An American Pika Doing its Thing - (Belated) Observation of the Week, 7/20/21

[It took a little time for Prof. Meredith to get back to me, so this is being posted a few weeks late.- Tony]

Our Observation of the Week is this American Pika (Ochotona princeps), seen in the United States by @drbrachydactyl!

“I carry my cameras on all the hikes I go on (because you never know what you might see), and I look for and notice animals everywhere I go at all times,” says Professor Stephanie Meredith, who studies primatology. She tells me she’s always loved animals but became a primatologist “because I'm really into behavior and especially enjoy observation,” which comes out in her recounting of her pika observation.

My wife and I were hiking in the eastern Sierra (it's so lovely there) for the first time and we saw three pika on the Little Lakes Valley trail by Rock Creek. My wife spotted the first one, but just for a split second and it was gone. I spotted the second and third. We spotted them all by motion, though the locals tell me that you can often hear them alarm calling. The second (the one pictured) was obliging with its photo ops. It was putzing around the rocks, foraging on plants, and for some reason when it would grab a mouthful of vegetation, it would return to a perch and munch there in full view. The reason I eventually got a good photo was simply because we watched it for long enough. I'm sure we watched it for at least 10 minutes, because it was the first pika we'd been able to see well enough to appreciate...

It was fun to watch a pika just do its pika thing--after all, you can hardly get cuter than a munching pika. And that's always my favorite--when you are lucky enough to just be quiet and watch an animal, large or small, do its thing without regard for your presence. 

While they may look like rodents at first glance, pikas (members of Family Ochotonidae) are actually lagomorphs, an order which includes rabbits and hares. American pika range throughout rocky mountainous areas of western North America and spend much of the year in their dens, living off haypiles they gather over the short summer. Very sensitive to high temperatures, they have likely been forced to higher altitudes as the climate warms.

Currently an anthropology professor at West Los Angeles College, Stephanie (above, in Iguazú National Park) is collaborating with Clara Scarry (CSUS), Marcela Benitez (Emory), and Sarah Brosnan (GSU)), researching cognitive development in black-horned capuchins at Iguazú National Park. She’s also “working to develop research opportunities for community college students,” and is considering using iNat as part of this endeavor.

“iNaturalist,” she says,

hasn't changed the way I interact with or see the natural world, but it has changed my sharing practices. I now diligently use iNaturalist to report herp sightings that I might otherwise keep to myself (for example, if a photo is only perfunctory, or maybe even kind of bad). I do this because I have some herpetologist friends who actually use iNaturalist for research purposes (Greg Pauly at the LA Natural History Museum) and because if I don't, some of my other naturalist/biologist friends (Tom Wake at UCLA) will chide me about it, lol. And that makes sense. It's great for documenting range changes through time, activity patterns across the year, etc.--all the kinds of stuff that ecologists want to know but that small teams of researchers really just can't document by themselves.

(Photo of Prof. Meredith was taken by Lara Torge)

- You can check out Professor Meredith’s website here!

- Pika researcher Chris Ray, PhD, gives a nice overview of American pika life in this video.

- This video has some nice pika behavior and vocalization footage!

- So far, 22 of the 29 pika species have been observed on iNat - here are the most-faved pika observations!

Posted by tiwane tiwane, August 05, 2021 21:18


Just as a day in the desert Southwest with a Roadrunner sighting is a Good Day, any day in the high mountains with a Pika sighting is a Great Day! If you are around a Pika, you're in a good place (in all senses of the word)!

Posted by gcwarbler about 1 year ago (Flag)

Cute, and fascinating!

Posted by susanhewitt about 1 year ago (Flag)

What I love about the featured pika photo is the fact that the lichen on the rock in the front mirrors the pika's head, with the two ears...the one on the left being larger, and a little bare spot of rock for the eye. The lichen "ear" and the real pika ear both have a little notch in them too. Such a lovely composition. And a super cute critter, too!

Posted by scotiaspinner about 1 year ago (Flag)

Really looking forward to seeing a pika in person one of these days! In the meantime, thanks for sharing such a fun observation. :)

Posted by sambiology about 1 year ago (Flag)

Adorable! I love pikas! They are the cutest little animals. And not only do they eat plants, but they also eat lichen. Thanks for sharing the photo and your story!

Posted by naturephotosuze about 1 year ago (Flag)

Great to learn about pikas in this blog post. Fine photo there!

Posted by dotun55 about 1 year ago (Flag)

Now I know why Pikachu is so cute...

Posted by siyul about 1 year ago (Flag)

@siyul ironically, pika is very unrelated to Pikachu the Pokémon character :)
Wanted to make similar remark, but just thought to look it up.

Posted by dotun55 about 1 year ago (Flag)

Great idea to incorporate iNaturalist into community college courses. Their emphasis tends to be "practical." It's so valuable for students at an early point to learn that curiosity and connection with the natural world are practical skills for life.

Posted by janetwright about 1 year ago (Flag)

So majestic!

Posted by ocean_beach_goth about 1 year ago (Flag)

Enjoyed the photos and write-up. iNat is well suited to mapping the range of this endangered creature. I've heard the calls of hundreds of them over the past few decades, I've been able to capture a few of them in photos [] and I even had a conversation with one which can be seen in a video:
By the way, the one I talked to was way out of range - he was too far west and at a lower elevation than he should be able to tolerate in his west-facing home.

Posted by sekihiker about 1 year ago (Flag)

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