Can you identify a pika? The mountain mammal has a Utah weather link

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Valley snow is yet again in the forecast, and up in the higher elevations, a mountain top mammal is gathering and saving for winter.

The pika lives in Utah’s mountains from Bear Lake all the way to Zion National Park.

“They are just the cutest little guys. They call you with that sharp call of theirs, I just love looking of them,” said Monte Christensen, a hiker from Cottonwood Heights.

The animals have the body of a hamster, ears of a mouse and are related to rabbits. They live primarily above 7,000 feet elevation and thrive in cooler temperatures underneath rock falls. Many folks who hike in the mountains have stumbled across these creatures and they are one of the few mammals that skip hibernation.

“They do not hibernate, so they pile up these huge piles of food, and then during the winter, they live under the rock and come out and grab their food,” said Christensen.

Some avid skiers and outdoor enthusiasts believe pika piles will indicate the type of winter we will see and the number of storms we will face in the mountains. Last year, ABC4 News did a story on piles and found out the mammal responds to previous weather patterns and if we have dry conditions the pikas will gather for a longer time. We did have big piles last year, and a big winter followed. This year, there are decent sized pika piles yet again.

“It’s a fun hypothesis, I’m not sure there is all that much to support it, I think pikas are going to gather as much food as they can, and what’s ever available in a given year they are going to store away,” said Kim Hersey, the Mammal Conservation Manager at the Division of Wildlife Resources.

Pikas are a big part of Utah’s ecosystem and are found throughout the Great Basin. Some can even live in sagebrush environments, but in the last little while, isolated, lower elevation populations have declined. Hersey said it could be a result of climate change, and it is something agencies have been tracking for the last decade.

“There’s been concern that might be tied to climate change. In Utah, we’ve been studying pikas during repeated monitoring for a decade, and luckily we haven’t seen too many declines in the state and they seem to be doing well,” said Hersey, the Mammal Conservation Manager at the Division of Wildlife Resources.

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