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Analyzing poo

Grizzly and black bears love to eat berries. When they ripen, chokecherries, strawberries, huckleberries and raspberries are all great food sources for bruins.

Those berries feed a lot of other critters, too, including birds and hikers like you and me who seek them out or just happen to find a patch along a trail or stream.

One way to tell that bears are eating berries is when you see their poop on the trail. At certain times of the year, when chokecherries are ripe, there may be large piles of purple poo on the trail.

When seeing this you might think, "ick!" But imagine you are a small mammal like a mouse or vole. Those little animals actually see a pile of berry-filled bear poo as a feast.

According to an Oregon State University and Alaska Department of Fish and Game study, a single poo pile had enough seeds in it to feed 91 deer mice for a day. The scientists figured this out by picking up and analyzing the poop.

Because bears eat a lot of fruit with seeds, they are the main source for spreading those seeds across the land.

“Not only are small mammals spending months feeding and fighting for the seeds in scat, they're also scattering the seeds on the landscape, which allows some of the seeds to become future fruiting plants," said study lead author Yasaman Shakeri.

That’s right, she said the animals were fighting over the poo because it’s so filled with food. Pretty gross, huh?

The researchers found out who was eating the poo by placing motion-activated cameras nearby.

“Northwestern deer mice made 4,295 total visits to the scats — an average of 8.5 a day. Northern red-backed voles visited 1,099 times at an average of 2.2 times a day,” according to the university.

You will never look at bear poop the same.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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