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Common Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomic History and Nomenclature

Common names

  • Common warthog or wart-hog
    • Eritrean warthog (Cumming 2008)
    • African lens-pig (Smith 2011)
    • Naked swine (Smith 2011)
  • Etymology
    • Named for the prominent warty protuberances on its face (Cumming 2013)

Scientific name

  • Etymology
    • Phacochoerus from two Greek words, phakos meaning "a mole or wart" and khoiros meaning "a pig or hog" (Gotch 1995)
    • Specific epithets africanus and aethiopicus refer to the African continent on which it is native
  • Synonymous names
    • P. aeliani (now recognized as a separate species)
    • P. barbatus, P. barkeri, P. bufo, P. centralis, P. fossor, P. haroia, P. incisivus, P. massaicus, P. sclateri, P. shortridgei, and P. sundevallii

Evolutionary History

Order Cetartiodactyla (from Seiffert and Kingdon 2013)

  • Order joins two previous taxonomic groups
    • Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates) and Cetacea (whales)
      • Artiodactyls include pigs, camelids, ruminants, and hippopotamuses (hippos)
  • Estimates for origins
    • Fossil evidence dates to c. 55 million years ago (mya), the early Eocene
    • Molecular estimates older; to near the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary (c. 66 mya)

Family Suidae (from Groves and Harris 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • 1 of 2 families of pigs
    • The other (Tayassuidae) includes the New World peccaries
  • Divergenge
    • c. 34.5-39.6 mya (Gongora et al. 2011)
  • Diversity
    • 6 extant (living) species in Africa
      • Wild boar (Sus scrofa)
      • Red River hog (Potamochoerus porcus) and bushpig and (Potamochoerus larvatus)
      • Forest hog (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni)
      • Warthogs (Phacochoerus aethiopicus and Phacochoerus africanus)
    • Earliest African fossils (of the subfamily Suinae) date to c. 3.4 mya (Harris 2013a)

Genus Phacochoerus

  • Diversity
    • 2 extant species
  • Evolutionary history
    • Most closely related to the giant forest hog (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni)
      • Estimated time of divergence 7.36-14.45 mya, one genetic study (Gongora et al. 2011)
    • Shared ancestor of common and desert warthogs thought to date to 4.4-8.80 mya (Randi et al. 2002; Gongora et al. 2011)
      • Genetic estimates predate all current fossil record occurrences
      • Earliest fossils of each species date the Pleistocene (c. 1.8 mya) (Randi et al. 2002)

Cultural History

African art, folklore, and myth

  • Artwork
    • Warthogs appear in on various objects, such as masks
  • Literature and folklore
    • Few direct references to warthogs
      • The story of Mr. Wart-hog and Mr. Lion - a Lamba (one of the Bantu tribes of Central Africa) tale (Doke 1927)
        • Wart-hog frees lion from a snare and outsmarts the ungrateful feline to save his piglet from being eaten
      • Why the warthog lives in a burrow (Smith and Dale 1920)
        • An argument between warthog and elephant over stolen tusks leads to warthog befriending aardvark and sleeping in his burrow

Modern depictions

  • Disney character
    • Pumbaa, in The Lion King movie (1994); dim-witted friend of the meerkat Timon and the lion Simba
      • Name, Pumbaa, derived from the Swahili word pumbavu meaning "silly" (Awde 2002)

Persecuted by humans

  • Descriptions often unkind
    • "Grotesque" and "hideous" (Melliss 1991)
  • Hunted for sport and food
    • 'Pig-sticking' , method of sport hunting where a man on horseback chases and kills a pig using a spear (or rifle) (Mellen 1952; Melliss 1991)
    • Tusks sought after as trophies and a source of ivory

Offer insights into the origins of human culture

  • Tusk remnants help date modern human culture
    • Remnants of wart hog tusks found in a cave in South Africa help date some components of modern human culture to 44,000 year ago (d'Errico et al. 2012; Villa et al. 2012)
      • Tusks exhibit wear patterns indicating that humans ground and shaped them into awls and sharpened points (possibly spears) (d'Errico et al. 2012; Villa et al. 2012)


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates) (a.k.a. Cetartiodactyla*)

Family: Suidae (Old World hogs and pigs)

Subfamily: Suinae

Tribe: Phacochoerini

Genus: Phacochoerus (warthogs)

Species: Phacochoerus africanus - common warthog

Subspecies: P. a. aeliani - Eritrean warthog
Subspecies: P. a. africanus - northern warthog
Subspecies: P. a. massaicus - central African warthog
Subspecies: P. a. sundevallii - southern warthog

Classification according to ITIS 2014; Seiffert and Kingdon 2013 (common subspecific names according to Smith 2011)

*New anatomical and DNA evidence on the relationship between Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates) and Cetacea (whales and dolphins) recently led to a merging of the two orders into a new group, Cetartiodactyla (Montgelard, 1997; reviewed in Kulemzina, 2009). As of October 2012, experts had not agreed on whether to define Cetartiodactyla as an official taxonomic order that would replace Artiodactyla and Cetacea. Some continue to list hogs in the order Artiodactyla (Franklin, 2011) or use the term Cetartiodactyla without defining it as an order (IUCN, 2008).

Warthog Mask

a Warthog mask

Bwa wooden warthog mask, 20th century.

Image credit: © Brooklyn Museum. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Awde (2002)
Cumming (2008)
Cumming (2013)
d'Errico et al. (2012)
Doke (1927)
Gongora et al. (2011)
Gotch (1995)
Groves and Harris (2013)
Harris (2013a)
ITIS (2014)
Mellen (1952)
Melliss (1991)
Randi et al. (2002)
Seiffert and Kingdon (2013)
Smith (2011)
Smith and Dale (1920)
Villa et al. (2012)

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