American Pika

Genus: Ochotona
Species: princeps

American Pika

For years, the polar bear has been the symbol of the global warming movement. But today, the American pika has good grounds to compete with the polar bear for this unwanted honor.

American pikas are suffering because global warming has brought higher temperatures to their western mountain homes.

Pikas live in high mountain ecosystems that are cool and moist. Higher temperatures can cause the pikas to overheat.

Unlike other mountain species that can move to higher altitudes in warming climates, pikas live so high on the mountain that there is no where for them to go. Without our protection and help, American pikas could be the first species with the distinction of going extinct due to global warming. We can't let this happen!

Learn more about global warming's impact on the pika >>

Description

American pikas are small, rodent-like mammals. Although they look like a squirrel or guinea pig, they're actually more closely related to rabbits and hares. Pikas have short, stout bodies with big, round ears. They do not have a visible tail.

Pikas have brown and black fur. The fur is colored to camouflage with rocks. Pika fur is thick to keep them warm in the winter. During the summer, they put on a much lighter coat of fur--however, the fur is still thick enough that a pika might overheat if exposed to very high heat for long periods of time.

Size: Pikas are about 7-8 inches long.

Diet: Pikas are herbivores. They especially love grasses, weeds and tall wildflowers that grow in their rocky, high mountain habitat.

Pikas like to be prepared!  In the winter months, there are a lot less grasses and flowers growing in the mountains. To prepare for the lean times, pikas like to save up food during the summer. A pika will collect a pile of extra wildflowers and grasses and lay them out in the sun. The sun's heat dries the plants so they do not get moldy. The plants are stored in the pika's den until winter. 

Typical Lifespan: American pikas can live around 6-7 years. Many die after 3 or 4 years.

Habitat 

American pikas are found in alpine terrain, above the tree line, on mountains. They live on rock faces, talus and cliffs near mountain meadows. Talus is a rocky area on the side of cliffs, slopes or hillsides.

Range: American pikas live on high-elevation cool mountains west of the Rocky Mountains. They can be found in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico.

How Pikas Communicate

American pikas are often heard before they are seen. They make calls and sing to define and protect their territory, alert others to the presence of dangers and attract mates. The call sounds like the bleat of lamb, but more high-pitched and squeaky.

Life History and Reproduction

American pikas have adapted to living in very inhospitable environments. They live where most other mammals do not venture to go--the treeless slopes of mountains. It is very cold, rocky and treacherous for the tiny pika.

Pikas help protect themselves by living in colonies. They live near other pikas and will alert the group to predators by sending out a warning call. Weasels, hawks and coyotes can prey on pikas.

Although pikas live in colonies, they are very territorial over their den and surrounding area. They will give off territorial calls to define the boundaries between each pika neighbor. They make their dens among rocks.

Pikas are active in the daytime and they do not hibernate in winter. They are active throughout the year, but they tend to spend most of their time inside the den in the winter. Pikas eat stored grasses to survive and venture out to forage when the weather permits.

In early to mid-spring, American pikas begin to breed. Many pikas breed twice--once in spring and summer. The female is pregnant for a month before giving birth to a litter of 2-6 young. When born, the young cannot function on their own and they depend on their mother for care. It takes about a month for the young to be weaned and 3 months to reach an adult size. After a year, the young develop into breeding adult pikas.

Threats to American Pika

Pikas have already disappeared from more than one-third of their previously known habitat in Oregon and Nevada. The situation is so dire that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering the pika for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

 

National Wildlife Magazine
No Room At The Top - National Wildlife Magazine

No Room at the Top
High-mountain species are particularly susceptible to global warming--and North America's cold-loving pikas may be the most vulnerable of all.

Read more >>

Sources: NatureWorks, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, eNature, University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web

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