We’ll stay out of the politics of the recent debate about feral hog control, but this does seem like a good opportunity to examine an invasive pest.

Feral pigs. Photo credit: NASA

The feral pig Sus scrofa represents an interesting case study for the invasivore because they have a long history as both bounty and burden. Wild pigs are descended from domestic livestock that was introduced around the globe during the human era of exploration. Since being introduced in North America by Spanish explorers in the 1500s, wild pigs now occur in almost every state in the US. Feral pigs can reach nuisance levels in their native central Europe and Asia, and introduced populations also occur in South America, throughout the Caribbean, in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Australia. So there are probably feral pigs nearby as you read this!

The popularity of feral pig hunting in North America has grown over time because wily feral pigs can provide a thrilling hunt (we recommend Mark J. Hainds’ Year of the Pig for an overview) and a bounty of meat. Unfortunately, this popularity has led some hunters to release domestic pigs or maintain protected land to harbor feral pig populations, solidifying the establishment of invasive populations. These activities are falling under increasing scrutiny, and managers are trying to manage the negative impacts feral swine can impose.

The negative impacts of feral swine are far-reaching. Because they are voracious omnivores, feral swine will readily consume small mammals, ground birds and eggs, reptiles, decaying matter, and plants. Feral pigs seem to particularly enjoy plant roots, and their rooting behavior- churning up the earth with their tusks in search for food- can be particularly disruptive to local vegetation, including native plants and agricultural crops. Feral swine can also carry diseases that can infect domestic livestock or other wildlife. Finally, feral swine are very smart, making them escape artists who are also excellent at hiding. While this contributes to the thrill of the feral pig hunt, it also makes eradication and control efforts difficult.