This Tuesday is National Pig Day! "Wait, what?" You say, "I should drop everything and celebrate swine?" Oh yes, and there are plenty of reasons to do it!
They've got that marvelous snout for one thing. Pig sense of smell is more acute than their canine counterparts, so much so that there has been interest in training them as bomb or drug sniffing pigs. Training pigs for that task has proved more difficult than training dogs, since a pig's motives (FOOD) tend to be radically different than a dog's (LOVE ME).
They also invented the mud bath. Pigs don't sweat ("sweat like a pig" is WAY off base) so they roll around in the mud to keep cool. Their filthy coating also protects them from insect bites and sunburn. Even though they spend a large portion of time covered in mud, pigs are hygienic in their habits: a herd will designate a latrine that is far from their food and water. Even piglets a few hours old will leave their nests to do their piggy business.
Pigs have been domestic farm animals since around 7000BC. So for approximately 10,000 years, they have operated as garbage disposals for farm families (as consummate omnivores, they eat pretty much anything) in spring and dinner for the same families in fall. Left to their own devices, they have a complex social system, elaborate vocal communication and love to cuddle. Or not, it really depends on the pig.
Pig intelligence has never really been questioned - there are plenty of stories about farm yard pigs working together to undo pen latches so they can take illicit strolls around the fields. The best of these stories tells of pigs opening other animals' pens so that they can all wander around together. But it's only recently that researchers have attempted to quantify their intelligence. Since there is no general IQ test for animals, intelligence evaluations are based on the principle of "Can they learn what humans teach them?" Different species were bred for different purposes, and so their minds, motives and retention vary greatly. Pigs have long memories and excel at problem solving. In one 1990s study, they quickly learned to manipulate a joystick indicate that they could distinguish between new pictures and ones they had already seen. Their motivation? Skittles, Reese's Pieces and M&Ms.
That's my kind of motivation.