi believed that the male Babirusa uses them to hang on a tree branch, waiting for an attractive sow to pass by. More likely is that it’s for display, like the tail of the peacock, showing how awesome the owner of the tusks is. But the truth is, nobody knows. Mother Nature hasn’t revealed all her secrets yet.