Cute Animals: The Pika
A close relative to the rabbit or hare, the pika is a small mammal that is generally between six and nine inches long. Similar to rabbits they have both short tails and limbs and can hop in order to get away from predators. Predators include large birds, foxes and ferrets. Unlike rabbits, however, which tend to be silent animals, the pika makes some extraordinary noises in order to claim its burrow as its own. Pikas, depending on their species, either create burrows or, more commonly, live within crevaces in rocky mountains. The American pika (found mainly in the mountains of western North America) will sometimes live in mine tailings or within piles of scrap lumber. This species does not dig its own burrows, but instead finds ideal spots for itself. It may dig, however, if it deems it necessary to make their home a little bigger. Some species of pika, including the American pika, change colour over the year, with their fur also getting longer as winter begins to set in.
Some species of pika live in family groups where they all assist with keeping watch and collecting food, whereas others live solitarily outside of the mating season. Mating occurs when two opposite sex pikas live in burrows next to one another, and if there is more than one male then the female can decide which she would rather mate with. The female will produce two litters each year, with around three babies per litter.
Food & water
The pika, in order to gain maximum nutrition from its food, will eat its own feces (which is soft and green). After passing it a second time it will appear more pellet-like. This is something that rabbits do, also. This is very useful to the pika, which does not hibernate but instead lives on hay that it has collected before the winter has begun, so feces can also be stored in order to consume when needed. The hay that they collect also provides them with warm bedding. In order to create this hay the pika will collect grasses which it will lay in stacks in order to dry out in the sun, bringing it to its burrow when it has turned into hay. Pikas have been known to fight over their hay if another has tried to steal it.
Pikas do not need to drink water, since there is plenty for their needs within the foods that they eat. If they come across available water, however, they are likely take a drink. The fact that they gain enough water from their food is not an accident, though; they will actively select plants with a high water content. Not only this, but they will choose foods which are high in calories and protiens.
Climate change & the American pika
The American pika cannot survive if temperatures reach around 25.5 degrees celcius. In this heat they can die within six hours, so they often seek shade and become inactive on warm days, although the summer months are when the pika should be most active in order to store food for the winter. They cannot migrate easily unless there is higher ground for them to move to. In some places in North America pikas can live in higher temperatures due to adaptation. Many, however, have not yet adapted and are heavily threatened by climate change.