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Feral Hog, courtesy of Bobby Walker
Photo courtesy of Bobby Walker

Feral Hog (Sus scrofa)

The Sus scrofa are found in every Texas county except El Paso County. But you probably know them by a different name: the feral hog.

This invasive species is believed to have reached a population of 1.5 million across Texas, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The destructive feral hog causes damage in a variety of ways.


From the beginning

Wild or feral hogs are a mix of Eurasian or Russian wild hogs, domesticated hogs from Europe and America, or some cross-breed between them. Not to be confused with the smaller javelina or collared peccary, European hogs were introduced to the United States by European settlers who raised them for meat and lard.

In Texas, these domesticated hogs were released from homesteads during battles between the U.S. and Mexico. And in the 1930s, ranchers and hunters introduced wild Russian boar to Texas for game, but many escaped the fences and interbred with the European or American feral hogs.

Feral Hog, courtesy of Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute
Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute

Impact

Wild hogs are considered “ecosystem engineers,” meaning they change their environment by altering the landscape physically and chemically. Feral hogs dig up roots and insects, thereby greatly impacting plant species composition and distribution. They also affect water quality in wetlands by wallowing, defecating, and digging near and in the water. Hogs have had detrimental effects on native animals by altering their habitats and breeding grounds and by preying on bird and reptile eggs.

They negatively affect human consumption, as well. Hogs negatively impact agriculture by trampling, consuming, and digging up massive amounts of planted crops annually. The economic cost of hogs in Texas was estimated at $400 million (Morthland 2011) and $1.5 billion nationally (Pimental 2007), and it is in the Top 100 Invasive Species worldwide.

Not only do they cause destruction, but feral hogs carry infectious diseases transmissible to humans. These diseases include leptospirosis, trichinosis, and swine brucellosis. For dogs, the most dangerous transmittable disease that may be spread is pseudorabies.

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Feral Hog, courtesy of Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute
Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute

Characteristics

Adult feral hog sows weigh between 150-170 lbs. Males typically weigh 200-220 lbs., but have been reported up to 500 lbs. Because feral hogs are descended from wild and domesticated stock, the coloration will vary from black or brown, spotted/mottled, or grizzled coat. Male and female hogs can have tusks that grow between 5 and 18 inches; however, only boars’ tusks will reach those greater lengths. The boars will use their tusks to compete for mating opportunities. In response to this competition, male hogs possess a “shield,” which is a thick layer of tissue under the skin over the shoulder and ribs that can grow up to 2 inches thick. And while female hogs tend to travel in groups, males tend to roam alone.


Breeding Season

Hogs can become sexually mature around six months old, but they generally begin to reproduce at eight to 10 months old. While they can have two litters annually, sows will generally only have one per year. Litter size varies depending on environmental conditions, but they average having four to six piglets with a maximum of 12.


Feral Hog, courtesy of Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute
Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute

Ongoing Research

Feral hogs’ exotic and invasive nature and negative impacts on the environment means there is no hunting season or hunting limit in Texas. Feral hogs can be hunted by any method, including by helicopter and by using traps. As of May 31, 2019, hunters in Texas do not need a license if hunting hogs on private property but must have permission from landowners. However, an individual looking to hunt hogs on public land must carry a hunting license.

Feral hogs are hard to manage as they change their habits in response to human pressure. For instance, feral hogs learn to avoid traps or can switch to nocturnal feeding from feeding during the day to avoid being caught. Total eradication is highly unlikely, but attempts are made through hunting, trapping and fencing.

The Natural Resources Institute has a reporting tool for wild hog occurrences in the state of Texas aimed at assisting the managing of high-target areas and educating the public about wild hogs. The reporting tool can be accessed at: Wild Pig Reporting.



Feral Hog, courtesy of Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute
Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute

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Citations

  • Morthland, J. 2011, January. A plague of pigs in Texas. Smithsonian Magazine. Available from: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/a-plague-of-pigs-in-texas-73769069/
  • Pimental, David. 2007. Environmental and economic costs of vertebrate species invasions into the United States. Managing Vertebrate Invasive Species. 38. Managing Vertebrate Invasive Species: Proceedings of an International Symposium (G. W. Witmer, W. C. Pitt, K. A. Fagerstone, Eds). USDA/APHIS/WS, National Wildlife Research Center, Fort Collins, CO. 2007.