Until now, exotic species that have invaded Minnesota have been mostly smaller critters like zebra mussels, bighead carp or spiny water fleas.

But state officials are on the lookout for a much larger ominous invader spotted last week near Detroit Lakes: A wild boar.

"Several witnesses saw it, and their descriptions were the same,'' said Joe Stattelman, Department of Natural Resources conservation officer. "It's smaller than a Labrador retriever, has dark long hair, a slanted snout and visible white tusks. It sounds like a wild pig to us.''

Specifically, a European wild boar, said Earl Johnson, DNR wildlife manager in Detroit Lakes.

And that's a major concern, he said.

Boars and feral pigs can multiply rapidly, spread diseases to wild and domestic animals and are destructive to the landscape. Wisconsin, which has feral pigs, asks hunters to shoot them on sight.

Until now, they had not been spotted in Minnesota, and officials desperately want to keep it that way.

"It scares me,'' said Johnson. "They root up vegetation. They literally tear up the woods, opening it up to erosion.'' They can damage habitat for deer, turkey and ruffed grouse and affect other wildlife, he said. They'll also eat and destroy crops and gardens.

"They're opportunists: They'll eat anything and everything,'' he said.

Johnson said that even if there is only one wild boar, it could breed with domestic pigs, producing wild hybrids.

"We have to be aggressive; if someone doesn't kill it very soon, we'll be putting out an alert to hunters,'' he said. Minnesota's black bear season opens Sept. 1 and the archery deer season opens Sept. 13. Wild pigs or boars are not native to the state and aren't protected, meaning they can be killed by homeowners or hunters at any time. They can range in size from 70 to 400 pounds.

Feral pigs are found in 39 states and are considered a major problem in many of them. Once established, their populations are difficult to control and they are nearly impossible to eradicate.

Johnson speculates that someone likely imported the boar into the state illegally, and it escaped. No one, including game farms, is allowed to import them into Minnesota. There are some wild pigs in north-central North Dakota, (the state is trying to eradicate them) but Johnson doubts one would have traveled to the Detroit Lakes area.

Residents first spotted the pig last Thursday, said Stattelman. Four or five people have reported seeing it, he said. He has spent several days looking for it, hoping to shoot it, but hasn't had any luck thus far.

Finding it among the woods and wetlands of the area, he said, "is like looking for a needle in a haystack.''

Said Johnson: "We would ask that if someone kills it, that they please call us.'' Officials want to send it to the University of Minnesota's veterinary diagnostic lab in St. Paul to be tested for various diseases, including pseudo-rabies, brucellosis and tuberculosis.

"We're not taking any chances, Stattelman said. "We don't want a whole bunch of wild pigs running around.''

Added Johnson: "We'd like everyone to know it's not welcome here.''

For more information on feral pigs, see tinyurl.com/38b26a; for feral pig hunting: tinyurl.com/5bfrbh.