The Feral Hog in Oklahoma
Feral hogs are omnivorous, meaning they will eat both animal and plant matter. They are also opportunistic feeders, which means they are masters at taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances that may supplement their nutritional needs. These definitions can be shortened by saying they are opportunistic omnivores. With that in mind, it becomes pretty clear what feral hogs will eat ... almost anything!
Although feral hogs are omnivores, the season or time of year determines the bulk of their diets' contents. Spring diets include grasses, forbs, roots and tubers. Summer and fall diets consist primarily of soft and hard mast (fruits) including grapes, plums, prickly pears, mesquite beans, acorns and persimmons. Other important food categories in feral hog diets are mushrooms, carrion and live animal matter such as birds, eggs, snails, insects, earthworms and other invertebrates. The feral hog has an acute sense of smell enabling it to be an efficient predator when given the opportunity. Various agricultural crops are also eaten, with peanuts, corn, milo, oats, wheat and soybeans among their favorites. Nutrition is generally poorest in the winter and summer, and best in the fall and spring.
Competition and Environmental Concerns
Feral hog food preferences can hardly be mentioned without discussing competition with native wildlife. The potential for feral hog competition with native wildlife for food, cover, water or space should always be a concern for landowners and managers. There is documentation of competition for food with deer, turkey, waterfowl, squirrel, raccoon, opossum, foxes, bobcat, collared peccary, bears, sandhill crane and chipmunks. They may also consume significant amounts of native or introduced cool-season forages managed for livestock. A landowner or manager may not be concerned with all of these species, but they are included here to emphasize the diverse diet and impact of the feral hog. Competition for food is usually seasonal. In Oklahoma, for instance, competition for acorns between feral hogs, white-tailed deer and turkey may be most intense during fall and winter.
Depending on the intended use or ecological status of pastures or meadows, rooting such as this can be an advantage or disadvantage to the landowner or manager. (photo by Broderick Stearns)
There have been many studies examining the effects that feral hogs have on vegetative communities as a result of feeding and/or rooting. These effects can alter ecological processes such as water and mineral cycles. Rooting, if severe enough, can also alter successional stages within plant communities. The effects that these activities have on vegetation may be positive or negative depending on climate, plant community and land use goals of the property manager. Positive effects may include a decrease in insect pests, increased quality of seed beds, increased water infiltration, a shift in plant succession toward increased diversity, accelerated decomposition of organic matter and increased mixing of soil horizons. Negative effects may include soil erosion, consumption of native seed crops, consumption of threatened or endangered species, altered plant succession and reduction of overall species diversity.
Feral hogs can adapt to just about any plant community. However, they prefer moist bottomlands or riparian areas (soil and plant communities influenced or created by flooding or shallow groundwater) associated with streams and rivers, or other areas with adequate water. Another feature associated with these types of plant communities is dense vegetation. Feral hogs seem to prefer riparian areas with good distribution of dense vegetation to use as escape cover and concealment.
Feral hogs can also be found in upland areas. Mast, crops or other food sources generally attract them to these areas. Ponds or lakes and dense vegetative cover located in uplands also facilitate use of these areas.
This bottomland, typical of areas favored by feral hogs, has been substantially impacted by rooting activity. Hogs can threaten native plants and the integrity of ecosystems.