American pika: the adorable trolls of the mountain tops — Species Account

A Quick Intro

Hello! And welcome to the fascinating world of wildlife! So glad you could stop by. If you enjoy watching videos on Facebook of adorable sea otters rolling around or porcupines sneezing, this might be the blog for you! Or… maybe not. In this blog, we are going to explore some of the world’s most specialized creatures and dive into the environmental and conservation issues that they are facing. Specialized creatures are the animals that usually end up on endangered species lists because of their reliance on one particular habitat or their inability to adapt quickly to changes. So, in other words, in the face of climate change, things aren’t looking good for the animals I will be discussing in this blog. I am going to tell the stories of the animals who don’t have a voice to speak up on their own and dig deep into the questions that many species of the Anthropocene may be asking, “How we survive?” “How do we remain?” “How do we continue to be ‘the wild’?”

The fact of the matter is, though, that most of the endangered and specialized species in the world are animals that you probably didn’t even know existed. But… fair warning, this is because they are not always as large and ferocious as mountain lions or as beautiful and majestic as the macaws.

Sometimes they look like this lady… the giant weta.

giant weta

But, don’t worry… I will ween you into it. We will start off my first blog post with my personal favorite, an animal that, I promise, will forever be one of the cutest animals of all time. The only issue is, you still have probably never heard of them unless you’ve hiked a mountain in the Rockies, which narrows down the audience quite a bit. They are the endearing little trolls that hide away in rocky outcrops called talus at the top of mountains. Above the treeline, where the oxygen is little, the elusive American pika scurries.

American Pika (Ochotona princeps)

American pika.
American pika

Although they look somewhat like a chubby vole or squirrel, pika are actually relatives of rabbits and hares. Just like rabbits, they have extremely thick coats that help them stay warm through the harsh long winters of high elevation climates. The American pika dwells in talus slopes and fields as well as in some lower elevation lava flow habitats all over the Rocky Mountains of the western U.S. and Canada. When pika are juveniles, they make one big move in attempts to disperse (which can be anywhere from 3-30 km!) to a neighboring talus field, but once settled, they tend to stay in the same talus all their lives (which can be up to 7 years!), without traveling more than 1 km. Pika rely on the talus for protection from predators, their unique diet, and refuge from warm temperatures in the summer and bone-chilling cold in the winter. They also use the talus to store their food for the winter in what we call haypiles because unlike many small mammals, pika don’t hibernate. All year round, they guard their haypiles and territories with a fearless call, “MEEP!”

Pika Conversation.

The pika is sort of an ecosystem engineer in the talus. Pika help the talus landscape increase levels of plant biodiversity by spreading seeds around when they are feeding, making haypiles, and defecating (pooping). And let’s just say, pika feed on a very interesting assortment of food: grasses, forbs, flowers, scat (their own and other animal’s) and even bird brains. On the other hand, pika are also prey to various small carnivores like falcons, eagles, foxes, and weasels so they intensify biodiversity in higher levels of the food chain as well.

pika haypile in a talus field

Up next we will discuss the environmental issues that the American pika faces: American pika: the adorable trolls of the mountain tops — The Environmental Issue

If you would like to check out more animals on the Endangered Species List on your own, please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of Threaten/Endangered Species in the U.S. and Foreign Countries.

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Erb, L. P.; Ray, C.; Guralnick, R. Determinants of pika population density vs. occupancy in the Southern Rocky Mountains. Ecol. Appl. 2014, 24 (3), 429–435. (accessed Feb 27, 2017).

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Millar, C. I.; Westfall, R. D. Distribution and Climatic Relationships of the American Pika (Ochotona princeps) in the Sierra Nevada and Western Great Basin, U.S.A.; Periglacial Landforms as Refugia in Warming Climates. Arctic, Antarct. Alp. Res. 2010, 42 (4), 493–496. (accessed Feb 27, 2017).

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Morrison, S. F.; Hik, D. S. Demographic analysis of a declining pika Ochotona collaris population: Linking survival to broad-scale climate patterns via spring snowmelt patterns. J. Anim. Ecol. 2007, 76 (5), 899–907. (accessed Feb 27, 2017).

Moyer-Horner, L.; Beever, E. A.; Johnson, D. H.; Biel, M.; Belt, Predictors of Current and Longer-Term Patterns of Abundance of American Pikas (Ochotona princeps) across a Leading-Edge Protected Area. J. PLoS One 2016, 11 (11). (accessed Feb 27, 2017).

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Images and Videos:
Image 1: Thompson, W. American pika disappearing from Western Regions. (accessed Feb 27, 2017). 

Image 2: Tinker, D. We're Not Mountain Lion About These Facts. (accessed Feb 28, 2017).

Image 3: Unknown. Flatter Scarlet Macaw. (accessed Feb 28, 2017).

Image 3: Simon. M. Absurd Creatures: Meet The Wonderful Bug That's As Big as a Gerbil. (accessed Feb 28, 2017).

Image 4: LePrieur, T. Furry Friday: Pikas. (accessed Feb 28, 2017).

Video 1: Ryser, J. Pika Conversation. (accessed Feb 28, 2017).

Image 5: Slichter, P. Wildflower Bloom in Central and Eastern Washington. (accessed Feb 28, 2017).



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