Archive from December, 2016
Dec 19, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Pika Trap 2.0

Ready for another great idea from First Lego League?

We are the Pixelated Pikas, a 5th grade First Lego League robotics team from Denver, Colorado. As part of our robotics project, we decided to research the American pika. Our science teacher and robotics coach mentioned that he frequently saw pikas in the Colorado mountains as he was hiking. He also said that the pika population is declining and suggested we might want to find out more about them and think of ways we could help.

Based on a Skype call with Chris Ray, we found out that pikas are small creatures looking a bit like guinea pigs. Apparently pikas overheat easily and cannot survive temperatures above 78 F for more than six hours. Pikas use the sub-surface spaces among rocks in boulder fields and taluses to cool off and avoid surface temperatures. We also learned that researchers like Dr. Ray are trying to figure out why the pika population is declining, and that potential reasons include climate change and diseases.

Our team brainstormed ways that we could help researchers study pikas, and we agreed that the current traps that the researchers use could be modified to possibly provide useful data from more animals with less interaction. We decided to make a trap that would both capture the pika and gather some information as well.

Our team decided on what the trap would look like when we found a container that had the right size and shape for our idea.


Our team discussed lots of ideas and decided to add a weight sensor that allows us to weigh the pika, and a camera to confirm that the animal trapped is a pika and possibly to read its ear tags. We also decided that a (sticky) glue board may be helpful to researchers by providing them with hair samples from the trapped pika.

We consulted with a veterinarian for a simple design for a one-way trap door. We then added a motor to allow researchers to remotely open the door.

Finally, the team decided to add wire mesh for ventilation, and a control box which sends data back to the researchers and also houses the power supply for the equipment.


After looking at catalogs of electronic parts like these, the team estimated that our trap might cost around $100 in parts.

Our team thought that the “Pika Trap 2.0” would gather more data compared to the present traps. With our trap, researchers can collect blood samples from the fleas on the glue board and hair samples from the pika. Data from the weight sensor might give some information about the pika’s nutrition. The camera in our trap could be used to identify the individual pika, show the behavior of the pika, and allow researchers to release certain animals without being seen.


Our team thought the trap might be helpful to pika researchers because they could get all this data without having to hike up the mountains again and again.

~ by the Pixelated Pikas

Dec 7, 2016 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Saving the American Pika

We are students in Mechanical Mayhem, the 5th grade First Lego League team for a charter school in St. Louis. We have been doing research on an animal called the American pika. The pika lives in the mountains and other remote places, so people don’t see them often. They are very territorial so there are not many in one place at once. Pikas face a lot of different problems and we are trying to find a way to help them. One problem for the pika might be too much nitrogen in the environment. Nitrogen is reactive and can cause changes that reduce the amount of selenium in the environment. Selenium is a trace metal that pikas need, so extra nitrogen might cause them to be selenium deficient. To help with this, we are putting selenium salt licks in their environment. It’s part of a study to see what pikas need.

At first we thought we would do something that would blend in with the environment, so we put a salt lick in a fake tree stump. This was our first prototype.


The reason we couldn’t use our first prototype is because the hole was too big and other larger animals could get into it, so we came up with another idea, to use PVC pipe. We realized that we needed a smaller opening that was 2 inches in diameter so that only the pika could fit in the opening. We planned to hang the salt lick inside.


This is our finished prototype. We decided to use narrow PVC pipes because bigger animals can’t get into them. Here are some more detailed photos of our design:




At one end of the PVC pipe we fastened the salt lick into the top. This makes it easy to remove. You simply have to unscrew the nut and pull the screw out to replace it. The top photo shows the salt lick on the screw. The middle photo shows where the pika gets in and out of the pipe. The bottom photo shows the whole PVC pipe and the end on the far left is where the salt lick is.

The PVC pipe is going to be buried in the rocks where the pikas live, so bigger animals can’t take it. We used PVC pipe because it is a hard plastic and bigger animals won’t be able to eat it or get into it. We e-mailed with Dr. Chris Ray from the University of Colorado to help us design our prototype. With her suggestions, we made sure it was the right size for the pika.

Our PVC pipes cost about $15 all together and the salt lick cost $2-3 dollars. Each pipe can only be used by one pika because they are territorial, so it is important for the solution to be low cost. It is pretty feasible. It is incredibly easy to make. You just have to put the pipes together. Our solution is also a good idea because you can buy the materials anywhere that there is a hardware store. I think our idea is special because we tried multiple times with different ideas. We are using PVC pipe somewhere where it is not often used.

By: Emma, Evan, and Weston