Species Spotlight: Pika

Pika, © Wendy Shattil & Bob Rozinski/naturepl.com

© Wendy Shattil & Bob Rozinski/naturepl.com
Dwelling high in western mountains, American pikas bear little resemblance to their closest cousin—the rabbit. More like hamsters in appearance, pikas lead a mostly solitary life, fiercely defending their rocky burrows from trespassing animals—especially other pikas—with piercing squeaks.

Once these home-bodies establish a territory, they like to stay put—gathering fresh grasses and flowers in piles to dry in the summer sun. Before snow covers its mountain home, a pika can store up two feet of this hay in its burrow to survive on during the winter months.

But lately, the pika’s population has plummeted, and researchers think climate change is to blame. Hotter summer temperatures may be keeping the cool-weather critters cooped up in their lairs and not allowing them enough time to gather food. Climate change could also be reducing the quality of their food and impacting their health.

Warmer winters with less snow are also a problem. Pikas depend on heavy snowfalls for shelter. A dense snow pack works like a blanket or an igloo—keeping temperatures in the burrow just above freezing. Without enough snow, pikas are exposed to sub-zero mountain winds that can freeze them to death.

No amount of squeaking from this rock rabbit is going to keep global warming at bay. But if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally grants this mountain mammal the endangered status it’s due, the pika just might get some of the help it needs to weather this storm.

More Articles from Spring 2010

These tough predators will battle grizzlies, but they're no match for climate change
The drive to produce biofuels adds to the pressures on vulnerable prairie chickens
Freshwater mussels may not be cute, but we can’t afford to ignore them
The first Earth Day was conceived by the late Senator Gaylord Nelson as a day of learning. In response, schools nationwide organized environmental “teach-ins.”
Like wildebeest on the Serengeti or salmon in the Pacific Northwest, monarch butterflies take part in an epic migration.
With its eight arms you might say an octopus is “handy,” but handy with a tool?
Jaguars may finally get the protection they deserve in the American Southwest now that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has agreed to create a recovery plan for the imperiled felines.
Sad record was set in Florida last year: the most manatee deaths—429—ever in state waters.
Last year saw a record-high 17 deaths of the endangered big cats on Florida roadways—with one of these still under investigation. In 2008, 10 panthers were killed by vehicles.
Last year saw a record-high 17 deaths of the endangered big cats on Florida roadways—with one of these still under investigation. In 2008, 10 panthers were killed by vehicles.
EPA Upholds Pesticide Ban—Lions Still Imperiled; North Carolina Bridge Goes Nowhere; Defenders Sues to Protect Water and Wildlife; Defenders Receives Nature’s Path Award
This is the heart of wolf country in the West, a place where Defenders of Wildlife is helping ranchers keep both their flocks and resident wolves safe.
Its name may sound silly, but the bobolink is a serious songster—and a world-class traveler. These dark birds sail the night skies, migrating to grasslands, hayfields and meadows in North and South America—a round trip that’s about 12,500 miles long.

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