With their diminutive fluff-ball shape and round ears, American pikas are arguably the cutest of Wyoming’s mountain denizens.
But don’t let their cuddly appearance fool you. The smallest members of the lagomorph group, close relatives of rabbits, are among North America’s hardiest creatures. The tiny mammals live their entire lives in alpine terrain, favoring windswept scree fields, inhospitable talus slopes and rugged cliff faces. They don’t hibernate, and instead cache impressive haystacks of food to last through the winter. And they are often heard before they are seen — recognizable by their high-pitched chirps.
Photographer Timothy C. Mayo captured this image of a pika on a recent trip to a scree field in northwest Wyoming. Because the animals are so frenetic and cautious of predators, Mayo said, photographing them requires much motionless patience.
But, he said, he hopes to help people appreciate pikas and become aware of looming threats to their existence.
“They are considered by many as the canary in the coal mine for climate change,” Mayo said.
The creatures are suffering in some parts of the West due to increased temperatures. According to a study by the U.S Geological Survey, researchers found evidence of widespread reduction in pikas in the Great Basin, southern Utah and northeastern California — a trend blamed largely on climate change.