Do Deer Eat Mushrooms ? A Deep Dive into Wild Mushrooms as Food Source for Deer

Deer Feed, Deer Nutrition and Dietary Requirements
Do Deer Eat Mushrooms

Wandering through the forest in autumn, you spot a buck munching on a mushroom poking up from the litter of leaves. This sight sparks the question – why do deer eat mushrooms? Are fungi a key part of a deer’s diet, and if so, which mushrooms do deer prefer? Let’s explore the science behind deer consuming mushrooms and fungi in the wild.

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An Introduction to Deer as Opportunistic Mushroom-Eaters

While primarily herbivores that graze on greens, twigs, acorns, and other plant foods, deer also take advantage of mushrooms whenever they encounter them while foraging. In fact, deer are categorized as “opportunistic mycophages,” animals that will eat fungi like mushrooms and truffles whenever available.

But what appeals to deer about wild mushrooms? Consuming fungi provides crucial nutrients and variety in a deer’s diet. Mushrooms contain protein, vitamins, carbohydrates, minerals, antioxidants, and water – all beneficial components, especially in winter when deer struggle to find plants to eat. Overall, deer gain significant nutritional value from edible mushrooms.

While not all deer species consume fungi, most will take advantage of mushroom growths when discovered while browsing. Next, let’s explore which deer are known to eat mushrooms and their preferred varieties.

Deer Species Known to Consume Wild Mushrooms

Many deer enjoy eating fungi, but some types are more attracted to mushrooms than others:

White-Tailed Deer

The white-tailed deer is the most prevalent deer in the United States and a fungus fanatic. It eagerly consumes available mushrooms like chanterelles, chicken of the woods, and oyster mushrooms.

Mule Deer

The mule deer of western North America also readily eats wild mushrooms when it comes across them while foraging. Mule deer are especially fond of puffballs.


Reindeer frequently eat mushrooms and lichens, an important food source. The reindeer’s digestive system harbors symbiotic fungi called basidiomycetes that help it derive nutrients from fungi.


Elk consume fungi like morels, puffballs, and truffles when available in their habitat. However, elk eat a lower percentage of mushrooms compared to their total diet than white-tailed and mule deer.


Moose eat mushrooms along with twigs, bark, water plants, and other forage. Moose appear less inclined toward fungi than deer but still take advantage of mushrooms they encounter.

So most deer enjoy mushrooms, but some species gorge on them more than others. What is it about mushrooms that make them appealing to deer? Let’s break down the nutrition next.

The Nutritional Value of Wild Mushrooms for Deer To Eat

Mushrooms provide essential dietary components deer need:


  • Deer require protein to build strong muscles, and mushrooms contain all 9 essential amino acids for complete protein.
  • The protein content of raw mushrooms averages around 3 grams per 100g serving, providing needed protein intake.


  • Mushrooms offer complex carbohydrates for energy. Carbs allow deer to retain heat in winter when they burn more calories.
  • Raw mushrooms contain around 5 grams of carbs per 100g serving on average.

Vitamins & Minerals

B Vitamins like NiacinSupport metabolic function
RiboflavinAids growth and reproduction
SeleniumBoosts immune health
CopperFormation of bones and blood
  • Mushrooms provide B vitamins, selenium, copper, and other micronutrients vital to deer health.

Water Content

  • Mushrooms have a high water composition, providing hydration. Deer often struggle to get enough water in winter.
  • The water content of raw mushrooms averages around 90g per 100g serving.

Besides essential nutrients, mushrooms offer antioxidants to counter aging and prebiotics to support good gut bacteria. Overall, they are a nutritious supplementary food source for deer survival.

The Fungi Varieties Deer Love to Feast On – Kinds of Mushrooms

Do Deer Eat Mushrooms

While deer eat a wide variety of edible mushrooms, they do have their preferred varieties:


Deer relish puffball mushrooms. They nibble on the outer skin and consume the powdery spore mass inside giant puffballs. Common puffballs deer eat include:

  • Earthballs – Scleroderma species clustered on forest floors
  • Gem-studded Puffballs – Lycoperdon perlatum with spiky warty covering
  • Pear-shaped Puffballs – Lycoperdon pyriforme growing in woods and meadows

Oyster Mushrooms

Deer forage on the shelf-like caps of oyster mushrooms feeding on dead trees. Favored oyster mushrooms include:

  • Elm Oyster – Hypsizygus ulmarius on dead elm trees
  • Golden Oyster – Pleurotus citrinopileatus with bright yellow caps


Morels are a prized edible mushroom deer relish. They savor both the brown cap and hollow stem.

  • Black Morels – Morchella elata fruiting in spring beneath elm, ash, and cottonwood trees.
  • Yellow Morels – Morchella esculenta arising in orchards, river bottoms, and old apple orchards in spring.


Chanterelle mushrooms have a fruity aroma and meaty texture deer can’t resist. Types deer graze on include:

  • Golden Chanterelle – Cantharellus cibarius growing abundantly in summer and fall
  • White Chanterelle – Cantharellus subalbidus found under conifers


Deer detect truffles through scent and dig up truffles buried in the soil with their hooves. Favored truffle treats include:

  • Oregon Black Truffle – Leucangium carthusianum native to the Pacific Northwest
  • Oregon White Truffle – Tuber oregonense found in Douglas fir forests

Now that we know deer’s preferred mushrooms, next we’ll explore whether they can eat poisonous fungi.

Can Deer Consume Poisonous Mushrooms?

There are mushrooms toxic to humans that deer appear able to eat without ill effects, such as:

Amanita muscariaFly agaric
Omphalotus illudensJack o’lantern mushroom
Amanita phalloidesDeath cap mushroom

Deer likely have adapted to metabolize the poisonous compounds in these mushrooms. Their digestive system may deactivate toxins inactive.

However, deer do avoid severely toxic mushrooms like false morels, which contain a neurotoxin. And they are selective in choosing mushrooms, indicating they can distinguish poisonous versus edible fungi.

When and Where Do Deer Hunt for Fungi?

Deer will feed on mushrooms whenever and wherever they grow within the deer’s home range:


Morel mushrooms emerge in spring, providing a bounty for deer. Fungi like dryad’s saddle and oyster mushrooms also proliferate.


Deer graze on chanterelles and chicken of the woods mushrooms fruiting during the warm summer months.


The diversity of wild mushrooms peaks in fall. Deer feast on abundant bonnet mushrooms, puffballs, and shiitake mushrooms. Truffles also reach maximum maturation in fall.


In winter when plant food is scarce, deer still root out frozen truffles and gnaw on tough polypore mushrooms attached to tree bark.

In terms of location, deer will find mushrooms wherever conditions are right for fungi to fruit. Prime spots include mature forests, edges of woods and fields, wetlands near streams, and even suburban neighborhoods.

Do All Deer Like to Consume Mushrooms?

While most deer enjoy mushrooms, some individuals prefer them more than others. Here are factors that influence a deer’s fondness for fungi:


Younger deer tend to be more inquisitive and experimental with new foods like mushrooms. Older deer can be more cautious.

Health Status

Deer in poor health or with dental issues may avoid mushrooms, which require more chewing than tender greens.

Environmental Conditions

In starved conditions like winter or drought, deer become less selective and eat more fungi for sustenance.

Genetic Differences

Subtle genetic differences may predispose some deer to enjoy mushrooms more than others.

So a deer’s age, health, and environmental conditions influence its interest in mushrooms. But most deer relish fungi when available as a supplementary food.

The Relationship between Deer and Endophytic Fungi in Forest Ecosystems

Do Deer Eat Mushrooms

In addition to their role in dispersing and interacting with mushrooms, deer also play a part in the intricate relationship with endophytic fungi. Endophytic fungi are microorganisms that live within the tissues of plants without causing apparent harm. These fungi can have a profound impact on the health and resilience of the plants they inhabit.

Deer, as herbivores, frequently consume a range of plant species that harbor endophytic fungi. As they browse and graze on vegetation, deer unwittingly ingest the fungi along with the plant material. This ingestion can facilitate the transfer of endophytic fungi between different plant species through the digestive system of the deer.

The Presence of Endophytic Fungi in Deer-Damaged Vegetation

Deer browsing behaviors often cause physical damage to plants, such as the removal of leaves or twigs, and the creation of open wounds. These open wounds provide entry points for endophytic fungi into the plant tissues. The fungi establish themselves inside the plants and form intricate symbiotic relationships.

Endophytic fungi can confer various benefits to the plants they colonize, including increased resistance to herbivory, enhanced nutrient uptake, and improved tolerance to environmental stressors. Therefore, the presence of endophytic fungi in deer-damaged vegetation can potentially help the plants recover and thrive in the face of browsing pressure.

The Influence of Deer Browsing on Endophytic Fungal Diversity

Deer browsing can have contrasting effects on the diversity of endophytic fungi. On one hand, intense browsing pressure can lead to the loss of certain plant species that harbor specific endophytic fungi. This can result in a reduction in fungal diversity within the ecosystem.

On the other hand, deer browsing can create disturbances and open up new ecological niches for colonization by endophytic fungi. The damaged plant tissues and the associated changes in nutrient availability and microenvironmental conditions may attract new endophytic fungal species. This can contribute to an increase in the overall diversity of endophytic fungi within the habitat.

Understanding the complex interactions between deer, endophytic fungi, and plant communities provides insights into the resilience and functioning of forest ecosystems. The role of deer in facilitating the transfer and colonization of endophytic fungi highlights the intricate web of relationships that shape the health and dynamics of these ecosystems.

Key Takeaways on Deer Consuming Wild Mushrooms

  • As opportunistic mycophages, most deer species will eat mushrooms when encountered while foraging.
  • Deer favor puffballs, morels, chanterelles, oysters, and truffles as choice edible mushrooms.
  • Deer gain protein, vitamins, minerals, carbs, antioxidants, and water from nutritious fungi.
  • Mushrooms help deer meet nutritional needs, especially in winter when plant foods are scarce.
  • Deer feed on mushrooms year-round wherever they grow across the deer’s range.
  • While deer avoid deadly poisonous mushrooms, they can eat fungi toxic to humans.
  • Younger, healthy deer in starvation conditions have the greatest taste for mushrooms and fungi.

Seeing a deer munching on a mushroom or rooting up a truffle is a reminder of how they opportunistically consume fungi across seasons. Deer benefit from mushrooms as a supplemental food to meet their nutritional needs.

FAQs On Do Deer Eat Mushrooms :

Do Deer Eat Mushrooms?

Yes, deer do eat mushrooms. They are known to consume a variety of mushrooms as part of their diet.

What types of mushrooms do deer eat?

Deer may eat different kinds of mushrooms, including oyster mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms. They have a preference for a variety of mushrooms that are available in their habitat.

Are all mushrooms suitable for deer consumption?

No, not all mushrooms are suitable for deer to eat. While some mushrooms are safe and provide a food source for deer, there are also poisonous mushrooms that can be harmful to them. Deer should avoid eating poisonous mushrooms.

Do mushrooms contain any nutritional value for deer?

Yes, mushrooms contain some nutritional value for deer. They provide dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals that can contribute to a healthy diet for the deer. However, mushrooms should be consumed in moderation.

Are there any mushrooms that are specifically preferred by deer?

Deer tend to prefer certain mushrooms over others. While their preferences may vary among different deer species, they generally enjoy mushrooms that are readily available in their natural environment.

Can they eat mushrooms poisonous for deer without getting sick?

No, deer should avoid eating poisonous mushrooms as they can be harmful or even fatal to them. Deer do not have the necessary enzymes to break down the toxins present in poisonous mushrooms, making it dangerous for them to consume.

Do mushrooms also provide any benefits to deer besides nourishment?

Yes, mushrooms provide benefits to deer besides being a food source. They help improve digestion and provide important nutrients that contribute to overall health and well-being of the deer.

Do all deer species eat mushrooms?

While eating mushrooms is not exclusive to all deer species, many deer species are opportunistic mycophages, which means they are known to consume mushrooms as part of their diet.

Do deer actively search for mushrooms?

Deer are herbivores and their diet primarily consists of plants, leaves, and grass. While they may not actively search for mushrooms, they will consume them if they come across them while foraging.

Do deer play a role in the dispersal of mushrooms and fungi?

Yes, deer can play a role in the dispersal of mushrooms and fungi. When deer consume mushrooms, the spores may pass through their digestive system and be dispersed in their feces, contributing to the spread and growth of mushrooms.

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