The pint-sized pika is the coolest mammal that you’ve never heard of. The rodent-like creature is actually a “lagomorph” and has more in common with hares and rabbits than it does with mice or rats. But if you’re familiar with Pokemon—and you are, because you live on this planet—you might be interested to learn that the species is the inspiration for the fictional character Pikachu. Who knew?
Like Pikachu, Canada’s two native pika species are squat-bodied. But unlike the cartoon, the real-life critter has short, round ears and practically no tail. There’s a reason for the round shape: a compact build allows the pika to survive in alpine terrain. In Canada, that’s the Rocky Mountains in Alberta and B.C., and further north throughout the Yukon.
Pikas cache food and sing like birds!
Pikas thrive in barren, rocky landscapes (they’re nicknamed “rock rabbits”). They don’t hibernate. To sustain themselves through winter, they cache food like squirrels and non-migrating birds. Before winter, a pika will gather bits of plants—wildflowers or grass—cure them to preserve them by letting them sit in the sun, and then hide them amid rocks. (This isn’t the species’ only bird-like behaviour; the mammals “sing” to defend territory and to attract mates in the spring.)
Winter is a pika’s preferred time of year. (Because their coat is thick year-round, too much time in the heat isn’t good for them; similar to the polar bear, the pika has been impacted by climate change and overall warming temperatures.) Even though they’re active all winter, they do spend more time in their rocky dens. Pikas live in colonies. This type of group living is a survival strategy. One pika can alert others to potential predators—hawks, weasels, and coyotes—by giving out a warning call.