American Pikas

Life in the mountains above the tree line can be harsh. Smart animals like American pikas (Ochotona princeps) prepare for winter.

This small relative of the rabbit and hare lives in the mountains of western North America. These animals were designed for cold weather. Unless they find refuge from the heat, an American pika will die within six hours in temperatures above 78 degrees F (26 degrees C).

American pikas are herbivores, eating the plants that grow in their alpine habitat. In the cold winter, plants are not available, and American pikas don’t hibernate. Since they require energy to get them through the cold months, they prepare ahead of time. They have a process called “haying,” just as farmers gather hay into their barns to feed the livestock in the winter.

During the summer months, these pikas will sometimes make 100 trips per day gathering grasses and other plants for haying. American pikas harvest the plants as they come into season and store them for future use. They seem to understand the nutritional value of the plants they harvest in the haying process. They select the plants with higher calories, nutritional value, and protein for winter use and they eat the other plants. They generally store their haystacks near their nest under a slope or cliff for protection. Not only does the hay provide food for winter, but it also serves as bedding.

Who taught the American pika to prepare for winter? How does this animal know what plants are the best to store for nutritional value during the cold months? Could they learn this by trial-and-error? We think it is not likely that they learned it by accident and then passed that information to their offspring in their DNA. Pika young are on their own when they are four weeks old, so the mother doesn’t have time to teach them. We see this as another example of design, and it reminds us of the ants in Proverbs 6:6-8.
© Roland Earnst

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