Bear’s Head Tooth Mushroom Vs Lion’s Mane Mushroom: 8 Key Differences

Written by Micky Moran
Published: November 30, 2023
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A few mushroom species are similar to the bear’s head tooth mushroom and the lion’s mane mushroom. With their white and spiny body, only a few differences separate these species. They even overlap in their worldwide distribution, making the ability to differentiate between them crucial. Both of these mushrooms bitter with age, so it is important to eat them quickly if you want them to taste good. Do you know which of these species is only found in North America? Here are some differences between these mushroom to set them apart.

Comparing Bear’s Head Tooth Mushrooms vs. Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Bear’s Head Tooth MushroomLion’s Mane Mushroom
ClassificationKingdom: Fungi
Phylum: Basiciomycota
Class: Agaricomycetes
Order: Russulales
Family:  Hericiaceae
Genus: Hericium
Species: Hericium americanum or Hericium abietis
Kingdom: Fungi
Phylum: Basiciomycota
Class: Agaricomycetes
Order: Russulales
Family: Hericiaceae
Genus: Hericium
Species: Hericium erinaceus
Canada and northern states in the USCanada and northern states in USNorth America, Europe, and Asia
Optimal climate requirements70-85% humidity, 65-75°F average temperature70-85% humidity, 60-70°F average temperature
Sizeup to about 8-inch wide body with spines up to 1-2 inchesMax around 9 inches wide body with half-inch spines.
ShapeCompact to somewhat branching clusters with longer spinesExtremely compact clusters with short spines
ColorWhite, yellow to brown with ageWhite, yellow to brown with age
Nutritional valueAntioxidants, fiber, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, manganese, zinc, and potassiumAntioxidants, fiber, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, manganese, zinc, and potassium
UsesGeneral cooking, specialty gourmet recipes, health supplementsGeneral cooking, specialty gourmet recipes, health supplements
FlavorSweet and light, similar to seafood/crabSweet and light, similar to seafood/crab
Seasonal harvestLate summer to early fallLate summer to fall

The Key Differences In Bear’s Head Tooth Mushroom vs. Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Bear’s Head Tooth Mushroom vs. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Location

Bear’s Head Tooth mushroom growing on a moss-covered decomposing tree in an old-growth forest

Bear’s head tooth branches out more than the tightly clumped Lion’s mane.

©Myra Thompson/Shutterstock.com

Knowing where to look for these mushrooms is a good first step to figuring out which is which. If you look for the Hericium americanum, you should look along hardwood trees like oak trees and sugar maple trees. This particular species prefers trees already in decay, primarily within the northerneastern states of the US and the lower part of Canada. It even thrives in a deciduous forest. If you are looking for Hericium abietis you should be looking amongst conifers, specifically in the Pacific Northwest.

While the lion’s mane mushroom lives in North America, it is widely dispersed. It grows on hardwoods, but those hardwoods can be in Europe or Asia as well. They primarily stay within the northern hemisphere, which is how Chinese medicine has been able to use if for generations. Asia may have the highest concentration of these mushrooms, using wood logs and stumps to source them.

Bear’s Head Tooth Mushroom vs. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Climate Requirements

If you want to grow these mushroom species, you will find a lot more information on lion’s mane. Hericium in general are considered relatively easy to cultivate. Both mushrooms are edible, but hardwood chips and sawdust are the best substrate for this one. You can also try and grow them on hardwood logs, but they need temperatures of 60-75° F for colonization and fruiting. Like any other fungus, it requires a substantial amount of humidity to grow, reaching 70-80% humidity in its surroundings to grow.

Bear’s Head Tooth Mushroom vs. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Size

Lion's mane lions Hericium erinaceus pom pom

A beautiful lion’s mane mushroom growing from a tree.

©Gertjan Hooijer/Shutterstock.com

The size is the biggest giveaway if you look at these two mushrooms next to each other. Staying true to the massiveness of the predator in its name, the bear’s head tooth mushroom’s fruity body can reach up to a foot wide. The long spines extend 1-4 inches, draping downward.

The spines of the lion’s mane mushroom give it away, growing about half an inch to create the tresses of the wild cat in its name. The fruiting bodies grow much larger, starting at 2 inches long, creating a different contrast than the former’s body.

Bear’s Head Tooth Mushroom vs. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Shape

Hericium erinaceus or lion's mane growing out of the side of a tree.

Bear’s head tooth with long spines branching out out.

©Karel Bock/Shutterstock.com

The similarities in the draping and color of the mushrooms are the only reason the shape is essential to identification. The bear’s head tooth mushroom grows relatively large, featuring clusters with trickling fungal “spines” or “teeth” draping down the tree. These tendrils look like dripping candle wax or fungus-based icicles. Once the mushroom goes from white to yellow, the flavor becomes bitter, so harvesting at this state is necessary. The crowding in the lion’s mane mushroom is slightly different, it’s much more tightly clustered but featuring similarly long spines with age.

Bear’s Head Tooth Mushroom vs. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Nutritional Value

Since both of these mushrooms are edible, understanding the nutritional content can help you match them to your dietary needs. They contain helpful nutrients, including protein, fiber, antioxidants, iron and vitamin D.

These mushrooms’ biggest nutrients come from its natural thiamine, riboflavin, and Niacin. However, they also support the body with adequate levels of necessary minerals, like zinc, potassium, and manganese.

They do contain some other compounds that are of interest to the medical community as well. Hericenones, erinacines and some other compounds have been proven to help neural regrowth in rats and is being studied for uses in humans in helping with brain health and disease prevention.

Bear’s Head Tooth Mushroom vs. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Uses

Fresh lion's mane mushroom on white background. (Yamabushitake Mushroom)

Both mushrooms have a seafood-like texture, allowing you to replace meat in recipes.

©Bowonpat Sakaew/Shutterstock.com

The main reason for harvesting both of these mushrooms is for human consumption. Bear’s head tooth mushroom works well in multiple types of cooking, but they need to be broken into chunks to cook them properly. Some people like pairing them with seafood because of their natural flavors, but they are also in recipes with big flavors like onions, garlic, and sriracha. If you buy them for your food, they won’t last more than a few days in the fridge without losing their good taste.

Lion’s mane mushrooms are also frequently found in recipes, especially for gourmet cooking. With 57% carbohydrates, they blend well in many recipes and provide some protein. Some studies show that they are medicinally used to soothe nerves.

Bear’s Head Tooth Mushroom vs. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Flavor

With the proper preparation, bear’s head tooth mushrooms become incredibly tender, releasing their nutty flavor—the meaty texture pairs with the mild taste, which may remind you of seafood. The most common comparisons to this mushroom’s flavor are lobster or crab. Cooking and consuming this fungus quickly after harvest is crucial because the nutty flavor becomes bitter without it. It would be best to cook this mushroom when it is still white to bring out the authentic taste. It works as a meat substitute in many vegan recipes, though it also pairs well with meats like chicken or beef.

Lion’s mane mushrooms have a sweet taste as well, and their texture is reminiscent of shellfish meat. With an earthy undertone, these mushrooms are similar, but are much more easily cooked in bigger steak-like batches due to their shape.

Bear’s Head Tooth Mushroom vs. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Seasonal Availability

A view of several trays of lion's mane mushrooms, on display at a local farmers market.

Getting mushrooms soon after cultivation gives you the best flavor for either variation, though bear’s head mushrooms may have a shorter consumption window.

©The Image Party/Shutterstock.com

These mushrooms are ready within the same time of the year with the proper care and cultivation. However, the bear’s head tooth mushroom usually waits until the end of the summer to start flourishing, while the lion’s mane mushroom fruiting starts a few months earlier in April. Lion’s mane mushrooms are much easier to find in nature, so some people cultivate bear’s head tooth mushrooms in controlled settings for access at any time.

Wild Bear’s Head mushrooms can be found in the late summer through early fall, while cultivated Bear’s Head mushrooms are available year-round. You will find that Lion’s Mane will be much easier to find at grocery stores as it is much more widely cultivated.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Andriy R/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Micky Moran is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering mammals, travel, marine life, and geography. He has been writing and researching animals and nature for over 5 years. A resident of Arizona, he enjoys spending time with family, going on adventures across the United States with his wife and kids by his side.

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