Here and Abroad
Worldwide, there are 8 species of pigs. Exactly zero of those 8 species are native to North America. Nearly all of the wild hogs residing in the United States today belong to the pig species: Sus scrofa. Sus scrofa are native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Domesticated pigs were bred down from the wild Sus scrofa species over thousands of years within their native range. Originally introduced to this continent by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, early settlers relied on them for sustenance. Many of these early domestic pigs escaped and survived in the wild. Not only did they survive, the pigs quickly rekindled their wild instincts and flourished. Most of the wild pigs in the United States today are descendants of escaped domestic pigs. A small number are descendants of pure wild sus scrofa introduced by later European settlers for both sustenance and sport hunting.
Many wild hogs in the US today demonstrate a strong resemblance to their domestic cousins. They range in color from brown to red to black to spotted. Most do also exhibit some characteristics of their wild ancestors like tusks and/or mat black hair.
Hogs spend a majority of their feeding time rooting. Rooting means they bury their snout in the soil and plow around turning up ground and eating wild mast crops including acorns, tree nuts, tubers, roots and grasses. This rooting behavior causes great damage to pasture lands, agricultural crop lands, and grasslands. Farm fields are prime targets for hungry hogs, causing significant amounts of damage in the form of lost crop yields and land degradation. A large group of hogs can cause significant property damage in a very short amount of time, sometimes destroying entire crop fields over the course of a single night. In Texas alone, estimates exceed $500million in agricultural damage caused by hogs annually
While rooting is their primary food gathering method, hogs are true omnivores and in the wild will eat worms, snakes, frogs, insects, baby rabbits, bird eggs, rodents and even deer fawns. They’ll even scavenge large animal carcasses. On average, a mature boar (male) will weigh between 120-150lbs while sows (females) weigh between 100-120lbs. Exceptionally large boars can grow to over 400 pounds.
Hogs do not have the capacity to sweat and therefore wallow, dig, and roll in water or wet ground to cool themselves off. This wallowing usually occurs in wetland and riparian areas near streams and along rivers. In areas holding large hog populations, these wallows can cause significant damage to fragile wetland and riparian ecosystems. Impacts can include increased run off, soil degradation and loss of critical native wildlife habitat.
Hogs are one of the most prolific breeding mammals. They can live up to 20 years and have the unique ability to breed nearly continuously. Sows can begin having piglets at only 6 months of age. Liters can be up to 15 piglets in size and multiple liters within a year are not uncommon. Populations of wild hogs have the capacity to double nearly every 4 months.
By definition, an invasive species is a species of animal not indigenous to a given region that has proliferated and caused damage to the native ecosystem and native wildlife community. Having evolved elsewhere, introduced species do not fill a traditional ecological niche in the ecosystem they are introduced into. Without the checks and balances perfected by nature, introduced species have the capability to explode in population. In the case of wild hogs they do not have a limiting predator species in North America. Opportunistically, bears, wolves, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions will predate on wild hogs in North America but those predations don’t amount to a limiting factor in the expansion of wild hogs. Populations have exploded in the United States and population estimates are now approaching 10 million. Wild hogs can be found in 45 states from the east coast to the west coast, south into Mexico, north into Canada and even in Hawaii.
Why Eat Wild Hogs?
Historically, most of our native wildlife species were market hunted for the commercial sale of their hides and their meat. In the US, market hunting for native species was outlawed for all land animals in the early 1900s in an effort to protect and recover native wildlife populations. At the time, many of our native species were on the brink of extinction. Such species on the brink of extinction included whitetail deer, turkeys, bison, pronghorn antelope, elk and even many species of birds and waterfowl. Our North American model of conservation is built on intensively managing wildlife populations while simultaneously working to improve habitat. This model has been wildly successful over the last 100+ years and provided hunters with a sustainable harvest while recovering most of our native species. Many of the species once at the brink of extinction our now numerous and in some cases even overpopulated.
Because wild hogs are invasive, they are not protected by the wildlife management laws and protections created for native species. Wild hogs are one of the only land animals in the US that can be caught wild and sold to the commercial food market. While the damage to cropland, local ecosystems and native wildlife is undeniable, hogs themselves have the potential to be a great resource. Similar to domestic pigs, wild hogs are great table fare. It’s unlikely to harvest large slabs of bacon off of a wild hog but you’re likely to enjoy some phenomenal pork roasts, chops, loins and very tasty sausage & ground meat.
As the national wild hog population continues to grow, states are acting to combat their growth by encouraging hunting and trapping. Many areas are even offering bounties as an added incentive to encourage hunters (see photo below).
The state of Texas is huge; over 1000 miles across covering numerous climate zones and diverse habitats. Despite the size and diversity, Texas parks and wildlife recently confirmed the presence of wild hogs in ALL 254 counties in the state. Texas now harbors the US’s largest wild hog population at approximately 2 million animals.
Hogs may not be native but their presence is widely known and surprisingly, sometimes celebrated. They have claimed their own place in Texas culture and cuisine. They provide many folks opportunities to hunt, trap and procure their own meat. As the most effective predator hogs have, it’s our roll to control their proliferation and limit the damage they inflict on our native ecosystems.
A Call to Arms – Fork & Knife in Hand
From a conservation perspective, you can feel great about consuming wild hog. Wild hog meat is not only delicious but harkens back to the days of the old west in that you have the unique ability to eat a truly wild raised, wild caught land animal. All this while accomplishing a critically important conservation objective to knock back the impact of wild hogs in our country.