Until recently, if anyone tried to tell you how many feral hogs there are in Texas, they were just blowing smoke, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service wildlife biologist.

"When it comes to feral hogs in Texas, separating fact from fiction is becoming a little easier as research reveals more about the pesky porcines," says Billy Higginbotham, AgriLife Extension wildlife specialist. "There remains much we don’t know about this exotic that has inhabited our state for the past 450 years."

Highest ranking among the myths are estimates of the actual number of feral hogs in Texas, Higginbotham says. A common number that’s been bantered about for years is 1 to 4 million. But there was just no data to support this estimate.

That is, there wasn't until Roel Lopez, associate director of the Texas A&M University Institute for Renewable Natural Resources, recently used geographic information system (GIS) procedures to turn the guesstimates into reliable estimates, says Higginbotham, who collaborated with Lopez on the study.

Using GIS techniques, Lopez was first able to quantify the extent of the feral hog habitat in Texas, estimating that about 134 million acres, or 79% of the state’s 170 million acres, represents feral hog habitat, Higginbotham says.

By knowing the range of feral hog habitat and the species population density in various types of Texas environments, Lopez also came up with a population estimate that has some meat to it. He estimates the actual number could range from a low of 1.9 million to a high of 3.4 million.

"We estimated the population growth of feral hogs in Texas averages between 18% to 20% annually," Lopez says. "This means it would take almost five years for a population to double in size if left unchecked."

Another common myth is that recreational hunting alone can control feral hog populations, Higginbotham says.

"Of the dozen studies conducted across the nation, hunting removes between 8% and 50% of a population, with an average of 24% across all studies," he says. "In order to hold a population stable with no growth, 60% to 70% of a feral hog population would have to be removed annually."

One thing about feral hogs is definitely not a myth – the huge amount of damage they do to crops, wildlife habitat and landscapes. And from all indications, the damage they do is expanding in scope and range, Higginbotham says.

"Feral hogs were once largely a rural or agricultural issue in Texas, inflicting over $52 million in damage annually," he says. "But the porkers have literally moved to town and are now causing significant damage in urban and suburban communities. This damage includes the rooting of landscapes, parks, lawns, golf courses, sports fields and even cemeteries, as they search for food. It’s estimated that a single hog can cause over $200 damage annually."

For more information on feral hogs, see "Coping with Feral Hogs" at feralhogs.tamu.edu.