Sci Sun: The Picky Pika   Leave a comment

In nature, everything has its’ place. Some plants and animals live where it’s dry; others are found in places that are wet. There are species that only live in forests; others that won’t stray from grasslands. For example, here’s the American Pika (Ochotona princeps)a small rabbit-like animal from high in the mountains of Western North America, living in rocky fields and alpine areas at around 10,000 feet or higher, far above the treeline.

Life can be hard at that elevation, there’s usually just a few small plants and lots of rocks. Lots and LOTS of rocks. But the Pika has lived there for thousands of years and is used to it. Over time he’s developed special adaptations, ways of living, that helps him fit into his rocky home: The Pika eat small grasses and flowers, collecting them in the spring and summer then drying and saving them underground for later. They live in burrows and spaces between the rocks, and are the only member of the rabbit family (the Lagamorphs) that typically communicates with loud, frequent squeeks – among all those rocks, it’s easier to hear your neighbor than see him!  Pika are only about 6 to 8 inches long and weigh between 4 and 6 ounces. That’s less than a very small glass of water!

In fact, Pika have become so acclimated – used to living in a specific area – that they must have these difficult living conditions to survive. The cold, the wind, the little food, the rocks – without this specific environment that would be hard for most, the Pika can’t live. But now many environments on the Earth are becoming warmer, and the American Pika, along with other Alpine wildlife, are suffering. As their mountain homes grow warmer, the Pika move further up the mountains in search of the cold they are used to. But the further they go, the less food there is. And it’s harder to find safe homes with fewer and fewer places to look. Pika are not long-distance travelers, seldom moving more than a few yards from their home, so they can’t travel far. They are trapped among the mountains with nowhere to go. Over the past years some entire groups of Pika have disappeared from home environments they have lived in for generations, and scientists are concerned if the environment continues to get hotter, Pika might be endanger of becoming extinct, gone forever.

It’s important that we are all aware of how our actions affect others. No one, not even the best scientists and researchers, are completely certain why the Earth is getting warmer and wildlife is suffering, but most agree that the actions of humans are making things worse. Over the years people have put chemicals into the environment, changed the balance of natural systems, and overwhelmed environments that have been healthy for generations; so it will take many more years, and much thought and work, to help the environment return to health. That’s not to say humans are bad – We’re all part of the natural systems, too. But we can all make the best decisions of how to use and care for the earth and its’ resources. The Pika, though, must be picky – they don’t have a choice.

American Pika WIKI sevenstar

“Best salad bar around. Wish they had those crackers with the little seeds, though.”

Dig in and learn more about the Pika and the challenges they face:

http://www.mnh.si.edu/mna/image_info.cfm?species_id=225

http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ochotona_princeps.html

http://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/ucbn/monitor/pika/pika_group/index.cfm

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