American Pika

While the American pika (Ochotona princeps) may resemble a rodent, they are anything but! Believe it or not, the American pika is actually a relative of the rabbit. These hardy herbivores live in rugged, high-alpine terrain — spending their lives above the treeline. Despite living in colonies, pikas are highly protective of their dens and can be quite vocal when defending their turf.

American pikas, believed to have evolved from a Siberian ancestor, are well-adapted for cold-weather living. With thick fur covering their feet and bodies, these small mammals thrive in rocky areas and cliffs near mountain meadows. When it comes to a meal, they’re not too picky. They’ve been known to eat a variety of grasses, weeds, and flowers. During the summer months, pikas stockpile forage and dry it in the sun for consumption during the long winter months.

Having evolved for a life in the cold, the American pika’s survival is currently being threatened by a changing climate. While some wild climate refugees can relocate to more hospitable environments, these pikas, which already live above the treeline, are quickly running out of places to go. With climate change comes new challenges for the pika that threaten their long-term survival. These threats include extreme weather events, overheating, reduced snowpack, new predators and a change in vegetation.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, in Nevada, “Pikas have already disappeared from more than one-third of their previously known habitat.” However, despite the challenges that pikas are presented with, they are not listed under the Endangered Species Act. Without protection, climate change could potentially lead to the extinction of this little critter.

Denise Peterson

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