How big are Pikas? (Bonus Doodle)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY TWIN!! She wanted a Doodle about Pikas, so here I am, one day past my end date, doing a bonus Doodle, because she's worth it!
The word pika comes from the name used by the Tunguses tribe in northeast Siberia. American pikas have historically also been referred to by such common names as cony, rock rabbit, mouse hare, whistling hare, and piping hare. American pikas are believed to have evolved from Siberian ancestors that crossed the former land bridge between Asia and Alaska.
The American pika is a small, herbivorous mammal with thick, light brown fur. They are about six to eight inches long and weighs four to six ounces. Pikas are generally egg-shaped, with rounded ears, short legs, and no visible tail.
American pikas once lived across North America, but have been retreating upslope over the past 12,000 years. They primarily live in rocky talus slopes near alpine meadows, but are sometimes found at rocky areas along streams and in lava fields adjacent to appropriate vegetation. American pikas have adapted to living in very inhospitable environments. They live where most other mammals don't venture—the treeless slopes of mountains. It's 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 (my sister favorite thing about them, I think).
Although pikas live in colonies, they are very territorial over their den, which they build among rocks, and the surrounding area. They will give off territorial calls to define the boundaries between each pika neighbor.
Pikas are active in the daytime and they don't hibernate in winter. They are active throughout the year, but 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.
The American pika is broken into 36 subspecies based on geography and assumed metapopulation structure. Pikas inhabit mountainous regions throughout the western United States and Canada: the Rocky Mountains from northern New Mexico to central British Columbia, the Great Basin, and the Sierra Nevada of California through the Cascade Range of Oregon and Washington (Meaning: Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico, as well as western Canada).
The American pika does not migrate, but juveniles may disperse to new habitat or nearby populations. They are known to disperse as far as two kilometers, and historically may have dispersed as far as 20 kilometers.
Pikas form mated pairs each spring before snowmelt. Females bear one or two litters of two to four pups. Pikas are born blind and helpless; pups open their eyes at nine days old and generally head out on their own by four weeks old. American pikas can live to be seven years old, but most die around 3-4 years.
American pikas are generalist herbivores; most water needs are met through consumed plants. They collect vegetation and store it in haypiles as a food source for the winter months. Different plants are harvested at different times, as the nutritional value for the plants changes throughout the growing season. Pikas will cache plants with high concentrations of toxic chemicals in the haypiles that sustain them during the winter months. The toxins act like a natural preservative that make the plants last longer. Pikas will eventually eat these plants in late winter after the toxins break down.
Major threats include climate change, livestock grazing, and human disturbance. Global warming represents the gravest threat to the long-term survival of the American pika by increasing the average air temperature and the frequency of high-temperature events, which can cause pika mortality from overheating. In addition, projected increases in temperatures, increases in droughts and floods, reduced snowpack leading to “false spring” conditions, and earlier seasonal runoff may significantly alter the composition, biomass, water content, reliability, and phenology of vegetation in alpine habitat. The range of potential pika habitat is expected to shift upslope in response to increasing temperatures.
For years the polar bear has been the symbol of the climate change movement. But today the American pika has good grounds to compete with the polar bear for this unwanted honor. American pikas are suffering because climate change has brought higher temperatures to their western mountain homes. Studies of American pika populations in the Great Basin range of Nevada and southern Oregon and in the Sierra Nevada range of California have found recent population losses, resulting in upslope shifts in range. In the Great Basin, average elevations of pika populations have risen as much as 900 feet (275 meters) in recent decades, lower elevation sites have been lost, and nine of 25 historic pika populations have recently been wiped out.