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," said Dr. 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 said. A common number that has been bandied about for years is 1 to 4 million. But there was just no data to support this estimate.

That is, not until Dr. Roel Lopez, associate director of the Texas A&M University Institute for Renewable Natural Resources, recently used geographic information system procedures to turn the guesstimates into reliable estimates, said Higginbotham, who collaborated with Lopez on the study.

The term "geographic information systems," usually simply called GIS, refers to a procedure that involves diverse data gathering means, from on-the-ground GPS referenced data to satellite to historical records, and organizes it geographically.

"A simpler way to put it is that it’s just an electronic map," Lopez said.

Using GIS techniques, Lopez was able to quantify first the extent of the feral hog habitat in Texas. He estimates that "approximately 134 million acres, or 79 percent of the state’s 170 million acres, represents feral hog habitat," said Higginbotham.

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, Higginbotham said. Lopez estimates that the actual number could range from a low of 1.9 million to a high of 3.4 million.

Exaggerated claims of feral hog population-growth rates are a related myth. Many of the population guesstimates are based on a purely arbitrary number of hogs in Texas being set at 1 million in the 1970s. This number, which also had no research basis, is then often extrapolated on using another bit of misinformation: That because of feral hogs' high birth rates, their population is doubling every year.