Pika

Ochotonidae: Pika Family

There are about 21 species of pika, all in the same genus. They live in north and central Asia and 2 species also occur in North America. Pikas are smaller than rabbits and have short, rounded ears and no visible tail.

The pikas of North America live in areas of scree - fragments of eroded rock found beneath cliffs or mountain slopes. They shelter under the rocks and feed on patches of vegetation that grow amongst the scree. Pikas may forage at all times of the day or night, but most activity takes place in the early mornings or evenings.

During the winter, pikas survive by eating “ladders” of grass and leaves that they have collected during the late summer. These ladders are piles made in sunny places, so that the plants desiccate into alpine hay. Like most of their rabbit relatives, pikas eat their primary droppings so that their tough food is digested twice, in order to extract all of the nutrients.

Pikas are small relatives of rabbits. They do not have tails, and their rounded bodies are covered in soft red and grey fur. Unlike those of a rabbit, a pika's hind legs are about the same length as its forelegs.

Adult pikas live alone and defend territories during the winter. In spring, males expand their territories to include those of neighbouring females. Most females produce two litters during each summer. When preparing for winter, the females chase their mates back to their own territories and expel their mature offspring.

Distribution: South-western Canada and western United States.

Habitat: Broken, rocky country and scree.

Food: Grass, sedge, weeds and leaves.

Size: 12 - 30 cm (4.75 - 12 in); 110 - 180 g (4 - 6.25 oz).

Maturity: 3 months.

Breeding: 2 litters of 2 - 4 young born during summer.

Life span: 7 years.

Status: Common.

Collared Pika

Size: 18 - 20 cm (7 - 8 in); 130 g (4.5 oz).

Collared pikas inhabit the cold mountains of central and southern Alaska and also northwestern Canada, where they are found in scree and other rocky areas above the tree line. There is a greyish "collar" around the neck and shoulders. These diurnal animals feed on herbs and grasses, and make hay piles to eat during winter. Collared pikas produce about three young in each litter.

Plateau Pika

Pikas are relatives of rabbits, found at high altitudes throughout northern areas. Their name comes from an Asiatic word which describes their squeaking call.

Highly social by nature, plateau pikas live in groups consisting of a pair with up to 10 offspring from several litters. They inhabit a network of interconnecting burrows, with tunnels extending back up to 8 m (26 ft) and with a range of entrances. These may sometimes be shared with other animals, including snowfinches. Above ground in particular, plateau pikas are vocal — with members of the group keeping in touch with each other and warning of any possible danger.

Distribution: Plateau pikas are found at relatively high altitudes, inhabiting the meadows and steppe areas of the Tibetan Plateau, in the Chang Taung region of China.

Weight: 0.1 - 0.2 kg (0.2 - 0.4 lb)

Length: 12 - 25 cm (5 - 10 in)

Maturity: About 8 months

Gestation Period: 21 - 24 days; females produce litters every 3 weeks in the summer

Breeding: 1 - 8, typically 6; weaning at 21 days

Diet: Herbivorous, eating grass, herbs, flowers and seeds; may make hay

Lifespan: Can be up to 2.5 years, but most live no more than  3.5 months.

Nose

Dark colouration here, extending around the lips, typifies this species.

Paws

These are quite broad and end in small, dark claws.

Colouration

Upperparts are brown to tan in colour, and underparts are greyish-whitish.

Appearance

Pikas are short-legged and stocky, and do not have a tail. The sexes are indistinguishable by sight.

MAKING HAY

Plateau pikas collect vegetation which they leave to dry, transforming it into hay to sustain them over the bitterly cold winter.

Living and staying close to their network of tunnels affords these pikas protection from predators.

Steppe Pika

This species of pika is the only one to live in Europe. Its distribution extends from the Volga River in southern Russia to the Irtysh River in Siberia. The steppe pika eats grass and lives out on the vast Eurasian grassland known as the steppe.

The pika digs a burrow for shelter. While most pika species are diurnal, the steppe pika is found out of its burrow at all times of day or night. Also unusually for pikas, this species does not hibernate. Instead, it remains active in winter, when the steppe may be covered in snow for months on end, which means that the pika has to dig down to the grass below. Their dark bodies stand out against the snow, so pikas restrict their movements to darker days when they are less easy to spot. It is generally too cold at this time of year to feed at night.

The steppe pika does not have a visible tail. The head and body are covered in long, thin hairs to keep it warm and the soles of the feet are also covered in thick fur.

Male pikas occupy a home range that overlaps those of many females. It is likely that groups of pikas seen together are families with an adult male and one or more adult females and their offspring.

Distribution: South-eastern Europe and Kazakhstan.

Habitat: Steppe.

Food: Grass.

Size: 15 cm (6 in); 400 g (14 oz).

Maturity: 1 year.

Breeding: 3 - 5 litters born each year.

Life span: 5 years.

Status: Vulnerable.

Northern Pika

Range: Siberia, Mongolia, N.E. China, Japan: Hokkaido.

Habitat: Rocky mountain slopes, forest.

Size: Body: 7 3/4 - 9 3/4 in (20 - 25 cm).

A small, short-legged animal, this pika cannot run fast like a rabbit, but moves in small jumps, rarely venturing far. It lives in family groups and takes shelter in a den, made among rocks or tree roots.

Grass and slender plant stems are its main food, and, like all pikas, it gathers extra food in late summer and piles it in heaps like little haystacks to use in the winter. If they run short of food in winter, pikas tunnel through the snow to reach their stores.

There may be up to three litters a year, depending on the region. Each litter contains 2 to 5 young, born after a gestation period of 30 or 31 days.

Gallery of Pika