American Pikas Busily Pick and Gather Wildflowers for a Very Important Reason

Every summer, a tiny little animal busily sets to work in Utah’s national parks creating “haystacks” out of wildflowers.  Recently, Cedar Breaks National Monument shared an adorable photo of an American Pika with a bunch of wildflowers in its mouth.

In an Instagram post, Cedar Breaks National Monument writes, “Did you know the American Pika love the wildflowers as much as us here at Cedar Breaks? In fact, it is their favorite food!”

American Pika collect the flowers so that they have enough food to survive the winters. Not only do they collect wildflowers they expertly dry them so that they can safely eat them throughout the winter.

An American pika collecting wildflowers. Cedar Breaks National Monument

“Pikas do not hibernate and will collect wildflowers and grasses in the summertime and lay them out on the rocks in the sun to dry them,” explains Cedar Breaks National Monument. “They do that so their food does not go moldy during the winter. These are called ‘Haystack’ and they are stored in their dens [until] wintertime.”

The tiny gatherers are like farmers drying hay for feed. How amazing is that?

Grand Teton National Park Service, another national park in Utah, also shared photos of a “little pika…working hard!”

“As winter approaches, pika have a very important job to do. They will need to collect enough food to make it through the harsh Teton winter,” Grand Teton NPS writes. “During the summer, pikas will dedicate much of their day to foraging for grasses and flowers….” They shared that the haystacks “can weigh upwards of 60 pounds by the end of summer.”

They add, “This pint-sized pika still has a lot of collecting to do, but he’s off to a great start!”

American pikas do have a lot of harvesting to do in the summer. Pikas can make up to two hundred trips a day to the meadow to collect flowers. They are also very particular. Sometimes they will purposely collect poisonous plants, explains David Suzuki in a CBC documentary. Pikas use the toxins to reduce mold in the haystacks and the toxins decay so the pikas can eat them without getting sick. And sometimes they get tired and lazy and might try and steal from their neighbors.

With so many flowers to collect it’s no wonder that Cedar Breaks wants to highlight that the plants in the park are protected. “Remember, it is illegal to pick any wildflowers inside Cedar Breaks National Monument. You can help leave no trace by taking only photographs and leaving only footprints,” they encourage. “Help protect the plants by walking on designated trails.”

This not only protects the plants, it helps the pikas! If these adorable creatures aren’t extra incentive to leave wildflowers alone, we don’t know what is and they can use all the help they can get.

Sadly, the National Park Service reveals in a study that American pikas are under threat from climate change. That’s because the small animals have adapted to the alpine climate and the cold but temperatures are warming up, making the pikas survival increasingly challenging. Hopefully, this will not come to pass, but protecting wildflowers (their food source) is a big way to help the pika survive.

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