Real Pikachus eat yak poo to survive Tibetan winters

Pikas living at high altitudes in Asia eat yak poo to help them survive the winter, according to a new study.

Small rabbit-like animals, often compared to Pokémon’s Pikachu character, cannot hibernate Winter when food is scarce, then they slow down their metabolism and eat yak poo to get by on the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, where temperatures drop to minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 30 degrees Celsius).

Animals adopt all kinds of unexpected strategies to survive, said study lead author John Speakman, professor of biology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in China, in an e- mail to Live Science.

“A lot of animals, including rabbits and pika, eat their own feces,” Speakman said. Such consumption of poo, or coprophagia, can help animals absorb nutrients that they could not initially digest from their food, Previously reported live science. “But eating the droppings of other species is relatively rare,” he added.

Related: Photos of the pika, the cutest mammal in North America

Pikas are a group of small mammals found in North America and Asia. They are often associated with Pikachu the Pokemon which has a similar name – although Pikachu’s original design was actually inspired by a squirrel, according to the video game’s website. Kotaku.

Plateau pikas (Ochotona curzoniae) live in high elevation grasslands up to about 16,400 feet (5,000 meters) above sea level. They do not hibernate or migrate to warmer climates during winter, so exactly how they survive the cold months has remained a mystery.

To answer this question, Speakman and his colleagues monitored the pikas on the set for 13 years using various techniques such as filming the adorable creatures and implanting temperature recording devices into the animals. Their findings were published Monday, July 19 in the newspaper Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To save energy, the pikas lowered their body temperature and limited physical activity such as foraging. At some of the study sites, pikas also ate domestic yak droppings (Bos grunniens), a phenomenon the team filmed.

Yaks are abundant on some parts of the plateau and their droppings are probably easily digestible for pikas, having already crossed the yaks. digestive system. According to the study, snacking on yak poo may help pikas spend less energy than they would on foraging for other food sources. Manure can also contain otherwise scarce nutrients and water, which pikas also benefit from.

The pikas’ penchant for yak droppings may also explain why they are found in higher density where yaks are most abundant, even though scientists believe the two species compete for food.

“We are currently investigating what other benefits could result,” Speakman said. “There are also obvious potential costs, like exposure to intestinal parasites, so that’s probably why this is not a very common behavior.”

Originally posted on Live Science.