If you even mention the name peccary to most people they usually have a rather puzzled look on their face like what in the world are you talking about? Well a peccary is a pig-like mammal that most usually one would find in Central or South America. We do have one species of the peccary family, the collared, that does extend up into Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, that is usually called a javelina, which is pronounced havw-eh-leenah. The collared peccary is around three feet in length and can range in weight from 35-55 pounds according to how much they can find to eat as its U.S. habitat can often have very sparse vegetation. Peccaries like to roam around in sizeable herds and can be pugnacious and can give a very painful bite.
Well you may rightly ask what does this have to do with Indiana? We are a long way from the extreme Southwestern U.S. It may surprise you to learn that during the Ice Age period we did have large herds of what are known as flat-headed peccaries roaming around Indiana. We know this because their bones have been discovered in several locations in Hoosierland. One site is indeed a world class fossil location and was one of the areas that was obtained by the Indiana DNR and became a dedicated state nature preserve.
I will not give the location of this prize site because it is not open to the public and is still yielding fossils to the Indiana State Museum. This site is in a cave down in Crawford County in a rather remote location. It was first discovered in 1987 and was named for its past owners, the Megenity family, thus it is now known as the Megenity Peccary Cave Nature Preserve. What makes it so unique is the cave has a rather deep pit at its end where not only peccaries fell into and then died, but a lot of other Ice Age mammals also died and left their remains inside the cave. Among those already uncovered are the dire wolf, giant land tortoise, fossil horse, beautiful armadillo, long-snouted peccary (a close kin of the flat-headed), northern bog lemmering, yellow-cheeked vole, Artic shrew, snowshoe hare, fisher and martin. All are Ice Age mammals, so you can see it is indeed a world class site and an Indiana treasure.
In 2012 the Indiana Chapter of the Nature Conservancy acquired this 25-acre tract to help protect and save its fossils. This was held until it was transferred to the Indiana DNR. I have been very lucky and have visited the cave three times before its transfer and gotten to know the area quite well.
The cave is in a long formation of limestone rocks that have been eroded into several strange shapes and forms which adds a touch of mystic to the entire area. In addition to the fossils, two rare cave dwelling creatures have also been found in the cave. They are the cave adapted spring tail (an insect) and Reynolds’ cave millipede, both are rare not only in Indiana but also the entire world.
To show how important this cave is over 600 flat-headed peccaries have already been collected from the cave ad work is still going on. In addition, a tooth of juvenile American mastodon has been found inside the cave. How it got there no one knows. A complete display of the cave’s fossils will be displayed at the Indiana State Museum, which is also a part of our Indiana Historic Sites. Ron Richards, the state museum’s senior research curator of paleobiology, has this to say about what has already been discovered, “Before us lies 15 to 20 years of identification, cataloging, and analyzing data from the immense number of fossils recovered from the cave.” A visit to the State Museum in Indianapolis is a must, and also Indiana Caverns near Corydon where Ice Age fossils have been found and also are on display.