Frequently Asked Questions

Robert A. Pierce II, Associate Extension Professor and State Wildlife and Fisheries Specialist, University of Missouri.

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This series of responses to a variety of frequently asked questions has been developed to provide information to a variety of stakeholders on issues surrounding feral hogs in Missouri. In addition, this information has also been developed from research that has been conducted for the past several years by Billy Higginbotham, Extension Wildlife and Fisheries Specialist and his colleague's at Texas A&M AgriLife as well as research conducted at Mississippi State University. Additional sources of information are found at the end of this fact sheet.

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    What is a feral hog?

    Feral hogs (or wild pigs) are not wildlife as they are a non-native destructive species that can be invasive if populations are not controlled. In Missouri, a feral hog is any hog, including Russian and European wild boar, this is not identified by ear tags or other identification and is roaming freely on public or private land without the landowner's permission.

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

    The wild pig is one of the most prolific large mammals on the face of the Earth. They average between 5 and 6 pigs per litter. Sows have approximately 1.5 litters per year. Are more litters per year and larger litter sizes possible? Absolutely yes! However, these are long-term averages, not what can occur under ideal conditions – which is 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.

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    What is the average lifespan of a wild pig?

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

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    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.

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    What is the power of their bite? What other animal can it be likened to in that regard?

    Feral hogs 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.

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    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 strongly on it to detect danger and search out food. They are capable of sensing some odors 5-7 miles away and may be able to detect odors as much as 25 feet underground! Appealing to this tremendous sense of smell is often essentially as fermented or scented baits can provide additional attraction to make them more vulnerable to trapping.

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    What are their food habits and how much do they eat in a day?

    Feral hogs 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 indiscriminant in their feeding habits and eat both vertebrate and invertebrate animals. Approximately 85 to 90 percent of their diet is believed to be composed of vegetation (including crops where available) and 10 percent animal matter. Small pigs may eat approximately 5 percent of their body weight daily; larger pigs an estimated 3 percent of body weight. They forage heavily on acorns and other mast as well as compete directly with native species for food.

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    Do you have any documented proof of their violent nature?

    Ample documentation exists of feral hog-human encounters. However, the likelihood of a human being impacted by a hog/vehicle collision or disease risk—while still low is greater than an actual physical attack by a wild pig. Where the rare attack occurs, it is usually during a hunting scenario where dogs are used to bay or corner a pig in a spot and the pig "runs through" the associated hunters standing nearby. Occasionally, humans inadvertently walk between a sow and her litter and the sow reacts to protect her young. Totally unprovoked attacks outside of these two scenarios are rare. Given a choice, a feral hog would usually prefer to flee rather than fight. However, U.S. newspapers report from 5 to 7 human fatalities each year.

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    If impaled by a wild pig's tusk, what disease could you get from one?

    Most likely, a human would be subject to an infection just as you would from suffering any deep cut or abrasion from any unclean surface.

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    How fast can they run and high can they jump?

    Feral hogs 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 teardrop shaped) or cover the corners/top of the trap.

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    How do they sleep? (habits…i.e. burrow a den? Standing up?)

    Feral hogs 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. Oftentimes, they simply seek out thick underbrush for security or root into a brush pile or downed tree top for security. In the hot months, they will often lie in mud and/or seek deep shade.

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    How hard are they are to kill?

    Most archers shoot wild pigs in the heart/lung region immediately behind the shoulder from broadside or at a slightly quartering away angle. Hunters using firearms are advised to shoot the pigs in the neck or in the vitals (heart/lung region). Preferred rifles for pigs are 25 to 30 caliber. Regardless of the caliber shot placement is essential for a clean and ethical kill. Archers typically limit their shots to 25-30 yards to help ensure a clean kill.

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

    Feral hogs are one of the most intelligent species (exotic or native) found in the United States. They learn to avoid danger very quickly and "halfhearted" attempts to control them just make them less susceptible to future control efforts. They respond to human pressure via avoidance.

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    What is the average cost of property damage that they can inflict and are there estimates of the cost of annual property damage?

    This can be a difficult number to ascertain as damage is dependent on the crop that is being depredated. One study conducted in 2004 by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service placed annual damage to agriculture in Texas alone at $52 million with an additional $7 million spent by landowners to attempt to control the pigs and/or correct the damage. They have determined that this is a very conservative estimate. Other researchers suggest that damage per pig per year averages around $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. Estimates for the United States population as a whole are hard to get a handle on. The USDA estimates that feral hogs cause $2.4 billion in damage and control costs each year.

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

    Feral hogs 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 in east Texas resulted in home range estimates of approximately 2 square miles, or 1,000–1,200 acres.

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    What do they do to damage trees specifically?

    The most sensitive environmental areas that feral hogs damage are wetland areas and glades and they can alter the vegetative community that is present. They compete with native wildlife for hard mast (e.g., acorns from oak trees). Their rooting can accelerate leaf litter decomposition causing the loss of nutrients which can impact seedling survival of trees. Their rooting behavior can damage seedling tree growth and survival. 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 that are capable of producing a lot of rosin, such as pines (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.

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    Are older boars loners? If so why do we think that?

    If you see a large wild pig traveling alone it is most likely a boar. The mature boars become more solitary, or sometimes travel with a small number of other large boars. They only join up with sounders (a group of animals) when a sow comes into heat.

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

    Within a few days of giving birth the sow will leave the group in order to farrow. They may remain apart for 2 to 4 weeks then rejoin the group. They really don't "abandon" their litter over time. A "sounder" is a family group of pigs made up of sows (typically related via about 3 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.

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    What kind of damage are they capable of on a wire fence?

    Wild pigs do a great deal of damage to net wire fences which are generally used to confine sheep and goats. They tear them up or lift them up off the ground to gain access and therefore leave "holes" that sheep and goats can pass through.

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    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 conducted by USDA-APHIS/WS suggests that feral hogs are attracted to baits that have a sweet pungent odor, such as strawberry or berry flavorings. Thus, 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, although we do 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.

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    We seem to hear a lot of "things were fine until a year ago" remarks by people with feral hog issues. Why the seemingly sudden boom in population and an invasion to areas that did not have hogs?

    Feral hog populations have steadily increased their range by moving northward and westward over the past 25 years. They have also gone from being a rural land/agriculture issue to also an urban/suburban issue in some locations, as well by moving into these more populated areas that are adjacent to adequate habitat which provide cover, security and food. Why the population explosion over this time? Several reasons converged to create the "perfect storm" resulting in an increased population over time.

    1. Indiscriminant stocking to new habitats by landowners and hunters facilitated a rapid increase— feral hogs can be trailered and released for hunting. This was done regularly, despite being illegal, in the 1970's thru the 1990's in many locations across the southern United States as well as in portions of Missouri – and the stockings were very successful at re-establishing wild pig populations across the state.
    2. In some states, wildlife such as deer can be fed with supplemental foods such as with shelled corn and other foods. In one southern state, an estimated 300 million pounds of shelled corn are fed to deer each year. However, non-target species (e.g., feral hogs, raccoons) get their fair share of this supplement. As a result, the sows that are on this higher nutritional plane allows them to have larger litters.
    3. Feral hogs are among the most prolific large mammal on the face of the earth. They have an extremely high intrinsic (built-in) rate of increase when environmental conditions are favorable can allow for rapid population increases. Population increases are not just a phenomenon in the southern United States and for these various reasons, populations have expanded in many states, including Missouri, and now some 48 states have established wild pig populations.
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    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 both 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.

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    What's the difference between a pig, hog and a boar, and are they different species?

    All are descendants of a common ancestor-the Eurasion 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 or feral hogs. Regardless, the Eurasians and domestics that have gone feral are largely the same species and therefore will interbreed with no problems resulting in all sorts of "hybrids" between the 2 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.

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    Is there any use of their bones, tusks or hair have in objects? (brushes, jewelry, leathers, etc.)

    Not that we know of. Their meat is consumed by humans.

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    Is it true that they use of mud as sun screen and to keep them cool? Does the mud help them with anything else?

    Pigs have no functioning sweat glands and therefore they can be sensitive to high temperatures. During hot weather, they typically are associated more with cool shady places with water sources and tend to confine their movements at night when temperatures cool down.

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    Do sows ever eat their young?

    Never say never – but this would not be a "common or routine behavior". There are instances where they have been known to scavenge on pig carcasses.

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    How do they interact with other animals?

    Most wildlife species don't associate with feral hogs. The less mobile (lizards, toads, snakes) may end up being their next meal, while others (e.g., white-tailed deer) typically vacate the immediate area when wild pigs show up. They can be competitors with native species for certain food supplies such as acorns and limit the availability of those food sources for less aggressive native species.

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    Are there methods of communication with each other and how loud is their squeal. Would squealing act as a warning to other pigs of danger?

    Squeals can serve as a means of communicating (between sows and young, as a warning between wild pigs competing over a food source or as a danger warning to other pigs).

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    Is Swine Flu a legitimate danger from wild pigs, and how abundant is it?

    No, feral hogs do not cause swine flu.

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    Where are the worst damage problems in Missouri?

    Anywhere we have feral hog populations we seem to have problems. The highest population numbers are in southern Missouri and approximately 37 counties have feral hog populations. From an agriculture standpoint, forest land and cropland damage results in higher economic impact than pasturelands. Damage can also occur in urban and suburban areas.

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    How many feral hogs are caught or killed each year?

    The Missouri Department of Conservation and various partner organizations (including USDA APHIS – Wildlife Services, U.S. Forest Service and others) have initiated trapping programs in areas that are impacted by feral hogs. In fact, these partnerships between state and federal government agencies, agricultural and environmental groups, and landowners are the key to removing this damaging invasive pest from Missouri.

    In 2015, 3,649 hogs were trapped and removed and this number increased to 5,358 in 2016. In 2017, approximately 5,600 were caught. During 2018 it is estimated that over 9,000 pigs were trapped. There are also feral hogs that are killed by hunters. Studies in Texas suggest that annual hunter harvest averages 24% of the population--but these data are also lacking and most likely not accurate for Missouri. It takes between 50% and 70% of a population to be controlled annually just to hold the numbers stable from one year to the next (Population models developed by Texas AgriLife Extension suggest that 66% had to be removed to hold the population stable). Therefore, recreational hunting alone cannot keep a population in check and is not allowed on public lands in Missouri.

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    What diseases do they carry and are they harmful to other animals?

    Approximately 15 diseases can be carried by wild pigs. However, swine brucellosis and pseudorabies are two examples of diseases of concern. Recently while testing wild pigs for brucellosis, researchers at Texas Tech documented the presence of tularemia in a large number of hogs tested. Tularemia can be transmitted to other animals and humans, Pseudo can be transmitted to other animals and swine brucellosis can be contracted by humans. It is recommended that whenever you are field dressing hogs, use proper precautions (latex gloves and eyewear). Obviously, the biggest threat is disease transmission to domestic swine herds.

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    What are the different species of pigs typically found in Missouri?

    There is but one species (Sus scrofa) in the United States-- but many breeds are involved as most of our feral hogs today are originally from domestic stock. There are about 8 species of hogs in the genus Sus (think of them to 2nd cousins to our wild pigs) but about 18 subspecies of Sus Scrofa (1st cousins) found worldwide. All of our modern domestic breeds as well as our wild pigs originated from a common ancestor-the Eurasian wild boar that was first domesticated some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago in Europe and Asia.

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    What are the best methods to control the feral hog problem?

    Research has shown that trapping is by far the best method to use to control feral hog populations. These control efforts may not totally eliminate a population but they have been shown to abate damage significantly. Hunting can also be used to eliminate feral hogs, however, hunting can also complicate efforts to remove larger groups of animals. Since they usually travel in groups, shooting one or two hogs can cause the others to scatter, making future trapping efforts more difficult. If feral hogs are observed it is highly recommended that you report these sightings to the MDC so that they can work together with you to remove the population. If you see a feral hog in the wild, Report — Don't Shoot! Call 573-522-4115, ext. 3296 to report a sighting or damage, or report online at mdc.mo.gov/feralhog.

    MU Extension has developed a Feral Hog Extension Program, conducted in partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation, USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service – Wildlife Services and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service. The objectives of this program include working with private landowners to control feral hogs on their property and to facilitate prevention and control measures to eradicate feral hogs from the area.

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    What are their habitat preferences?

    Typically, feral hogs will seek out the heaviest cover near water they can find where they are not harassed, then range out from there to feed. There is an abundance of this type of habitat in the Ozark region of Missouri and throughout the state. They must have sufficient food, water, cover and living space. If one or more of these requirements are not met, they can be extremely mobile and move to new areas that meet all of their habitat needs.

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    What are some other sources of information on feral hogs that are recommended?

    Here are links to much more detailed information on controlling feral hogs: