This may look like Black Bear scat to many viewers and it is close to being just that, but technically it is a fecal plug. A plug differs from scat in several ways. Rather than passing through and out of the digestive system, it remains in the lower 7-15” of a bear’s intestine for four or five months, while the bear hibernates. Unlike feces, which consist mostly of waste from digested food, a fecal plug, due to the length of time it spends in the intestine, contains a considerable amount of intestinal secretions and cells that have sloughed off the inside of the digestive tract.
Usually you find hair and bedding as well as recently-eaten indigestible food incorporated into a plug. Prior to hibernation, Black Bears engage in grooming — licking and swallowing their fur and the leaves, etc. that are caught in it. These indigestible materials end up in the plug. 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 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 quite dry and hard, and it has very little scent. If you happen to know where a bear has denned, the surroundings are a prime location for finding a plug, as the bear ejects it soon after emerging from its den in April. (Thanks to Andy Rowles and Erin Donahue for photo op.)
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