Nature on Trail: Pika, Paintbrush
Washington's wild places are teeming with life. Learn a bit more about two common species, the pika and paintbrush, and where you can find them.
By Jonathan Shipley
Washington's wild places are teeming with life. Learn a bit more about two common species, pika and paintbrush, and where you can find them.
Pika (Ochotana princeps)
“Eeep!” You’ll probably hear them before you see them. A high-pitched call. A loud chirp. A warning of danger. It’s a pika. If you happen to see one — if you didn’t scare it off — it’s a small mammal, often camouflaged against the rocks. Pikas are related to rabbits, and look somewhat similar, although they’re much smaller and have smaller ears.
Pikas are herbivores; you may see one with grass in its mouth. It’s either eating it straightaway or going home to store it for the winter (called “haying”). Pikas go out to forage for food 100 times a day. They don’t hibernate, so they need to stock up well.
Pikas are very sensitive to high temperatures, meaning they are an indicator species for climate change. In fact, a pika can die within six hours if it’s hotter than 78 degrees and it can’t find shelter. During hot days, pikas retreat into talus
Where to see them: In talus areas. Usually, but not always, at high elevations.
Paintbrush (castilleja spp.)
There are many lovely flowers in the mountain ranges of the West, but perhaps the prettiest of all is the paintbrush. There are several varieties of paintbrushes in the Cascade Range, and it can be difficult to tell them apart. Come late summer they cover the canvas of the rolling high meadows with color — reds, pinks, magentas and scarlets.
The flowers have been used by indigenous people for generations. The flowers are edible and have similar health benefits to garlic. The roots and greens are toxic because the plants absorb and concentrate selenium, which is toxic at high levels. Paintbrush has also been used as a hair wash, for women’s health and for rheumatism.
There are approximately 200 species of paintbrush from Alaska to the Andes. Go for a mountain hike now, and you’re likely to see them coloring the landscape in rich hues.
Where to see them: In open areas, at a variety of elevations.