By: David Mizejewski
My friend and National Wildlife Federation colleague Beth Pratt-Bergstrom is a self-avowed pika lover. Pikas are small mammals that live in high-elevation cool mountains west of the Rocky Mountains in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. They are very, very cute.
Even though they look like it, pikas are not rodents. They belong to the taxonomic order called Lagomorpha and are closely related to rabbits and hares. They feed on on grasses and other vegetation, and spend much of their time gathering and hoarding plants in their rocky burrows, which they feed on during the long winter. You can often see them with their furry little faces stuffed with a huge amont of vegetation, scurrying through the rocks.
Apparently, that's not all they collect. Beth snapped this picture of a pika with what looks like a poop pellet in its mouth. She thought it was a funny and odd photo (right on both counts) but there's more the story than that.
Wow! Just heard from top pika researcher and my hero Eric Beever and he said I made a pika discovery! "I think this photo is the first photographic evidence of pikas moving / consuming fecal pellets of marmots." My contribution to science involves poop! How fitting.
Marmots are large members of the squirrel family that share the pika's habitat. Perhaps there's still available nutrients in the marmot droppings, and in nature such resources rarely go to waste. Lagomorphs are known for their coprophagia (poop-eating), and pikas are no exception, but usually it's their own droppings that they feed upon. More study is required to figure out what's going on with pikas in this regard. Science is cool!