What is an American Pika? How are they being affected by Climate Change?
The American Pika is a member of the rodent family - also known as Ochotona princeps, are brown fluffy animals, about the size of your average hamster. And communicate through a series of calls and songs. Their calls can be compared to the bleating of a lamb but higher in pitch and they communicate with each other in order to warn other pikas of territory lines, and if there is a predator present. Like most other mammals, they also use their call to attract mates.
As their name suggests, they are found in North America - most commonly in the high, snowy peaks of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. They have also been known to inhabit lower altitudes as long as there are cool damp caves available. This small animal, mostly, loves to live up in high rocky mountain habitats and is often referred to as one of North America's toughest animals, they are relatively safe due to the treacherous conditions they live in, but they have been known to be preyed upon by Weasels, Hawks, and Coyotes.
These little critters are herbivores and feed on the wild grass and mountain flowers that grow on the mountain peaks. They don’t hibernate, instead, they store extra food for the winter and often venture out foraging during the colder months. In the warmer months, they collect their extra reserves and lay them out in the sun to dry out. This stops it from going moldy during the winter in their dens.
The mating habits of the American Pika, mean that they have reproduction cycles twice in one year. At higher altitudes, this can be between April and June but at lower altitudes, it can happen as early as March. Each litter will consist of a maximum of three pups, and the female will only nurse the second litter if the first one doesn't survive.
So, how are they affected by climate change?
The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) has reported a decline in the American Pika since 2003, in certain areas that they have previously inhabited. Further research shows that the populations of the American Pika are migrating to other mountainous areas due to rising temperatures and the decline of snowy mountain caps. This proves its own problem for them, as the land mass that offers an appropriate habitat for the American Pika is small, paired with the fact that they can easily overheat in extreme conditions means they are slowly running out of habitat to migrate to.
"The greatest threat to American pikas, especially those in the Great Basin, is likely global climate change as they are extremely sensitive to high temperatures. American pikas can die within an hour if ambient temperatures rise above 23°C (75°F)."
The National Wildlife Federation currently doesn't have the American Pika classified as in danger but, many of the subspecies are. The result of climate change on the habitat of these small animals means that it is only a matter of time before we see a decline in their numbers, in fact, we are starting to see the decline now. The earliest record of the American Pika was in 1894 and was noted to inhabit 25 different locations. In 1994-1999 these 25 areas were re-surveyed, only to find that only 18 of the original locations were currently inhabited. This means there had been a drastic change in the American Pikas territories over a 55–86-year period.
How does this affect us and what can we do about it?
Directly the American Pika doesn't affect us. But they do play their own part in the planet's ecosystem. They stockpile more food than they need during the winter, which is left to decompose. This mixed with excrement makes great fertiliser for the plants growing on the mountain tops. Birds, who also inhabit the mountain have more places to nest. Plants attract more insects, like butterflies and Ladybirds (or ladybugs). The more plants and vegetation available the more insects are drawn to the area, which draws insect-eating animals, in turn, then attracts their predators. And that is the life cycle of nature. Fascinating, isn't it? And within that circle is us.
It has been scientifically proven that our reliance on fossil fuels is causing harm to the planet. Our continuous stream of CO2 into the atmosphere is warming up the planet, causing seasons to become unpredictable and the natural cycle to shift faster than the world can adapt. Animals are leaving hibernation early and freezing or starving.
And what’s worse, is that today, we have the technology available to ease our reliance on fossil fuels. However, this technology is still out of reach for a lot of people. The newer, cleaner options come with a much higher price tag. This stops many people from making the change to green energy. And while we plead with our governments for change, the clock is ticking. The first step to change is first acknowledging that change needs to happen, and the second is putting things in place - this step will take time to implement. New technologies need to be invented; cleaner, green power stations need to be built, and fossil fuel cars need to be phased off the roads. So what can we do in the meantime?
We can start small; pennies make pounds after all. For example:
Turning our thermostats down a few degrees.
Opting for electric kitchen appliances over gas.
Turning lights and heating off in rooms we aren't using.
Using public transport as much as possible.
Making sure computers, TVs, and radios are off when we aren't using them.
These are just a few suggestions, being conscious of what you are using and where it comes from is the first, small step to saving our planet!
Pssst... a few of these suggestions might just save you some money too!