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Fermenting Apples & Black Bears ≠ Inebriation

11-5-18 bear scat MH_20091011_233455_4If you investigate the contents of Black Bear scat this time of year, you may well find nothing but chunks of digested and semi-digested apple (pictured).  For several weeks before hibernation begins bears spend their days and nights foraging for food that will sustain them through the coming months (“hyperphagia”).  Fermenting apples lying on the ground are accessible and very popular with bears; hence, many scats contain them.

There have been anecdotal reports over the years of Black Bears stumbling around as if inebriated, and it is often assumed that this behavior is the result of their having consumed fermenting fruit, such as apples.  Waxwings, robins and other species of birds are known to get drunk (and even die) from fermented crab apples, mountain ash and blackberries, but it’s highly unlikely that bears follow suit.

For one thing, the pH of a bear’s stomach is around 3.5 – slightly more acidic than yeast can tolerate. In addition, the time it takes for a Black Bear to digest food is typically far less time than yeast would need to convert sugar into alcohol. Lastly, size would play a large role in an animal’s ability to become intoxicated. It would take hundreds of apples consumed at their peak level of fermentation to make even a small, young Black Bear even slightly tipsy.

If you see a Black Bear stumbling and acting strange it may well be because it is sleepy or perhaps sick, but probably not drunk. However, until researchers test the blood alcohol level of a bear that’s exhibited this behavior, no–one can say for sure what caused it.

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14 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    ….but keep a lock on the liquor cabinet….

    November 5, 2018 at 8:26 am

    • Alice Pratt

      ….and do NOT give the bear your car keys!

      November 5, 2018 at 8:53 am

  2. Great post!

    >

    November 5, 2018 at 8:36 am

  3. Sue Wetmore

    Maybe someone could get one of thise stumbling bears to blow a breathalyzer test!😊

    November 5, 2018 at 8:49 am

  4. Becky

    how can you tell the difference between bear and raccoon scat?

    November 5, 2018 at 9:55 am

    • Diameter, usually, plus bear scat consists of bigger chunks. (Bear scat, depending on size of bear =1and 1/4 to 2 and 1/2″ diameter; raccoon = 5/16″ – 1 and 3/16″ diameter).

      November 5, 2018 at 10:42 am

  5. Gina

    Yep, and watch your step, that scat is slippery….! (Yes, from experience (o:)

    November 5, 2018 at 10:18 am

    • Tamson

      Oh, man, can I attest to that! The conversation went something like this: “How did you manage to stab yourself in the elbow with a stick?” Me: “I slipped in a pile of bear poo while hiking.”

      November 5, 2018 at 12:36 pm

  6. Tamson

    Only semi relevant to the topic, but pretty funny: I went to the preschool my niece teaches at and gave her little ones a nature program about how plants and animals get ready for winter. At one point, I asked them what they thought bears might eat to get fat for the winter, and the first hand that shot up was from a little girl, who shouted “PIE!”

    November 5, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    • Love it!!! Out of the mouths of babes!

      November 5, 2018 at 1:41 pm

  7. Alison Murchison

    Can you clarify one point: If the fermentation is occurring in the apples while they are on the ground, then it should not require either yeast or time in the stomach of the bear, right? In other words, the animal is consuming pre-formed alcohol, just the way we do when we drink a beer. That said, it seems likely that the quantity of alcohol in those fermenting apples is fairly small relative to the size of the bear, so that seems like the most important reason that a bear does not get drunk.

    November 5, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    • Thank you for expressing this question that I actually had myself. Perhaps further fermentation once the apple is consumed is necessary? For sure, an immense quantity of apples would have to be consumed, either way!

      November 5, 2018 at 2:43 pm

  8. Comparing the size of the bear to the size of birds that might eat fermented fruit, I would think birds would be more likely to get tipsy from alcohol ingestion, despite eating a lot less of the fruit.

    November 6, 2018 at 5:16 pm

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