High up in the Canadian Rockies, researchers are turning their cameras on one of the tinest and most elusive animals in hopes of better understanding how many of them call Alberta's mountains home.
Parks Canada, in collaboration with the Bow Valley Naturalists and the University of Alberta, have been studying the pika, a small short-limbed mammal, which also happens to be one of the cutest critters we have ever laid eyes on.
Closely related to rabbits and hares, the pika has short, rounded ears and lack of external tail, which distinguish them in appearance from mice and rats.
This is the busiest time of year for the pika, as they work hard collecting dried vegetation in "hay piles" to store and eat over the winter.
Pikas do not hibernate, instead tucking themselves away in the rocky slopes to avoid the harsh blowing winds and snow typical of the Canadian Rockies in winter.
Researchers use this gathering time to study pika populations in Alberta. Pikas are known to store their hay in the same place as their ancestors, so Parks Canada says they can use the number of hay piles as an index for population size.
If you come to Alberta's mountains in search of the pika, you're likely to hear them before setting eyes on them. Pikas limit their time out in the open to avoid becoming food for birds of prey. They are also quite timid around people. However, their high-pitch distinctive shriek is a sure sign you're in pika territory.
Check out some photos of the adorable pika gathering hay piles, as captured by Parks Canada remote cameras.
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