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Black Bears Waking Up & Ejecting Fecal Plugs

Black Bears spend their entire hibernation with what is referred to as a “fecal plug” in the last foot or so of their intestines. Scientists used to theorize that bears ate lots of roughage and indigestible plant material in order to form this plug that essentially prevents them from evacuating all winter. This theory has been proven wrong, as investigation has shown that the fecal plug consists mainly of intestinal secretions and cells that have sloughed off the inside of the digestive tract. After stopping eating in late fall, bears do produce a small amount of feces, which are in the plug along with hair and leafy bedding, both accumulated from increased grooming (licking of fur and then swallowing) that takes place before entering hibernation. During winter bears shed the calloused soles, or footpads, of their feet and it’s not uncommon to find pieces of them in a plug, as well.

Most fecal plugs measure 1 ½” to 2 ½” in diameter and 7”-15″ long. Fluids have been absorbed from the plug by the intestinal walls, leaving it relatively dry and hard. Its light scent is reminiscent of fermentation. Should you be fortunate enough to find a plug, it’s likely you’re quite close to its owner’s overwintering den, as bears eject their plug soon after emerging from hibernation. (Many thanks to Metta McGarvey and Stephen Brown for sharing their 9″ x 2″ fecal plug with me.)

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2 responses

  1. Alice

    “….so, that feels better…now I’m going to forage for some breakfast.”

    April 11, 2022 at 8:36 am

  2. I never knew how the plug was formed – and I bet Alice is right!

    April 11, 2022 at 2:32 pm

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