Last November, over a period of a couple of days, Armon Hewitt counted at least six road-killed feral hogs on the 10-mile stretch of state highway he drives daily to and from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service office for Trinity County in Groveton.
"Evidently, the deer hunters were driving them out of the woods during hunting season," Hewitt said. "There's a deep ditch alongside the highway, and the hogs, being usually black, are hard to see at night. They try to outrun the cars and lose."
And there are other signs of hog-car "interactions," Hewitt said.
"I was seeing a lot of cars bashed up," he said. "When one of those little cars, like a Honda, hits one, it pretty much demolishes the front end."
Hewitt isn't the only AgriLife Extension agent to report an increase in feral-hog vehicle collisions.
"There was one hit right across from the high school the other day," said Blaine Jernigan, AgriLife Extension agent for Rusk County in Henderson. "And before that there was one on the loop. It's getting pretty common."
Last fall, Palestine residents were seeing lots of hogs. They were coming into the center of town and getting hit by cars, said Mark Price, AgriLife Extension agent for Anderson County.
"Then about deer-hunting season they disappeared," Price said.
But Price, who is no stranger to the activities of feral hogs is sure, that like Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator, "they'll be back."
"One morning, we'll wake up and they will have rotated back to Palestine," he said. And lightweight cars aren't the only vehicles at risk to hog collisions.
"A buddy of mine who drives a logging truck hit one last fall," said Crispin Skinner, at Prairie View-Texas A&M Cooperative Extension agent in Nacogdoches County.
"He hit that 400-pound bad boy and had to have the whole front end of his truck rebuilt," Skinner said.
Feral hog/vehicle collisions seem to be increasing in Texas, said Dr. Billy Higginbotham, AgriLife Extension fisheries and wildlife specialist based in Overton.
"Common sense dictates that as feral hog populations in Texas have increased over the past two decades, so have hog/vehicle collisions," he said.
In addition to many feral hogs being out at night, there other reasons why they are particularly prone to be a road hazard, Higginbotham said.
"Feral hogs lack the 'eyeshine' that reflects the light from headlights that deer and many other vertebrates have," he said.
This eyeshine is caused by a reflective layer behind the deer's retina called a tapetum lucidum, Latin for "bright tapestry," he said. It can make the difference between the motorist seeing the animal in time or not.
"Take a scenario where you have a black hog on a black-surfaced road on a moonless night, and sometimes the motorist just does not have time to react and take evasive action," Higginbotham said.
Another factor at play in increased collisions is the continued encroachment of urban development into rural areas, he said. Wooded areas, which make new housing divisions attractive to home buyers, offer cover for feral hogs too.
Higginbotham cited a 2007 study by John Mayer, Washington Savannah River Company, Aiken, S.C. and Paul Johns, Carolina Wildlife Consultants, that characterized vehicle-hog collisions over a 38-year period on the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Findings included: – Ninety percent of the accidents involved single animals.
– Most of the accidents occurred in the summer and winter months.
– Forty-five percent of all accidents occurred at night, with dawn and dusk accidents second (morning and evening commutes) and broad daylight accidents a distant third.
– Several studies report that collisions increase during times of drought and during breeding season as a result of increased hog movements. – Six percent of the accidents caused human injuries. However, some secondary accidents occurred as drivers took evasive action to avoid hitting hogs that were already road killed.
– Vehicle damage averaged $1,173 per incident.
"Based on this study, potential annual cost of wild pig/vehicle collisions (vehicle damage and occupant injury) in the U.S. would be approximately $36 million annually," Higginbotham said.
Higginbotham noted that in Texas alone, agricultural damage – primarily destruction of crops and pastures – caused by feral hogs is estimated to be $52 million annually.
"This does not include vehicle/hog collisions and damage to urban/suburban areas including recreational areas like parks, golf courses and landscapes," he said.
More information on feral hogs, including abatement projects and trap designs, can be found at http://feralhogs.tamu.edu/.