17 Facts About Feral Hogs

How much do you know about feral hogs? Here are 17 facts that might surprise you.

17 Facts About Feral Hogs

The main things I knew about hogs before my first hunt about 25 years ago were that bacon and sausage were great, my great-grandmother used fatback for her green beans, Wilbur starred in "Charlotte's Web" and Arnold Ziffel made appearances on Green Acres.

And then on that first late-summer hunt in the hills southeast Tennessee, everything changed. I found out hogs could hide in thick vegetation right in front of you and then run like the dickens to get away. When they stood still in even mild brush, they could disappear. They didn't have much quit in them, even with hounds on their tails, and neither hills nor hollers affected which way they wanted to go.

I love hunting hogs and have done so from Florida to Texas. I always enjoy learning more about them, too. Here are 17 facts about feral hogs from Billy Higginbotham with the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service that you may not know.

1. How many do they average per litter and how often can they breed in a year?

The wild pig is the most prolific large mammal on the face of the Earth — but they are not “born pregnant!” The average is between five and six pigs per litter. Sows have an average of about 1.5 litters per year. Are more litters per year and larger litter sizes possible? Absolutely yes!

However, I am using long-term averages, not what can occur under ideal conditions — which are usually unsustainable over the long haul. Young females do not typically have their first litter until they are 13+ months of age, even though they can be sexually mature at 6 to 8 months of age or even earlier in some cases.

2. What is the average lifespan of a wild pig?

Mortality rates vary greatly — impacting the very young and the very old, primarily. Predation is not a big issue once they reach about 10 to 15 pounds. Hunting can be a significant mortality factor in some regions but generally is not enough to offset population growth. Depending on a variety of these factors, plus disease, vehicle collisions, etc., the average lifespan of a wild hog is probably between 4 and 8 years of age. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service surveyed landowners in 2011 to determine an estimate of how many wild pigs are removed from the Texas landscape each year. They estimated that 753,646 wild pigs were removed by landowner-initiated efforts in 2010. This will help refine rate of population growth and population estimate models even more.

3. How heavy can they get?

Weights depend on genetic background and food availability. Generally, males can reach larger weights than females, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule. Average weights vary but run 200 pounds for adult males and 175 pounds for adult females. A 300-pound feral hog is a large pig. The unusually large weights of 500 pounds + occasionally reported in the media are very rare.

4. What is the power of their bite? 

They have extremely strong jaws to crack open hard-shelled nuts such as hickory nuts and pecans. As they predate upon or scavenge animal carcasses, they can easily break bones and often consume the entire carcass, often leaving little if any sign behind.

5. How strong is their sense of smell?

The wild pig’s sense of smell is well developed (much better than both their eyesight and hearing) and they rely heavily on it to detect danger and search out food. They are capable of sensing some odors five to seven miles away and may be able to detect odors as much as 25 feet underground! Appealing to this tremendous sense of smell is often essential, as fermented or scented baits can provide additional attraction to make them more vulnerable to trapping.

6. What are their eating habits, and how much do they eat in a day?

Wild pigs are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they feed on plant and animal matter in addition to being able to play the role of a scavenger. They are largely indiscriminate in their feeding habits and eat both vertebrate and invertebrate animals. Approximately 85% to 90% of their diet is believed to be composed of vegetation (including crops where available) and 10% animal matter. Small pigs may eat approximately 5% of their body weight daily; larger pigs an estimated 3% of body weight.

7. How fast can they run and how high can they jump?

Wild pigs can run up to 30 mph. They can jump over fences less than 3 feet high and have “climbed” out of pig traps with walls 5 to 6 feet high. Therefore, traps with 90-degree corners must be covered on top, because the pigs tend to pile up in that corner and literally climb over each other — and the corner gives enough leverage for them to go over the top. Either use a 5-foot-high trap with no corners (circular or tear-drop shaped) or cover the corners/top of the trap.

8. How do they sleep?

Wild pigs can simply lie down and sleep, usually on their sides. They will actually construct “nests” that they use for sleeping as well as farrowing. Some are very simple depressions and others can be quite elaborate. Often, they simply seek out thick underbrush for security or root into a brush pile or downed treetop for security. In the hot months, they will often lie in mud and/or seek deep shade.

9. What other animal would you liken their intelligence level to, considering their ability to learn to avoid traps?

Wild pigs are one of the most intelligent species (exotic or native) found in the United States. They learn to avoid danger very quickly, and half-hearted attempts to control them just make them less susceptible to future control efforts. They respond to human pressure via avoidance.

10. What is the average cost of property damage they inflict in Texas? Total cost of annual property damage?

A 2004 survey conducted by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service placed annual damage to agriculture in TX alone at $52 million, with an additional $7 million spent by landowners to attempt to control the pigs and/or correct the damage. This is indeed a very conservative estimate.

Other researchers suggest that damage per pig per year averages $200 — but the problem there is that the assumption is made that a 40-pound pig causes as much damage as a 300-pound pig, which is unlikely. The total pig population in Texas has been estimated recently (2011) at 2.6 million. Estimates for the United States population as a whole are non-existent, but “guesstimates” place that number between 4 million and 8 million animals.

Some reports estimate total damage in the U.S. may be $1.5 billion annually. However, these damage estimates are in part based on population estimates, a figure we don’t have a good handle on nationwide.

11. Do they use the same trails to get from pace to place? If so, why?

Wild pigs are creatures of habit and will use the same bedding/resting areas and feeding areas as long as the food source remains available. However, they are capable of moving great distances to find food. Human disturbance/pressure will make them alter their patterns of movement.

They do have some affinity to their “home range,” which can vary from a few hundred acres to several thousand acres based on food availability and pressure. A 2011-12 telemetry study of adult female wild pigs with sounders in east Texas resulted in home range estimates of approximately 2 square miles, or 1,100 acres.

12. What do they do to damage trees specifically?

The most sensitive environmental areas wild pigs damage are wetland areas, and they can alter the vegetative community present. They compete with native wildlife for hard mast (e.g., acorns from oak trees). Their rooting can accelerate leaf litter decomposition, causing a loss of nutrients, which can impact seedling survival of trees. Their rooting behavior can damage seedling tree growth and survival.

Longleaf pine seedlings seem to be especially vulnerable to wild pigs. Research suggests that the pigs may actually root up seedlings of various tree species and chew the root system to obtain nutrients. They rub against individual trees (pines) that are capable of producing a lot of rosin (presumably as they rub to remove ectoparasites on their skin). Rubbing of selected pine trees has resulted in girdling of some mature trees, which can eventually kill the tree.

13. Are older boars loners?

If you see a large wild pig traveling alone, 101 times out of 100 it is a boar. The mature boars become more solitary or sometimes travel with a small number of other large boars. They only join with sounders when a sow comes into heat.

14. When does a sow abandon its litter and when do they separate?

Within a few days of giving birth, a pregnant sow will leave the group in order to farrow. They may remain apart for two to four weeks then rejoin the group. 

The sows really don’t abandon their litter over time. A sounder is a family group of pigs made up of sows (typically related via about three generations) and their piglets. Pigs are completely weaned by about 3 months of age, although they have been observed eating solid food (e.g., corn) at as young as 2 weeks of age.

About 80% of the yearling females remain with the sounder and the rest disperse. Young males disperse from the sounder at about 16 to 18 months of age. There is some research that supports the idea that sounders can become territorial — but not the individual pigs.

15. What kind of foods are they most attracted to when trying to trap them?

One size does not fit all when it comes to baits. However, research by Dr. Tyler Campbell (formerly with USDA-APHIS/WS) suggests that wild pigs are attracted to baits that have a sweet, pungent odor, such as strawberry or berry flavorings. Hence, you will see several commercial pig baits that contain some type of strawberry flavoring based on this research.

Many baits will and have worked, and landowners are encouraged to vary baits among traps to find out what pigs find most attractive at a particular location or season. However, the more abundant the food supply, the more difficult it is to attract pigs to these baits.

Shelled corn is often used, but landowners have also been successful by fermenting corn, milo, rice, oats, etc. to increase the odor attraction. Old fish grease, catfish “stink” baits and overripe fruit and vegetables have also been used successfully. Others have used maple syrup on corn.

Some recent research in the Southeast has indicated that while catch rates were no different between shelled corn and soured corn, we know from experience that non-target species (e.g., raccoons, deer, crows) use of shelled corn will be much higher than a soured grain product. Please note: We do not advocate the use of diesel on corn to encourage use by wild pigs and discourage use by non-targets such as deer or raccoons because we do not know the full impacts of diesel ingestion by the pigs — some of which many be destined for human consumption. Furthermore, the pouring or contact of diesel on the ground may create an environmental hazard.

16. Where do they originate from?

Pigs were domesticated some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. There are believed to be multiple areas of origin in Europe and Asia. Polynesians brought domesticated pigs into the Hawaiian Islands around 700 A.D.

The first pigs were brought into what is now the continental U.S. into Florida in 1539 by Hernando de Soto. Explorers used these pigs as a traveling food source. After wandering around the southeastern United States in search of gold, de Soto's exploration party brought 700 pigs into what would become Texas in 1542.

17. What’s the difference between a pig, a hog and a boar, and are there different species?

All are descendants of a common ancestor — the Eurasian wild boar. The term "wild boar" is typically used to describe Eurasian wild boar from Europe or Asia.

Feral hogs are those that originated from domestic breeds but may be the result of a few or many, many generations in the wild. In the U.S., the best descriptor is probably to refer to them simply as wild pigs. Regardless, the Eurasians and domestics gone feral are largely the same species and therefore will interbreed with no problems, resulting in all sorts of hybrids between the two groups.

None of these should be confused with the javelina, a native pig-like mammal found in the American Southwest that is not even closely related to wild boars/wild pigs/feral hogs. The best name to use is simply “wild pig."

For more questions and answers from the TAMU Agrilife Extension Service, visit here.


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