Pondweeds (Potamogeton spp.) are common foods of waterfowl throughout the Northern Hemisphere. However, consumption of pondweeds by bears has been noted only once, in Russia. We documented consumption of pondweed rhizomes by grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) in the Yellowstone region, 1977-96, during investigations of telemetry locations obtained from 175 radiomarked bears. We documented pondweed excavations at 25 sites and detected pondweed rhizomes in 18 feces. We observed grizzly bears excavating and consuming pondweed on 2 occasions. All excavations occurred in wetlands that were inundated during and after snowmelt, but dry by late August or early September of most years. These wetlands were typified by the presence of inflated sedge (Carex vesicaria) and occurred almost exclusively on plateaus of Pliocene-Pleistocene detrital sediments or volcanic rhyolite flows. Bears excavated wetlands with pondweeds when they were free of standing water, most commonly during October and occasionally during spring prior to the onset of terminal snowmelt. Most excavations were about 4.5 cm deep, 40 cubic decimeter (dm3) in total volume, and targeted the thickened pondweed rhizomes. Starch content of rhizomes collected near grizzly bear excavations averaged 28% (12% SD; n = 6). These results add to the documented diversity of grizzly bear food habits and, because pondweed is distributed circumboreally, also raise the possibility that consumption of pondweed by grizzly bears has been overlooked in other regions.
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Consumption of pondweed rhizomes by Yellowstone grizzly bears