Creature Feature: Feral Hogs

Have some unusual “alterations” to your landscape occurred overnight? Trampled flower beds, plowed up lawn, tufts of hair and mud stuck to fence posts and garden sheds? No, Bigfoot hasn’t been out for some midnight gardening. You’ve likely been visited by feral hogs.

Whether you’re dealing with these unwanted neighbors or you just want to know more about the history, biology and impacts of the invasive Sus scrofa, be sure to attend one of these upcoming lectures by a State expert.

Upcoming Events

Kick off the Spring Walk in the Woods Nature Lecture Series with Dr. John Tomecek, Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Dr. Tomecek is a leading expert in the State on feral hog biology and control. His agency’s mission is both scientific and educational, providing landowners and governmental bodies with support on the identification, management and abatement of damages from feral hogs.

Walk in the Woods: Feral hogs in a Suburban Landscape

Wednesday, February 5 from 7 to 8 p.m.

The Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park

Free Lecture. Space is limited. Register online here

Can’t make it on the 5th? Don’t worry. Join The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. for the next Going GREEN lecture, Feral Swine: Challenges and Control. Chris Watts, Wildlife Damage Management Biologist with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension will walk through the history of invasive feral swine in Texas, their ecological and economic impacts, wildlife-human interactions, and urban feral swine management practices and strategies.

Going GREEN: Feral Swine Challenges and Control

Thursday, February 20 from 7 to 8 p.m.

Houston Advanced Research Center

Free Lecture. Space is limited. Register online here.

Feral hogs don’t have great eyesight, but make up for it with excellent hearing and a keen sense of smell

Let’s talk hogs

Feral hogs were likely first introduced to Texas by Spanish explorers in the 1600’s. Over the ensuing 300+ years their numbers have grown dramatically. Over 1.5 million feral hogs are estimated to now roam the State, becoming one of our most destructive invasive species. Feral hogs cost the State some $400 million in damages annually by wreaking havoc on crops and lawns. They also have a tremendous impact on native plants and wildlife. Rooting, trampling and wallowing activity destroys vegetation and destabilizes riparian areas. This leads to soil compaction and erosion, spread of invasive vegetation, water quality degradation, and disruption of the nutrient cycle.

The secret to their success is multi-fold: they are highly intelligent, impressively fecund and lack natural predators. They’re also remarkably adaptable, as more and more residents of urban areas, like The Woodlands, are realizing.

Most human interactions with feral hogs are limited to an uprooted lawn. Feral hogs have a keen sense of smell and use it to avoid contact with humans whenever possible. However, as with most wildlife, feral hogs will defend themselves if cornered and females may aggressively protect their young. They can grow quite large, up to 400 pounds and are more powerful than their domestic counterparts. Should you encounter a feral hog, be calm and move slowly away from it. Do not corner or provoke the animal. If you see adults with young piglets, leave them alone.

What you can do

If feral hogs are impacting your property there are steps you can take.

  • First, reduce access where possible. Address any holes or gaps in your fencing and cordon off garden areas. A fence height of 36 inches is enough to keep feral hogs. Make sure fence is flush with the ground to prevent access.
  • For areas that can’t be fenced, remove food sources, like acorns, fruits and vegetables, and bulbs. They also eat grasses, forbs, roots and tubers, mushrooms, insects, earthworms, reptiles, amphibians, carrion (dead animals), live mammals and birds.
  • Don’t water your yard in the winter. Lawns should go dormant (brown) in the winter to allow the roots to grow deep and strong. Watering in the winter not only weakens your grass, making it more susceptible to disease, the green leaves are a major attractant to feral hogs.
  • If you encounter a hog during the day, you will likely be able to scare it off with loud noise but you’re likely to see it back at night in search of more food.
  • Currently no chemical repellents are labeled for use.
  • Motion-activated sprinklers and ultrasonic animal repellents have also not been proven effective.

While feral hogs may be killed or trapped on private property without a State of Texas license or permit with landowner consent, discharge of firearms of any kind within The Woodlands Township is not permitted.

For more information on feral hogs, check out the Wildlife section of the Environmental Services Department website.

For more resources or to report feral hogs that have been sighted in the area, please contact the following:

Reach out to Environmental Services with questions or comments at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Every Yard is an Ecosystem

How well is yours functioning?

Back in November, Andy, a resident of The Woodlands Township, told me he’d made a conscious effort to reduce water consumption in his yard some time ago. He was adding more and more natives to save on water usage and to create habitat at the same time. I wondered how successful he had been, so I inquired about the status of his burgeoning ecosystem. Here’s the update:

  1. Andy has only a small area of turf grass, specifically Zoysia. This is a grass species that doesn’t tolerate a lot of shade, but is otherwise a good choice for our weather. It tends to stay lower growing and needs far less water than the traditional St. Augustine.
  2. Although a few non-native plants and shrubs remain in Andy’s yard, lots of native vegetation has been added. To support pollinators, native flowering plants were added in bunches so bees and butterflies can easily find them, and host plants were mixed in so that caterpillars (future butterflies) have a food source. Andy’s observed a significant increase in pollinators and birds this last year.
  3. Andy converted much of his sprinkler system to drip irrigation, assuring his plants and grasses don’t get over watered. And he can easily avoid watering areas that consist solely of native plants – they don’t need it.
  4. Andy subscribes to Weekly Watering Recommendation emails from Woodlands Water (formerly Woodlands Joint Powers Agency – WJPA) to tell him just how much, if any, water his lawn needs each week. When he does water his lawn he does it in three-minute cycles with breaks in between. This allows the water to soak into the soil, avoiding run-off.
  5. Andy told me he avoids chemicals in his landscape, except on occasion when the nut-sedges try to take over his Zoysia. Otherwise, he’s careful to avoid anything that could be harmful to the pollinators and birds that visit. Twice-a-year applications of mulch to his beds help maintain the moisture level, reducing the need for watering while also deterring weeds. He noted that he sees few insect pests thanks to the many beneficial insects that now live in his gardens.
Andy’s template for native plants in his yard

Andy reduced his water consumption by 11,000 gallons a year by implementing these changes. And, he hasn’t stopped there. He’s been finding ways to avoid water waste inside the home, as well. By installing simple low-flow faucet aerators, fixing leaky toilets, reducing shower time and minimizing waste water in the kitchen, his two-person household  now uses less than 60 gallons-a-day, on average. Compare that to the national average of 180 gallons a day!

Considering trying some of Andy’s ideas and transforming your yard into an ecosystem? Here are some things to know:

Benefits of Native Grasses

Our native grasses provide great “texture” in a habitat for birds and butterflies. Providing grasses in multiple heights and native varieties creates resting places, nesting places, and shelter from predators.  More than a simple food source, grasses provide a safe space for wildlife.

The Zoysia grass in Andy’s yard receives controlled amounts of water by hand. Overwatering is avoided encouraging the roots to grow deeper in to the soil in search of nutrients. As a result, the grass is greener and more resistant to disease.Native grasses not only require less water but support healthier waterways, too.  As rainwater runs across your yard, the grass filters out debris on its way to the storm drain.  Keep in mind that any chemicals used in your yard will also wash into the storm drain. Use compost and mulch instead of fertilizers and weed killers to reduce chemical runoff.

Andy’s yard looks healthy year round, even in Winter!

Reducing Chemical Use

Pollinators and other beneficial insects don’t do well in landscapes where chemicals are present. Research shows that many of the commonly used chemicals persist longer than originally believed. More than 90% of pollen samples from bee hives in this study were contaminated with multiple pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified a number of effective alternatives to pesticides and herbicides. Check here for a list of resources.

Tools and Resources

The Woodlands Township has a variety of water saving and native plant resources to help you transform your yard, just like Andy. Now is the time to plant trees, before the warmth of spring and new blooms appear. The best time to integrate native plants into your yard is during the spring and fall.

Simple tools, like a rain gauge, are great for ensuring your grass is getting the right amount of water. Stop by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department’s office (8203 Millennium Forest Drive) to pick one up for FREE. We’re open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Don’t forget that The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department has a full schedule of FREE programs and classes this spring that can help you transform your yard into your very own flourishing ecosystem. From drip irrigation and invasive plant removal to pest management and organic vegetable gardening, if you are inspired by Andy’s story to change your yard, let us help!

Native plants in Andy’s yard offer food, shelter and nesting materials for a variety of wildlife

Thanks to Andy for letting me tell his story! If you would like to comment, or wish to contact Teri MacArthur, the Water Conservation Specialist for the Township, with your story, email to: tmacarthur@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3928.


Register here for the upcoming, FREE workshop on Drip Irrigation

Give a hoot

Mysterious, spooky, wise, lovable. Depending on who you ask, owls have quite the reputation. With four of the 19 North American species found in our area – Eastern Screech, Great Horned, Barred and Barn – , it’s likely there are a few living in the woods near you. But what do we really know about these birds of prey? Here are 10 fun facts to unravel some of the mystery surrounding these amazing creatures.

Hunting Facts

Fact #1 Incredible hunters, owls have super-powered hearing that allows them to track prey under leaves, dirt and snow. Their hearing is especially sensitive to high-frequency sounds, like rodent squeaks. Studies have shown that Barn Owls are able to catch their prey in absolute darkness just by picking up the sound of rustling leaves.

Fact #2 Owls can turn their neck up to 135 degrees in either direction – 270 degrees of rotation! 14 neck bones – 7 more than humans – allow owls to swivel back and forth effortlessly. Most mammals would be hindered by the lack of blood flow to the brain and eyes, if they were able to rotate that far. However, owls have a unique type of reservoir system at the base of their head which prevents damage to blood vessels while rotating.

Fact #3 Owls make virtually no noise when they fly. Their wing feathers have comb-like serrations that break turbulence into smaller currents and reduce sound. The soft down feathers also help to muffle noise.

Fact #4 An owl’s eye is not a true eye “ball”. Instead, its tube-shaped and doesn’t move which requires them to rotate their entire head to look to the side. This inconvenience comes with an advantage, though. The binocular vision helps them focus on their prey and boosts their depth perception. Owls may have the most efficient vision of any animal. Depending on the species, their vision is 35 to 100 times greater than humans.

Watch this video to see why owls are such excellent hunters

Food Facts

Fact #5 Owls swallow their food whole and then cough up the carcass. Using their strong talons to crush their prey, owls swallow small animals whole. If too large, they use their beaks and talons to rip prey into smaller pieces. Nourishing parts are digested and parts that can’t be digested, like fur and bones, become compacted into a pellet which the owl later regurgitates

Fact #6

Great at pest control. A single barn owl family will eat up to 3000 rodents within 4 months. A single owl can eat 50 pounds of gophers in a year. Farmers frequently install owl nesting boxes to help with pest control. It’s cheaper and safer than poison, which kills many owls and other predators each year as the poison passes on from the prey.

Fact #7 Rodents aren’t the only thing on the menu. Owls eat insects, earthworms, fish, crawfish, amphibians, other birds and small animals. Occasionally, owls will attack and eat smaller owls. Larger owls, like the Great Horned Owl will attack a Barred Owl, which have been known to attack the Western Screech Owl.

For more ways to help owls, visit here

Fun Facts

Fact #8 Owls have been depicted throughout history, from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs to the 30,000 year old cave paintings in France. Ancient Greece recognized owls as a symbol of learning and knowledge and were often seen as a companion to Athena – goddess of wisdom. Unfortunately, owls were seen by many cultures throughout history as a symbol of impending death or evil and affiliated with witches or the unnatural. This fear led many cultures to attempt to rid themselves of nearby owl populations.

Fact #9 Not all owls hoot. Barn Owls make hissing sounds, Eastern Screech Owls whinny like a horse and Saw-Whet Owls are named after the sound they make which is similar to the sound of a whetstone sharpening a saw. To hear the various sounds and calls from owls across North America, check out the Audubon Owls Guide for your phone and I.D. owls on the go.

Fact #10 Owls come in all sizes. The largest owl in North America is the Great Gray Owl which can grow as tall as 32“. The smallest is the Elf Owl – 5-6” tall and about a mere 1 ½ ounces in weight. Here in east Texas, you may come across one of the largest owls in North America, the Great Horned Owl. At almost 2’ tall, the Great Horned Owl is adaptable to many habitats, including city neighborhoods, forested areas, coastal areas, deserts and mountains. Listen for the deep, low hoo, hoohoo, hoo that sounds similar to a dove’s call but is deeper in tone.

To contact Environmental Services Department, email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov or call 281-210-3800

Just in time for Halloween: vampires, zombies and other ghoulish bugs.

Good night, sleep tight; don’t let the bed bugs bite

While this rhyme has been sung to loved ones since the 1880’s, the nocturnal creatures it refers to have been feeding on sound sleepers since the time of the pharaohs.

Sheltering in the nooks and crannies of baseboards, floorboards, or even along the seam of the mattress, bed bugs emerge at night to feed on unsuspecting dreamers. Lured by carbon dioxide and body heat, the little wingless vampires crawl along your body in search of uncovered skin to draw their weekly feast. Ten minutes later, engorged and sated, they return to the shelter of the box spring, or a loose flap of wallpaper, and digest. Take a Deep Look at these bloodsuckers if you dare.

Attack of the body snatchers

The prospect of being fed upon in the dead of night might make your skin crawl, yet it is a far sight better than what can happen to a tomato horn worm in broad daylight.

A teeny, tiny wasp – only an eighth of an inch long – will lay eggs just under the hornworm’s skin. The eggs hatch inside the caterpillar and start eating its insides while it’s still alive! Larvae chew their way to the outside and spin cocoons that look like white insect eggs along the hornworm’s back. Weakened, the hornworm soon dies, unleashing 50 or more wasps to parasitize other tomato-destroying caterpillars. Purdue University has produced a brief look at the “alien encounter” for your viewing displeasure.

Photos used with permission from the Galveston County Master Gardener Association

Superhero bugs to the rescue!

For everything that creeps and crawls, there is another thing that stalks and eats it. Spiders are a formidable foe, ensnaring flies in sticky webs, chasing down crickets, or ambushing ants.

Whatever the method, most spiders end the fight by injecting venom into their hapless prey through fangs at the end of their “jaws”. All spiders are on a liquid diet – that narrow waist makes it impossible for solid food to pass into their abdomen. Just like in Arachnophobia, these eight-legged predators must pump their prey full of enzymes to suck the resulting juices, leaving behind an empty husk. Fortunately, if you are not a fan of spiders, there are even spider-eating spiders such as the cunningly clever, Portia.

For more spectacularly spooky tales from the creepy crawly world of bugs, join us for Walk in the Woods, October 10, 2019. Registration is required for this FREE lecture.  For more information or to register, visit the Walk in the Woods website here.

For more information on programs offered by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department, visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment

Under Dark of Night

Bats! Superhero crime fighters, blood-sucking vampires, quirky animated characters, and quintessential fixtures of Halloween décor. These creatures of the night are thoroughly intertwined in American pop culture. Yet, these cultural characterizations often lead to misunderstanding, fear and certainly under appreciation.   Read on for 5 fascinating facts about how bats really are heroes of the night.

1. They Live Among Us

There are more than 1,300 species of bats worldwide, inhabiting nearly every part of the world except the most extreme deserts and polar regions. Ten species of bats call the Greater Houston Area home. They range from the more common Mexican Free-Tailed Bat, the official bat of Texas, which emerges on warm nights in masse from under bridges, to less common species like the Silver-haired bat, one of the slowest flying bats and a solitary forest dweller.

Learn about the various bats that can be found around Houston here.

2. Bats Have Very Few Natural Predators

Owls, hawks, and snakes will eat bats. However, the biggest threat to colonies is White-Nose Syndrome. Millions of bats have died from this disease since it was first identified in 2006. Named for the white fungus that grows on the muzzle and wing of hibernating bats, this disease causes bats to become overly active, including flying during the day. This extra activity burns up their fat reserves which are needed to survive the winter.  There is no cure for white-nose syndrome, but scientists are working to control the spread of the disease. White-nose syndrome can persist on clothing, shoes and hiking gear so, if you’re going to enter a cave, be sure to decontaminate first to prevent the spread of this deadly disease.  Decontamination procedures recommended by the National Parks Service can be viewed here.

3. Bats Are Pollinators

More than 300 species of fruit, including guavas, mangoes, bananas, peaches and avocados, and over 500 species of tropical flowers depend on nectar bats for pollination. The Mexican Long Tongued Bat, found in western Texas and throughout the Southwest and Mexico, is responsible for pollinating the iconic Saguaro cactus and the raw material for tequila, Agave plants.

Learn more about bats that pollinate here.

4. A Bat Can Eat Their Body Weight In Insects Every Night

Bats help control the insect population, and in our part of the world, that includes mosquitoes!  Feeding on moths, beetles and other flying insects, bats contribute an estimated $1.4 billion annually in insect control in the state of Texas.  Mexican-free tailed bats have been recorded flying up to 100 miles round trip in a night, reaching speeds up to 60 miles an hour and reaching heights of 10,000 feet when hunting for food. There aren’t many insects that can outmaneuver those flying skills.

Read the Texas Senate Resolution recognizing the Mexican free-tailed bat as
the Official Flying Mammal.

5. Bats Aren’t Blind

In fact, bats have excellent eyesight.  Their sensitive vision helps them see in the darkest of nights.  The common misconception that bats have poor vision likely comes from their renowned echolocation ability which allows them to hunt more efficiently at night and has no connection to blindness. So the old adage of being ‘blind as a bat’ doesn’t seem that bad, does it?


To learn more about habitats, behaviors and threats to bats living in urban areas, attend Our Neighborhood Bats, led by Urban Wildlife Biologist, Diana Foss from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Registration is required for this FREE lecture. For more information or to register, visit the Walk in the Woods website here.

For more information on programs offered by The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department, visit www.thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov/environment