While on a trek through the wilds of Kitsi in northern Karelia, wilderness buff Veijo Immonen came face to face with an interesting sight. In the stillness of the wooded area, he detected what seemed to be a slop of lingonberry porridge on the ground.
However he soon realised that the wine-red gruel-looking substance was bear dung. The bear responsible for the meadow muffin had apparently gorged on a large amount of lingonberries before making the deposit.
According to Immonen, the stool was larger than a size 44 boot and undigested lingonberries and blueberries could be seen in the colourful mass.
Autumn feast precedes winter hibernation
The trekker said that the discharge indicated how much the animal enjoyed eating berries. He noted that bears normally feast on whatever food they can forage in the forest before the go into hibernation – and autumn berries are an important source of nutrition for them.
Bears like the one responsible for Immonen’s forest surprise are currently all tanking up ahead of the winter. Harri Nordberg of the Natural Resource Institute (Luke) in Rovaniemi said that at this time of year, bears will be out in search of berries and vegetables.
"The carbohydrates in the berries will turn into fat that the bears will use to last through a long winter without eating," Nordberg explained.
He added that a hungry bear could go through several kilograms of berries in a day.
"First the bears will eat blueberries. When they run out, they will start eating lingonberries," he noted.
Oats, fodder, meat on the menu
In addition to berries, bears foraging during the autumn may go out dining in oat fields, gorging on the crops as well as any available bales of fodder available.
"Especially if sweet molasses has been used as a preservative in the fodder, the bears will really go for them," Nordberg pointed out.
Bears are not averse to meat on the menu, so they may also bring down moose or deer to add some variety to their diets.
According to Nordberg, with winter coming, bears are now constantly on the lookout for an opportunity to fill their tanks. However before settling into hibernation, they will empty their stomachs – during winter they won’t wake from sleep for a quick trip to urinate or a bowel movement.
"Bears are very skilled at recycling urine in their bodies," he added.
The fat accumulated by the autumn binge will be used to keep the animals alive during the winter, so they will not generate any faecal matter. During hibernation, bears may burn up to half a kilogram of fat each day.
"In spite of that, they will wake up full of energy in the spring."
A well-fed bear will generally curl up for its winter sleep in October.