A pika, archaically spelt pica, is a small-sized mountain-dwelling mammal native to Asia and North America. With a round body, short limbs, no external tail, and an even coat of fur, the pika resembles its close relative, the rabbit.
What differentiates the pika from the rabbit are its short, rounded ears. The large-eared pika of the Himalayan and other mountains closeby, is seen at heights of more than 20,000 ft (6,000 m).
Pikas are found on rocky slopes and graze on a range of plants mostly flowers, grasses, and young stems.
In the autumn, they pull soft twigs, hay, and other stores of food into their burrows to eat during the winter. A pika is also known as the “whistling hare” for the high-pitched alarm call it makes when diving into its burrow.
The name pika was derived from the Tungus piika, and the scientific name Ochotona was derived from the Mongolian word ogdoi, which actually means pika.
The name pika is used to describe any member of the Ochotonidae, a family under the order of lagomorphs which includes the Leporidae (hares and rabbits).
There is only one recognised genus (Ochotona) within the family which covers 37 species.
The two pika species found in North America are the collared pika of Alaska, the Yukon, northern British Columbia, and Northwest Territories and the American pika found in far southwestern Canada and the mountains of the western United States.
Table of Contents
There are 37 extant pika species and they are classified according to their subgenus.
|Subgenus Pika: northern pikas||Subgenus Ochotona: shrub-steppe pikas||Subgenus Conothoa: mountain pikas||Subgenus Alienauroa|
|Alpine pika or Altai pika (O. alpina)||Gansu pika or gray pika (O. cansus)||Chinese red pika (O. erythrotis)||O. huanglongensis|
|Helan Shan pika or silver pika (O. argentata)||Plateau pika or black-lipped pika (O. curzoniae)||Forrest’s pika (O. forresti)||O. dabashanensis|
|Collared pika (O. collaris)||Daurian pika (O. dauurica)||Gaoligong pika (O. gaoligongensis)||O. xunhuaensis|
|Hoffmann’s pika (O. hoffmanni)||Tsing-ling pika (O. huangensis)||Glover’s pika (O. gloveri)||O. flatcalvariam|
|Northern pika or Siberian pika (O. hyperborea)||Nubra pika (O. nubrica)||Himalayan pika (O. himalayana)||O. sacraria|
|Pallas’s pika (O. pallasi)||Steppe pika (O. pusilla)||Ili pika (O. iliensis)|
|American pika (O. princeps)||Afghan pika (O. rufescens)||Koslov’s pika (O. koslowi)|
|Turuchan pika (O. turuchanensis)||Moupin pika (O. thibetana)||Ladak pika (O. ladacensis)|
|Thomas’s pika (O. thomasi)||Large-eared pika (O. macrotis)|
|O. yarlungensis||Muli pika (O. muliensis)|
|O. qionglaoensis||Black pika (O. nigritia)|
|Royle’s pika (O. roylei)|
|Turkestan red pika (O. rutila)|
A pika is a small mammal, with rounded ears and short limbs. They are about 6 – 9 in (15 – 23 cm) in body length and weigh between 4 to 12 ½ oz (120 to 350 g), depending on the species.
Collared pikas have been seen to store dead birds in their burrows as food during winter. They are often seen eating the feaces of other animals.
Pikas are also herbivores, and feed on a wide variety of plant matter, including grasses, forbs, shrub twigs, sedges, lichens, and moss. Like other lagomorphs, pikas have no canines but have gnawing incisors, and have fewer molars than rabbits. Pikas have a dental formula of 22.214.171.124 (upper set) & 126.96.36.199 (lower set).
A rock-dwelling pika has a small litter of fewer than five offspring, while the burrowing species tend to produce more offspring and breed more often. This is probably due to the greater availability of resources in their habitats. Newborns are born after a gestation period of 25 to 30 days.
Pikas are crepuscular and diurnal, and they show their peak activity before the winter season. Pikas do not hibernate as they spend their time collecting and storing food in the summer, which they will eat during winter.
Pikas have different calls that vary in duration. The call can either be quick and short, more drawn out and a little longer, or long songs. The calls are used for territory defence, predator warning signals, individual recognition, and to attract the opposite sex.
The lifespan of a pika is said to be approximately 7 years. A pika’s age is said to be determined by the number of adhesion lines found on the periosteal bone on the lower jaw.
Pikas are endemic to cold climates, mostly North America, Asia, and parts of Eastern Europe. Some pika species are found on rocky mountainsides, while some construct crude burrows.
Pikas require cold temperatures to survive and can die if exposed to temperatures above 77.9 °F (25.5 °C).