EAST MANATEE -- The hogs were here first, of course: before the brick driveways and the BMWs, before the gates and the golf courses.
Before the people.
Thirty years ago, wild hogs had space to straggle. They could openly stick their snouts in the dirt and rummage for acorns and grub. They could feed their babies without fear of getting trapped -- or shot.
But as developers pave over the land to build more and more new homes, to lure more transplants from other parts of the world, wild hogs and other wildlife are running out of room.
With few options, bands of hogs are tearing through neighborhoods in Lakewood Ranch and along the Braden River, residents and experts say. They're plowing through front lawns, leaving turf completely overturned in a sometimes desperate attempt to find food.
"It's because of growth," said Christy Norris, co-owner of Nuisance Wildlife Removal in Bradenton. "It's pushing them, and then they're populating and they have nowhere else to go."
Al O'Grady's lawn in Lakewood Ranch got hit twice in the last week. He's lived in the Edgewater village for 12 years but is only beginning to experience the problem now.
"You can see the results of their nosin' around because there's probably four neighborhood lawns that have had substantial damage," he said. "Lately they're hanging around here, and we don't like it one bit. We're thinking a neighborhood barbecue might be in order, but we'll see."
Wild hogs, or Sus scrofa, are not native to Florida and could have been introduced by explorer Hernando De Soto around 1539. Florida's estimated 800,000 hogs are found in all 67 counties. Exactly how many live in Manatee is hard to say, but the
number is significant, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission spokesman Gary Morse.
The wildlife commission recommends trapping or shooting as means of management. After deer, the hog is the second-most-hunted animal in the state for its quality meat. Hogs of any size -- and they can weigh as much as 400 pounds -- may be hunted on private property at any time. No hunting license required.
"If you have a hog problem, it's pretty easy to get someone to help you try to manage it," Morse said.
But even at that rate, the hog is nearly unstoppable. Sows can have an average of two litters of six pigs each year, a Texas A&M University study shows. And sows usually begin to reproduce at 13 months old.
Hogs are easily adaptable and can live anywhere, but they love freshwater marshes, flatwoods and forests with oak trees: places where new homes are built for the natural beauty.
The pigs, who travel several miles each day, toss dirt looking for shrubs, roots and bugs. In the spring, they crave acorns, which fall from trees -- sometimes in your backyard.
They've hit The Concession. They've hit the Country Club -- East and West. They've hit Edgewater Sound. They've hit Braden Run and Braden Woods.
Jay Johnston said he hasn't had a hog problem in 17 years, but Sunday night a herd came out of the woods next door to his Braden Woods home and began rooting the lawn.
Mike Finney, Community Development District 2 supervisor in Lakewood Ranch, said the district is looking to hire a trapper.
But Michelle Bowermaster, another Braden Woods resident, would rather not eliminate them.
Instead, she put up barriers after hogs turned up her front lawn, leaving it nearly bare. Bowermaster has lived in her home since 1988. She's seen no hogs until now.
She blames construction on Ranch Lake Boulevard, behind the State Road 70 Walmart, where apartments and shops are being built.
"This was their area," she said, "We encroached on it."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.