Pikach-EWW! Adorable pikas feast on YAK FAECES to keep their energy levels up in harsh climates

Pikach-EWW! The real “counterparts” of the popular Pokémon have a disgusting way of surviving the winter without hibernation: they eat yak droppings.

Experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences studied pikas, small mammals that live in the meadows of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau at an elevation of about 16,400 feet.

They found that plateau pikas (Ochotona curzoniae) employ a number of strategies to get through the winters, when temperatures drop to -22 °F (-30 °C).

In addition to sometimes eating yak feces, which is a ready-to-eat and easily digestible food source, they also slow down their metabolism to conserve energy.

The finding also helps explain why pika populations are larger in areas where yaks graze, despite the animals usually competing for food.

Despite the similarity, Pokémon’s Pikachu was actually styled after squirrels, while “pika” is derived from a Japanese word for a sparkling sound.

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Pikach-EWW! The real-life counterparts of the popular Pokémon have a disgusting way of surviving the winter without hibernation — eating yak droppings — a study finds. Pictured: A pika caught after writhing on a lump of feces on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau

The finding helps explain why pika populations are larger in areas where yaks also graze, despite the animals normally competing for food.  Pictured: a yak

The finding helps explain why pika populations are larger in areas where yaks also graze, despite the animals normally competing for food. Pictured: a yak

Researchers led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that to survive the winters of the high-altitude Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, when temperatures drop to -30°C, plateau pikas (Ochotona curzoniae) employ a number of survival strategies

Researchers led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that to survive the winters of the high-altitude Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, when temperatures drop to -30°C, plateau pikas (Ochotona curzoniae) employ a number of survival strategies

The study was conducted by biologist John Speakman of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and his colleagues.

“Many animals, including rabbits and pikas, eat their own feces,” Professor Speakman told Live Science, explaining that this “coprophagy” can help animals absorb nutrients that they could not initially digest from food.

“But eating the feces of other species is relatively rare,” he added.

In their study, Professor Speakman and colleagues spent 13 years studying the small mammals on the high-altitude meadows of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau.

In addition to filming the plateau pikas, the team also implanted temperature sensing sensors in the animals to monitor them during the cold winters, when they manage to use about 30 percent less energy than usual.

The team found that the creatures responded to the harsh conditions by lowering their body temperatures and reducing physical activities such as foraging.

Instead, they turned to the feces of domesticated yak (Bos grunniens) as a readily available food source that didn’t require as much energy-intensive searching to find them.

The researchers explained that the feces had already passed through the yak’s gastrointestinal tract and would be eaten to digest the pikas — likely still retaining both water and nutrients needed to sustain the mammals.

Not only did the team capture this unappealing behavior on film, but their analysis also revealed signatures of yak DNA in the stomach contents of some of the pika they analyzed.

In addition to occasionally eating yak droppings — which provide a ready-to-eat and easily digestible food source — pikas (pictured) also suppress their body temperature to conserve energy

In addition to occasionally eating yak droppings — which provide a ready-to-eat and easily digestible food source — pikas (pictured) also suppress their body temperature to conserve energy

Despite the similarity in appearance, Pokémon's Pikachu (pictured) was actually styled after squirrels — while

“Many animals, including rabbits and pikas, eat their own feces,” Professor Speakman told Live Science, adding, “But eating the feces of other species is relatively rare.” Pictured: A pika (left) eats yak droppings, a habit not shared by Pokémon’s Pikachu (right) Despite the similarity in appearance, Pikachu was actually styled after squirrels – while “pika” is derived from a Japanese word for a sparkling sound.

‘We are currently investigating what other benefits could be’ [from eating yak faeces]Professor Speakman added.

“There are also obvious potential costs, such as exposure to intestinal parasites — so that’s probably why it’s not very common.”

The study’s full findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In their study, biologist John Speakman of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues spent 13 years studying the small mammals on the high-altitude meadows of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau.  Pictured: Professor Speakman in 2008, holding a plateau pika, Ochotona curzoniae

In their study, biologist John Speakman of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues spent 13 years studying the small mammals on the high-altitude meadows of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. Pictured: Professor Speakman in 2008, holding a plateau pika, Ochotona curzoniae

Experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences studied pikas, small mammals that live in the meadows of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau (pictured) at an elevation of about 16,400 feet

Experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences studied pikas, small mammals that live in the meadows of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau (pictured) at an elevation of about 16,400 feet

ABOUT PLATEAU PIKAS

Pictured: a plateau pika (O. curzoniae)

Pictured: a plateau pika (O. curzoniae)

Plateau pikas (Ochotona curzoniae) – also known as the ‘black-lipped pika’ – are small, diurnal mammals weighing up to 140 grams.

They are related to rabbits and have a reddish brown coat with a yellowish white underbelly.

They prefer to live at elevations of about 10,170-16,400 feet (3,100-5,000 m) – and are mainly found on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, where winter temperatures can drop to -30°C.

Since pikas cannot hibernate, they are forced to use other strategies to survive these harsh conditions.

These include lowering their metabolism and sometimes eating yak feces, which can be a ready-to-eat and easily digestible food source that retains needed nutrients as well as water.

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