Do Bears Eat Mushrooms? (Here’s What They Do)

Mushrooms can add the final touch to lots of recipes, but not only we, humans, like them. Many animals also consider them a tasty treat. Most bears live in forests and have easy access to mushrooms and fungi. But do they eat them?

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Do Bears Eat Mushrooms?

Yes, bears eat mushrooms. Not only do black bears and grizzly bears appreciate their flavor, but even polar bears eat them during the ice-free season. Due to their different habitat, not all bears eat the same type of fungi. However, bears generally snack on most types of wild mushrooms they can find in their habitat.

Why do bears eat mushrooms, though? Aren’t they apex predators supposed to hunt other animals and eat meat? Yes, and no.

Bears are apex predators. However, they rarely hunt. All bears are omnivores and eat meat, eggs, honey, as well as a variety of plants. 

From all bears, polar bears are the only ones that have a predominantly carnivorous diet – most likely because of the harsh habitat they live in. Yet, during the ice-free season, polar bears also eat a variety of plants, including mushrooms, marine algae, moss, lichens, and berries.

Black bears, grizzly bears, and other brown bear species are opportunistic omnivores, which means they eat whatever is readily available. 

Instead of active hunting – an activity that consumes many calories – most bears preserve their energy by feeding on carcasses and carrion left behind by other predators. Sure, bears will still actively hunt, but they generally prefer easy prey, such as fish during the migration season or small animals. Moreover, they get most of their nutrition from plants, which are readily available sources of energy and vitamins.

This behavior helps bears avoid consuming unnecessary calories, especially in periods when food availability is scarce.

What Kind Of Mushrooms Do Bears Eat?

Bears generally eat all types of mushrooms that are available in their habitat. However, not all bears forage for mushrooms; some eat them sporadically if they happen to come across the tasty treat. 

Scientists have observed a heavy consumption of fungi (which indicates that the animals were foraging for mushrooms) in bears from Eurasia. In North America, heavy consumption of mushrooms has only been observed in black bears in the coastal areas of the state of Washington. 

Grizzly and other brown bear species also eat mushrooms, but the consumption is incidental. The grizzly bears in the Yellowstone area are an exception, eating more mushrooms compared to grizzly bears in other regions.

Types Of Mushrooms Bears Eat 

Here are a few types of mushrooms bears eat: 

  • Morel mushrooms: Morels are one of the most common types of wild mushrooms bears eat. These mushrooms grow all over the northern hemisphere but are more abundant in North America, Turkey, Pakistan, India, and the Himalayas. Thus, the main consumers of morel mushrooms are the North American black bears and grizzly bears.
  • Puffballs: An undemanding type of fungi, puffballs grow almost anywhere in the world – including the arctic regions in the ice-free season. All bears eat puffballs, including the polar bears.
  • Slippery jacks: These edible mushrooms native to Eurasia have been introduced wildly elsewhere, including North America. Part of the bolete family, slippery jacks (and other boletes) are consumed by brown, black, and grizzly bears.
  • Russula: Including several mushroom varieties, russula is a sort of umbrella name for red-capped mushrooms commonly called the sickener. Although people can only eat russula mushrooms if thoroughly cooked (and in limited quantities), brown and black bears seem to enjoy them just fine.  
  • Milk-caps: Related to russulas, milk-caps are edible mushrooms that both people and bears can eat. All bears in the northern hemisphere – except for the polar bears – eat them.
  • False truffles: Owing their name to the resemblance to true truffles, false truffles are a group of mushroom species that are not poisonous, although they are not edible to humans. Grizzly and black bears seem to like them, though.
  • Truffles: Alongside false truffles, bears also eat truffles when they can find them. However, bears rarely dig deep enough to get to truffles and generally settle for false truffles and other mushrooms that grow on the ground rather than under it.

How Do Bears Avoid Poisonous Mushrooms?

As you may have noticed, bears eat a wide variety of mushrooms. Some of these species are toxic to humans, but they don’t seem to affect bears.

This is because bears, like deer, have a mixed diet. They eat a bit of everything throughout the day, including some poisonous mushrooms and other toxic plants. However, the amount of toxins they ingest at any given time is insufficient to kill them.

In addition to this defense mechanism, bears also have a keen sense of smell that helps them avoid highly poisonous mushrooms. 

Do Bears Eat Psychedelic Mushrooms? 

In addition to poisonous mushrooms, you may wonder whether bears eat psychedelic mushrooms. Psychedelic or magic mushrooms are a group of mushrooms containing neurotoxins and other hallucinogenic substances. 

When consumed, they are responsible for hallucinogenic effects similar to the effects of drugs, but also for other symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and, in severe cases, coma or death. 

The question about bears and psychedelic mushrooms has become popular after a video circulating online has shown a bear snacking on an amanita muscaria mushroom – which is known for its psychedelic effects – and getting “high.”

Despite anecdotal evidence – and the questionable veracity of the video – there is no scientific study to support this theory. 

Studies on the diet of bears confirm that they eat edible and mildly toxic mushrooms, but the scientists found no traces of psychedelic mushrooms in the samples.

As explained above, bears use their keen sense of smell to detect toxins in the foods they eat. They could sometimes feed on highly poisonous or psychedelic mushrooms, but only sporadically and by mistake. Bear cubs are more likely to ingest highly poisonous or neurotoxic mushrooms and fungi.

When Do Bears Eat Mushrooms?

Bears eat mushrooms whenever they are available, generally in spring, summer, and fall. They also eat mushrooms in winter if the mid-winter defrosts and rain trigger mushroom growth.

Most mushrooms like cool and humid environments, which is why they are more abundant in early spring and late fall. In these seasons, the lower temperatures and rain create the perfect environment for mushrooms to grow.

Mushrooms can also grow in summer, usually in dense forests where the canopy of trees prevents sunlight from reaching the soil. 

Fungi and mushrooms don’t grow in winter unless the temperatures get above 55°F for at least a few days, allowing the soil to defrost and get warm enough for the mushrooms.

Like black and brown bears, polar bears also eat mushrooms in spring, summer, and fall during the ice-free arctic season. 

To Finish

Like most omnivores, bears eat mushrooms alongside a variety of other plants, insects, eggs, honey, and meat. Mushrooms are not prevalent in the diet of these apex predators. Most bears only consume them if they happen to come across them, and not because they were actively seeking mushrooms. However, fungi and mushrooms constitute an important source of nutrients and vitamins, especially in late summer and fall when bears start to build up fat deposits and prepare for winter.

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