Deer are adorable animals living in a variety of ecosystems. Most deer live in deciduous forests, in the mountains, but also in grasslands, wetlands, and even in arid scrublands. A deer’s diet varies based on plant availability and seasonality, and mushrooms are something all these habitats have in most seasons. But do deer eat mushrooms? And if yes, what kind?
Do Deer Eat Mushrooms?
Deer eat a variety of mushrooms. While mushrooms don’t represent the main component of a deer’s diet due to their ephemeral nature, they pack numerous essential nutrients, such as proteins and vitamins. They also are easily digestible. Specialists believe that deer are opportunistic mycophages, eating mushrooms whenever they encounter them while searching for other foods.
Mushrooms and fungi grow in dark and humid places. Forests, woods, wetlands, and grasslands are generally humid environments. In warmer (but not hot) weather – generally in spring and fall – mushrooms can emerge after a rain.
They can grow in a variety of places, but most wild mushrooms emerge from under the leaf litter at the base of trees. Mushrooms can also grow on other types of decaying organic matter, including dung deposits or on tree trunks and protruding tree roots.
Deer are opportunistic herbivorous animals. They are not picky eaters, and food selection is more of a matter of seasonal availability and relative abundance rather than strict preference. However, the deer’s vegetarian diet often lacks important nutrients, such as proteins and phosphorus.
A lack of adequate nutrition can result in debilitation and death of adult deer, but nutritional deficiencies in pregnant females can have even more devastating consequences. They often result in poor fetal development and higher mortality rates in newborns while also increasing the chances of fawn abandonment.
Although ephemeral, mushrooms have a high protein content and are rich in minerals and vitamins. They also contain a lot of water. Thus, deer will eat mushrooms whenever they happen to come across them.
What Type Of Mushrooms Do Deer Eat?
Deer eat a variety of mushrooms, including some wild species that are poisonous for humans. They can eat them thanks to their microbial symbionts in the stomach. Moreover, deer generally taste the new found foods to see if they make them sick.
The table below shows what deer species eat some of the most popular types of mushrooms:
|Wild mushroom species
|Deer species that eat it
|Mule deer, elks, moose
|White-tailed deer, black-tailed deer
|Red deer, roe deer, European fallow deer
|All deer species
|Chinese water deer, sika deer
|All deer species in the northern hemisphere
|Most deer species
Note: The table above includes some of the most common edible mushrooms that both deer and humans can consume. However, deer eat approximately 50 types of mushrooms, fungi, and lichen species, some of which are poisonous for humans.
As you have noticed, not all deer eat the same type of mushrooms. This happens due to availability, because certain mushroom types only grow in specific habitats.
Can They Be Poisonous For Deer?
Mushrooms are rarely poisonous for deer. Unlike humans, deer have more specialized guts that can tolerate certain toxins. As such, not only can they eat poisonous mushrooms, but they can also eat other plants known for their toxicity, such as skunk cabbage or false hellebore.
Specialists believe that, in addition to their gut microbiome, deer can eat a certain amount of toxic plants thanks to their varied diets.
Deer eat more than one type of vegetation in a meal, and this combination of plants is believed to minimize the toxic effects of poisonous foods.
When Do Deer Eat Mushrooms? (Seasons)
Deer eat mushrooms whenever they find them. However, mushrooms don’t grow in all seasons.
Most mushrooms grow at temperatures between 55°F and 60°F. In temperate climates, these temperatures correspond to early spring and late fall. There are some exceptions, and some mushrooms also grow in summer and winter, but finding them in these seasons is challenging.
In addition to temperatures, the growth of mushrooms is also dependent on humidity. Depending on the species, mushrooms need an air humidity between 50% and 90%. This is why most mushrooms emerge after rain and are hard to find on dryer days.
The seasonality and diversity of mushrooms consumed by deer vary with the habitat and environmental conditions. Mushroom availability can vary from season to season and year to year. In general, old forests contain a higher diversity of mushrooms and fungi compared to new forests or non-forested areas.
In addition to epigeous mushrooms, deer also consume a variety of fungi that grow on the vegetation they eat and spores that have landed on said vegetation.
Why Do Deer Eat Mushrooms?
The main reason deer eat mushrooms is their nutritional value. A deer’s plant-based diet is poor in protein and some minerals and vitamins. Mushrooms contain some of these nutrients and also have a high protein content.
Another quality that herbivores in general, and deer in particular, seek in their foods is digestibility. Mushrooms contain a lot of water and are highly digestible. They are also very nutritious.
To understand why deer eat mushrooms, know that most of the plants deer forage on contain between 8% and 22% crude proteins. By comparison, crude proteins account for up to 44% of a mushroom’s dry weight. Not all mushrooms contain so many proteins, but most mushrooms contain more proteins than other plants deer consume.
In addition to proteins, mushrooms contain vitamins and minerals. Phosphorus is one of the most important nutrients that lacks in most other foods deer eat. Besides phosphorus, mushrooms also contain potassium, iron, and selenium. They are also rich in B vitamins, including thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and niacin.
Vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, and choline are other nutrients deer get from mushrooms.
Some of these nutrients are also available in other plants. However, the higher digestibility of mushrooms combined with their nutritional value and amount of carbs means that deer get more energy and nutrients from mushrooms compared to other foods.
This is why mushrooms represent an important addition to the deer’s diet, especially in late fall when the herbivores prepare for winter.
In addition to nutrients, mushrooms are also a good source of water. However, the high water proportion compared to the dry mass requires deer to eat large volumes to obtain nutritional benefits.
Depending on species, between 80% and 92% of a mushroom’s fresh weight is water. As explained above, such a high water content makes them highly digestible. However, while they can provide some hydration, the water contained by the mushrooms is quickly absorbed and has little effect on the rumen.
Beyond all nutritional benefits, deer eat mushrooms simply because they like them. While cervids are not picky eaters, there are certain plants that they do not eat. Yet, they seem to prefer mushrooms. Thus, it is very probable that they consider them a tasty snack.
Mushrooms only make a sporadic contribution to a deer’s diet. Nonetheless, they are an important source of nutrients, especially in mushroom-rich environments and in pre-winter periods when these herbivores have to accumulate as much energy as possible. Deer seem to prefer mushrooms over other plant species and feed on them whenever possible. Not only do deer eat a variety of mushrooms humans also consume, but they can also feed on poisonous mushrooms and fungi. Beyond the health and nutritional benefits of mushrooms, deer most likely eat them because they are palatable.
Read More About Deer: