Guinea-pig-sized mammals called pikas scurry among tumbled rocks in high mountain meadows. Despite their little rounded ears and squeaky calls, pikas are not related to mice or guinea pigs. Pikas are the smallest cousins of rabbits and hares.
Although pikas are cute and pint-sized, these furry critters are tough and well adapted to their rocky alpine habitat. They thrive in cold, snowy and windy places at elevations higher than trees can grow.
Scientists are investigating what will happen to pikas as earth’s changing climate causes different weather conditions in the alpine tundra. Hotter summer temperatures and less winter snow could be a double whammy against survival for pikas.
“Hay” Piles for Munching
Right now, it is winter and this pika is hungry. He scrambles up his tunnel through the snow pack to a stockpile of plant material he gathered during summer and early fall. His pile of twigs, grasses, leaves and berries is stashed under a rock overhang to help keep it dry. In this shelter, he munches on some dried leaves at the edge of his “haystack.” Between bites he watches for any weasel on the prowl for a pika meal.
Snoozing Below the Snow
Once pika’s hunger is satisfied, he will return to his den in the talus. Talus is a rockslide full of rocks that bounced, rolled and slid down a mountain or got pushed by a glacier. The jumble of boulders and broken rocks creates protective overhangs and spaces for escape tunnels and dens. It’s a perfect pika home site.
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