Pikas: Cute Animal, Serious Science.


Photo by Johanna Varner.

Pikas are our new favorite animal, and soon to be yours, if they’re not already. They look like chipmunks, but are actually in the rabbit family. Somehow Pikas are cuter than both of those animals combined. They live in mountainous areas in parts of Asia, Eastern Europe, and Western North America.

Pikas are more than just a cute face, they are helping scientists study climate change.

Johanna Varner, aka Pika Jo, is one of those scientists. Johanna is an ecologist at Colorado Mesa University. Her research looks at how pikas are reacting to ecosystem changes due to climate change. It is pretty much the dream science job. Most of her research days are spent hiking through the mountains and studying pikas. However nature can be unpredictable, and one day her experiment literally went up in flames.

How a wildfire accidentally taught us about pika resilience

When a wildfire burnt up Pika Jo’s research, first she had a good cry and then she thought what can I learn from this? “What I had on my hands was not, in fact, a fiasco, but a golden shot at accidental brilliance. Nobody had ever studied how pikas might respond to fire, and I had the perfect opportunity to find out,” says Johanna.

[[Read more about her first hand account of the fire and her moment of discovery.]]

When they aren’t dealing with fires. Pikas give it their all to prep for winter.

Pikas don’t hibernate in the winter, so they spend the summer gathering all the food they can. Watch this great video by BBC Earth of a Pika in Alaska stockpiling brush.

Just when you think they can’t get any cuter….

Photograph by Li Weidong

Check out this Teddy Bear faced Ili pika spotted in the mountains of northwestern China. Nicknamed "the magic rabbit", this is the rare pika has only been seen by 29 people, ever!

[[Read More in this National Geographic story about the latest sighting.]]

Pika cuteness was the inspiration for the Pokemon character Pikachu

Pikas aren’t the only animals to inspire the creators of Pokemon. Check out these other rare animals and plants that are now captured in cartoon fame.

Want more pika video? (We can’t blame you)

This footage is pretty darn adorable of pikas running around together.

Ready to go study pikas yourself? This is a good place to start.

The INaturalist website is really cool because you can keep track of your own nature observations, and contribute to science about plants and animals - not just pikas! There’s projects all over the world, about everything from bees in North America, to reptiles in Italy, to flowers in Germany.

[[Check it out at www.inaturalist.org]]

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