In A Nutshell
Pigs, hogs, boars—they all wallow in mud, root around, and can destroy nearly any vegetation in their path. But what makes a pig a pig and not a boar or hog? Ultimately, there’s no cut-and-dried difference, because farmers, hunters, and regular folk all use these terms a little differently and interchangeably. However, “pig” usually refers to the barnyard variety, a wild boar is the kind that lives out in nature and is the ancestor of domestic pigs, and “hog” is used to describe larger pigs and boars. Technically speaking, they’re all of the species Sus scrofa and are biologically very similar.
The Whole Bushel
Ironing out the differences between the varieties of swine may seem complicated, because many pig-related terms are used interchangeably. We could walk a pig-like animal into a room of people, ask them what the animal is, and get a wide range of responses, including pig, hog, boar, or swine. Colloquially speaking, they could all be correct; however, farmers and hunters tend to use specific terms for swine depending on whether it’s domesticated and the animal’s stage in life.
For instance, to farmers, “swine” is a generic term for all types of pigs, a “boar” is a non-castrated male, a “hog” is an older and bigger swine, a “sow” is an adult female, and a “piglet” is a juvenile swine. Then there are words that further clarify the animal’s size or maturity, such as gilt, shoat, weaner, feeder, barrow—the list seems to go on and on.
However, these terms are used a bit differently when discussing swine in the wild. All wild pigs are known as “boars” or “wild boars,” regardless of their gender. Still, some folks might call them wild hogs, and nobody’s going to argue with them about terminology.
But what about domestic pigs that escape and breed in the wild? Well, these are known as feral pigs/hogs and not boars, since, even though they live in the wild (and may have for several generations), they are not true wild boars.
So, how do domestic pigs and wild boars differ genetically and physically? Well, all swine share a common ancestor — the Eurasian wild boar or Sus scrofa. Wild boars are of the species Sus scrofa, whereas domestic pigs are of the subspecies Sus scrofa domesticus. (A few taxonomists put the domestic pig in a separate species from its wild counterparts, which is known as Sus domesticus.) Humans began domesticating pigs as early as 8000 B.C., and now there are many subspecies of Sus scrofa throughout the world. In regards to appearance, wild boars generally have thicker, bristlier coats than domestics and have a noticeable ridge of hair running along their backs. They also have longer, straighter tails, and longer legs and heads.
That being said, feral domestic pigs start to take on the physical characteristics of wild boars after just one or two generations of being in the wild. Once they take on this wild appearance, it is hard to distinguish them from a pure Sus scrofa. Also, wild boars and feral pigs breed readily and create offspring that are nearly identical to wild boars, making them even more difficult to tell apart. In truth, considering their high level of hybridization and similar appearance, there’s not much difference between feral pigs and wild boars. Even scientists have a hard time identifying these animals without analyzing them at the molecular level.
All of this may sound confusing, but it’s really quite simple. Though there are some minor differences, no matter what people decide to call them, the bottom line is that every one of these animals (hogs, swine, boar, etc.) is just a pig. Those on the farm are domestic pigs and those in the wild are wild pigs. They’re all in the species Sus scrofa, and they all make delicious pork chops.