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Black Bear Scats Reveal Diet

8-25-14  black bear blueberry scat 062Black Bears are eating heavily now, in preparation for the coming winter when they will not eat or drink for several months. Some of what goes in must come out, however, and it can tell you a lot about the diet of an animal. Black bear scats typically weigh ½ to 1 pound or more. They have different shapes and consistencies, depending on what the bear has eaten. Black bear scats may be tubular or loose, depending on the amount of moisture in the food that the bear ate. Scat from succulent vegetation or berries is typically loose. Interestingly, black bear scats do not have an unpleasant smell if the bears ate only fruit, nuts, acorns, or vegetation — they smell like a slightly fermented version of whatever the bear ate.

At this time of year, Blackberries, Wild Sarsaparilla fruit and Blueberries are ripe and favored by bears. You can determine what a bear has been eating by the shape and size of the seeds in its scat. (A bear’s scat can consist of just one type of fruit if there is an ample supply of that fruit.) Wild Sarsaparilla seeds are crescent shaped, Blueberry seeds are tiny and sand-like, and Blackberry seeds are larger than Blueberry seeds. Blueberry scat (pictured) usually includes whole berries that were not soft and ripe enough to be broken up in the bear’s stomach. Bears hardly stop to chew berries. Instead, they swallow them whole and let the muscular, gizzard-like section of their stomach grind the pulp off the seeds. (Thanks to Jeannie Killam for photo op.)

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7 responses

  1. We watch the scat carefully here (Orleans County) to see where they are traversing. But what interests me is the cherries. When our yellow lab was a pup she ate a stomach full of chokecherries and was violently ill for 24 hours, yet the bears eat pounds more and are fine (which they are doing now). Obviously, different makeups in stomach. The gizzard part though: it seems as if it would make more of whatever made the pup ill available to the bear’s system which would make them ill. I know I’m missing something with this logic.

    August 25, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    • Hi Andree,
      I have to think that it’s just that some species can tolerate what others can’t. What is poisonous to some animals isn’t to others, no matter the degree of digestion that goes on…but your point is well taken! I should have mentioned chokecherries in my blog! Your posts are fascinating! Mary

      August 25, 2014 at 12:19 pm

      • Thank you!! We’ll be using your book in school this year. A lot! And I can’t wait. It’ll be constantly available for their square meter investigations.

        August 25, 2014 at 12:29 pm

  2. Melissa Zeiger

    Dear Mary,

    Do you know Gary Snyder’s poem, “This is for Bear”? In the first stanza, he writes,

    A bear down under the cliff.
    She is eating huckleberries.
    They are ripe now
    Soon it will snow, and she
    Or maybe he, will crawl into a hole
    And sleep. You can see
    Huckleberries in bearshit if you
    Look, this time of year.

    The whole poem is at http://www.wenaus.com/poetry/gs-bear.html.

    Thanks for your wonderful posts,
    Melissa

    August 25, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    • I love it, Melissa. No, I had never seen it before!

      August 25, 2014 at 4:10 pm

  3. Came across similar scat the other day on a trail not too far from the house. I believe it is from a yearling that has been around most of the summer. I try to discourage him from visiting the yard by yelling loudly to scare him off, as I know he’ll only get bigger with time. Don’t want him getting too familiar!

    August 25, 2014 at 4:52 pm

  4. Elizabeth

    Last year I came across a bear scat full of hard, green blackberries, and was later told that this was probably from a young bear, as an older bear would know better than to eat unripe berries.

    August 25, 2014 at 6:45 pm

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