Monday Reads: The Meet the Pika Edition

Getting to know pika, while we still can

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It’s been a tough few days for the American Pika, who were shut out of the endangered species list, no thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These alpine rabbit cousins (don’t let those mousey ears fool you) are adapted to live in cold climates and can overheat at even a mild 78°F. Rising temperatures have pushed pikas farther and farther up their mountainous habitat—and if things don’t change, soon there will be nowhere else for them to go but extinct.

Pika aren’t just any small fuzzball. The character and antics of this scrappy flower-gathering herbivore have endeared them to scientists, hikers, and Monday Reads writers alike.

For the most part, pikas are hard working little bunnies. (Slacker pika do exist; more on that later.) Although they weigh only a third of a pound, they must collect more than 60 pounds of vegetation to survive the winter. Pikas don’t hibernate, instead hunkering down by their “haypiles” and munching on the stores through the snowy months. How come the food doesn’t spoil, you ask? The venerable David Attenborough brings us these teeny mammals in action, and tells us why:

Interestingly, researchers have observed certain saucy individuals who figure harvesting your own food is just plain too much work. They nonchalantly loiter around other pikas’ haypiles—and then help themselves once the owner has stepped out. We think you can imagine what happens when the indignant pileowner catches the thief red-pawed.

In this warming world, pika are ironically freezing to death: snowpacks that normally insulate them during the winter months are thinning, exposing the animals to deathly cold extremes. Although the pikan future may seem dim now, it’s not over yet. Stay tuned to Earthjustice for the next round in the battle for the pika.


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Shirley undertakes sous chef duties on Earthjustice’s website, serving up interactive online features for our advocacy campaign and litigation work.