‘Incredibly adorable’ high mountain mammal with attitude found in southern Utah – St George News

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CEDAR TOWN — On a high-altitude trail surrounded by fields of volcanic rock, something chirps, but it’s not a bird. A small rodent-like animal nimbly navigates the rough terrain in search of food: a pika.

A pika near Brian Head, Utah, August 29, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

There are two species of pika in the United States: the collared pika, which is found only in Alaska, and the American pika, which is found in the west, said Barbara Sugarman, who works as Utah Prairie Dog Recovery Biologist at Utah Division. Wildlife resources.

“A lot of people, especially not from mountainous areas, really don’t know about pica, and…I think they’re one of the coolest native species we have here,” she said. “It’s really great to be able to see them and their personalities. They have an attitude.

Although they resemble rodents, pikas are closely related to other lagomorphs, such as rabbits and hares, Sugarman said. Instead of long, floppy ears, however, they have short, mouse-like ears. She said the way the move is “resembles a rabbit but in a very hamster-like body.”

“And they’re just incredibly nimble,” she added. “They love hops – you see that when you watch them move across the landscape, but their ability to get through rocks and because they’re so light, they don’t move any of the rocks.”

A pika near Brian Head, Utah, August 29, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

Pikas live in high altitude environments on the talus, which is a mass of broken rock, usually on a slope. In southern Utah, many pikas live in networks under lava fields, like those found by Brian Head, Sugarman said.

Because they live in remote, rugged terrain that is difficult to access, they are not often the subject of human-wildlife conflict, Sugarman said.

“It’s kind of fun that it can be out there being cute and not bothering anyone too much,” she said.

Pikas need a cool climate and can maintain their temperature by seeking shelter in the embankment, out of direct sunlight, Sugarman said. In winter, they live under a blanket of snow, which retains thermal heat.

A pika near Brian Head, Utah, August 29, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

Pikas scoop vegetation into haystacks. Because they don’t hibernate, they store food to eat throughout the winter. The little mountain dwellers fight over food and have been known to steal from each other.

“And they defend those haystacks pretty fiercely, and everybody picks up their own – there’s no sharing,” she said.

Sugarman said pikas are “completely individualized” and defend their territories, and females will do this “just as much as any male”. Pikas mate about 30 days after they meet and give birth to “fairly helpless” young. But, after about 40 to 50 days, the offspring are mature and establish their own territory.

“It’s not like prairie dogs where (the puppies) get a bit more time and care and they have a lot more sense of social structure – a colony is really a group,” she said. declared. “With pika, it’s just individuals in the landscape, honestly.”

Indicator species

A pika near Brian Head, Utah, August 29, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

Sugarman said pikas tend to “cause interest” because not only are they “incredibly adorable,” but they’re also considered an indicator species. As a cold-adapted high-altitude animal, the pika is sensitive to temperature changes and prone to overheating.

Their presence or absence at a particular site can indicate environmental changes affecting other species as well, Sugarman said.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conducts pika surveys based on funding it receives through the Endangered Species Mitigation Fund, Sugarman said, adding that she worked as a technician. field during the last pika survey in 2017.

She said the next survey would likely take place in 2023, pending approval and various other factors. Technicians will record pika sightings, vocalizations and other evidence of their presence, such as fecal deposits or piles of hay. These surveys are intended to detect changes over time. For example, if pikas were seen at a location in the previous survey but not in the current survey. The scree sites are surveyed by the July-August division, occasionally until September.

pika display

The season for pikas is short, Sugarman said and suggested people take the opportunity to see them while they’re active. Once winter arrives, they spend much of their time in their dens.

A pika near Brian Head, Utah, August 29, 2022 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, Cedar City News

During the monsoon season, the best time to view pikas is in the morning, so viewers can descend the mountain before the thunderstorms hit.

“Because you’re pretty exposed on the embankment, there’s nowhere to go,” she said. “So it’s definitely not somewhere you want to be during lightning.”

Those interested in spotting pikas should check the weather ahead of time and stay alert when outdoors.

“Conditions can change very quickly and it can get dangerous very quickly,” added Sugarman.

In an article shared by the Utah State University Extension Office, observers are reminded not to climb rocky slopes where pikas live to avoid disturbing their dens or injuring themselves.

The authors suggest people observe them quietly, as the small mammals can quickly disappear into the rocks. Also, for pika sightings at Cedar Breaks National Monument, they suggest completing a rare animal sighting form available at the visitor center or paid kiosk. For sightings elsewhere in Utah, email the DWR here.

People interested in spotting pikas or other wildlife can search for recorded sightings on the iNaturalist app. The app was a joint venture of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society to help users identify plants and animals and connect with scientists and naturalists to learn more about nature, according to its website.

“By recording and sharing your observations, you’ll create quality research data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature,” the site says.

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