American pika

Although looking like a mouse, they are the smallest member of the rabbit family

Alan D. Wilson

With its stout, compact body and distinctive large, round ears, this small mammal is perfectly adapted to its high-altitude environment. Sporting a coat that ranges in color from black to brown, the American pika blends seamlessly among the rocky terrain, utilizing its camouflage to evade potential predators.

A key feature of the American pika’s survival strategy is its ability to cope with the extreme temperature fluctuations of its alpine habitat. During the harsh winter months, the pika’s coat thickens, providing essential insulation against the biting cold. In contrast, as temperatures rise in the summer, the pika’s coat becomes lighter, helping to prevent overheating in the intense alpine sun. However, despite its adaptive traits, prolonged exposure to high temperatures poses a significant threat to the American pika, particularly in the face of climate change and escalating global temperatures.

Unlike many other small mammals, the American pika does not hibernate during the winter months. Instead, it employs a remarkable strategy to ensure its survival through the cold and snow-covered winters. Throughout the summer and early autumn, the pika diligently gathers grasses and other vegetation from its alpine surroundings. It then carefully dries these grasses in the sun before storing them in carefully constructed haypiles within its rocky habitat. These meticulously prepared caches of dried vegetation serve as essential food reserves for the pika during the long winter months when fresh forage is scarce.

The American pika’s ability to thrive in the alpine environment is closely linked to its habitat preferences and ecological role. Found primarily in rocky talus slopes and boulder fields above the treeline, the pika relies on the intricate network of crevices and burrows within these rocky habitats for shelter and protection. These unique microhabitats provide the pika with refuge from predators and harsh weather conditions, allowing it to carve out a niche existence in the challenging alpine landscape.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Canada
2016
Alberta, British Columbia
United States
2016

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Group

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No