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A Taste for Berries

What would you expect a Grizzly Bear to eat when fattening up for winter? Caribou? Salmon? How about a nice fruit salad? Yes, some of our most celebrated carnivores become vegetarians in the fall.

Even the largest terrestrial predator, the Grizzly Bear, turns into a berry specialist at this time of year. It feeds on Salmonberries, crowberries, elderberries, and numerous other species of berries. One type of manzanita is called Bearberry because of its importance in the fall diet of bears.

Black Bears, which tend to be more herbivorous than Grizzlies, also load up on berries before the winter, and in areas where oak trees grow, these bears consume vast quantities of acorns, too. Even the Polar Bear, the most predatory of all the bears, feeds on berries when they're available.

Coyotes and foxes follow a similar pattern, dining on a broad range of fruits during the fall. The superb climbing ability of the Common Gray Fox offers it access to berries and other fruits growing in places inaccessible to Coyotes and bears. Wolves, too, will eat berries in the fall, though these seldom constitute a significant portion of their diet.

At first glance, it seems odd that these large "meat eaters" would consume fruits at a time when their need for stored fats and proteins is paramount. Research, however, reveals that the carbohydrates found in fruits are easily converted into fats when eaten in large quantities.

 

 

 

 

 

2007 eNature.com