A new study finds that high-altitude pikas in Asia eat yak droppings to help them survive the winter.
Small rabbit-like animals, often compared to Pokémon’s Pikachu, can’t hibernate winter When food is scarce, they slow down their metabolism and eat yak poop to get to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, where Temperatures It drops to minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 30 degrees Celsius).
Animals adopt all kinds of unexpected strategies to survive, study first author John Speakman, a professor of biology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in China, told Live Science in an email.
“Lots of animals including rabbits and pikas eat their faeces,” Speakman said. This eating of droppings, or urination, can help animals absorb nutrients that they could not initially digest from their food, Live Science previously reported. “But eating the faeces of other species is relatively rare,” he added.
Pikas are a group of small mammals found in North America and Asia. They are often associated with Pikachu the Pokémon of a similar name – although the original Pikachu’s design was actually inspired by a squirrel, according to the video game site. Kotaku.
hilltop (Ochotona curzoniae) lives in high altitude meadows, reaching an elevation of about 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) above sea level. They do not hibernate or migrate to warmer climates during the winter, so how they survive the colder months has remained a mystery.
To answer this question, Spekman and colleagues monitored the Bekas plateau for 13 years using various techniques such as imaging the fantastic creatures and implanting temperature loggers in animals. Their findings were published Monday (July 19) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
To save energy, pikas lowered their body temperature and restricted physical activity such as foraging for food. In some study sites, the pika also ate the feces of the domestic yak (Boss Gronins), a phenomenon the team captured on film.
Yaks are abundant in some parts of the plateau and their feces are likely to be easily digested by the pika, having already passed through the yak Digestive. According to the study, chewing yak poop may help pikas expend less energy than they would otherwise be searching for other food sources. Manure may also contain rare nutrients and water, which pica also benefits.
Pikas’ fondness for yak excrement may also explain why they are found in higher densities where yaks are more abundant, although scientists believe the two species compete with each other for food.
“We are currently studying what other benefits it could have,” Speakman said. “There are obvious potential costs as well, such as exposure to gut parasites, so that’s probably why it’s not a very common behavior.”
Originally published on Live Science.