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