Perhaps there's a reason pigs are a favorite of children and fairy tales alike—pigs are some of the most intelligent and social animals out there. In honor of this year's designation as Year of the Pig on the Chinese zodiac calendar, here are a few facts you may not know about these curly-tailed cuties.
1. Pigs were domesticated more than 9000 years ago.
Scientists estimate that pigs have been around for quite a long time. The omnivorous species is one of the oldest domesticated kinds of animals—behind only dogs and goats. Their wild ancestor is thought to be the Eurasian boar.
2. Pigs have very few sweat glands.
Think of a classic image of a pig—odds are, it's rolling around in the mud. On hot days, pigs like to wallow in mud not because they're dirty, but to cool off. Pigs' lack sweat glands that would otherwise release body heat, and their high body fat necessitates they find ways to not fry in the sun. The muck allows them to maintain their proper body temperature while also having some leisurely, wallowing self-care.
3. Pigs can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
Considering how long swine has been around, the reach of the world's pig species spans across the globe. Every continent has some population of pigs, boars, and hogs, with Antarctica the only exception.
4. Feral pigs cause more than $1 billion in damages annually in the U.S.
Your typical piglet doesn't evoke any sense of danger, but feral pigs—and a growing number of invasive pigs—are another story. Wild pigs cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damage annually in the United States; their rooting for food can tear up farmland, trample crops and recreational areas, and push out other wildlife. Plus, they can carry disease risks that are more threatening to livestock and other domesticated animals, like dogs [PDF]. Pigs may not be trampling over city buildings like Godzilla, but their impact on agricultural land is widespread and significant.
5. There are more pigs in Denmark than humans.
Denmark has a larger population of pigs than human beings. Part of this has to do with its lucrative meat industry, with over 5000 pig farms producing around 28 million pigs, with 20 million being slaughtered each year. In contrast, Denmark's human population is 5 to 6 million people. The pig population is so valuable, in fact, that the country recently began building a $12 million wall to prevent wild boars (who could possibly carry African swine fever, a viral disease which is highly contagious and deadly to both wild and domestic pigs, but not humans) in neighboring Germany from invading Danish pig farms.
6. Pigs are video game pros.
Research at Penn State in the 1990s demonstrated that pigs, which are often perceived as being dirty and feeble-minded, have a remarkable aptitude for video games. The study showed that pigs are so smart that they were able to learn how to play a game involving a joystick better than chimpanzees and a Jack Russell terrier (a breed often used in movies because it is known for its intelligence and trainability).
7. Forty-six piglets were used to play the role of Wilbur in Charlotte's Web.
Wilbur, the main character in E.B. White’s timeless children's tale Charlotte's Web, is likely literature's most beloved pig. The 2006 movie adaptation of the same name seemingly knew as such and used 46 piglets to accurately portray the character on the big screen. Each and every one of the piglets was treated like Hollywood royalty: After filming wrapped, they were looked after and given new homes in Australia (where the film was shot). And, another pig from the movie also got a happy ending—the sow who played Wilbur's mother, who was later named Alice, went to live at an animal sanctuary with two of the piglets. Squeal!
8. Winston Churchill appreciated pigs.
Winston Churchill is best remembered for his leadership as the prime minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. It's somewhat of a shame that, lost in his sea of memorable speeches and quotes, his wise view on pigs went a bit unnoticed. "I am fond of pigs," Churchill once said. "Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals." In other words, dogs seek our approval, cats couldn't care less, but pigs, who are intelligent and sociable, are on more equal-footing with humans.
9. Some pigs know how to surf.
We told you pigs were smart. When they aren't playing barnyard bowling, basketball, or doing puzzles, sometimes they'll get their thrills from riding a wave. Hawaiian porcine celebrity Kamapua'a—otherwise known as Kama the Surfing Pig—goes boarding with his owner, Kai Holt, often enough that he has his surfing technique down. Kama's even good enough that he can take you out for a ride—via a GoPro, at least—and he's taught his piggie son, Kama 2, the ways of the Shaka life. Sounds like hog heaven.
10. Miss Piggy was originally named "Piggy Lee."
Kermit the Frog may have his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but his romantic interest, Miss Piggy, is an icon in her own right. But before the diva was fully realized, she went by a slightly different name. According to handwritten notes and Polaroids from Muppets creator Jim Henson, Miss Piggy was originally named Piggy Lee, a reference to famed jazz singer Peggy Lee.
"When I first created Miss Piggy I called her Miss Piggy Lee—as both a joke and an homage," Muppet designer Bonnie Erickson told Smithsonian in 2008. "Peggy Lee was a very independent woman, and Piggy certainly is the same." But, like many a starlet destined for the limelight, Piggy Lee needed her name to be more original. And also, "as Piggy's fame began to grow, nobody wanted to upset Peggy Lee," Erickson added, "especially because we admired her work."
11. The piggy bank originated from pygg pots.
As a kid, you saved all your spare change in one particular safekeeping storage item: the piggy bank. But of all the animals in the world, why did the pig get all of the glory?
In the 13th to 15th centuries, one of the most common places for people to store their money was in jars made of orange-colored clay called "pygg." As the English language evolved, that word eventually became pig or piggy. Whether by accident or design, around the 19th century manufacturers began molding little pots into the shape of pigs, and eventually piggy banks were all the rage. So next time you bring home a little extra bacon, you know where to put it.