A pika (// PY-kə; archaically spelled pica) is a small, mountain-dwelling mammal found in Asia and North America. With short limbs, very round body, an even coat of fur, and no external tail, they resemble their close relative, the rabbit, but with short, rounded ears. The large-eared pika of the Himalayas and nearby mountains is found at heights of more than 6,000 m (20,000 ft), among the highest of any mammal.
|American pika (Ochotona princeps)|
(Lepus dauuricus Pallas, 1776)
Pikas prefer rocky slopes and graze on a range of plants, mostly grasses, flowers, and young stems. In the autumn, they pull hay, soft twigs, and other stores of food into their burrows to eat during the long, cold winter. The pika is also known as the "whistling hare" for its high-pitched alarm call when diving into its burrow.
The name "pika" appears to be derived from the Tungus piika, and the scientific name Ochotona is from the Mongolian word ogdoi, which means pika. It is used for any member of the Ochotonidae, a family within the order of lagomorphs which also includes the Leporidae (rabbits and hares). Only one genus, Ochotona, is extant within the family, covering 37 species. Another species, the Sardinian pika, belonging to the separate genus Prolagus, became extinct within the last 2000 years due to human activity.
The two species found in North America are the American pika, found primarily in the mountains of the western United States and far southwestern Canada, and the collared pika of northern British Columbia, the Yukon, western Northwest Territories, and Alaska.
Pikas are native to cold climates, in Asia and North America. Most species live on rocky mountainsides, where numerous crevices are available for their shelter, although some pikas also construct crude burrows. A few burrowing species are native to open steppe land. In the mountains of Eurasia, pikas often share their burrows with snowfinches, which build their nests there. Pikas require cold temperatures to live, and can die if exposed to temperatures above 25.5 °C (77.9 °F). Changing temperatures have forced some pika populations to restrict their ranges to even higher elevations.
Pikas are small mammals, with short limbs and rounded ears. They are about 15 to 23 cm (6 to 9 in) in body length and weigh between 120 and 350 g (4 and 12+1⁄2 oz), depending on species. Like rabbits, after eating, they initially produce soft, green feces, which they eat again to take in further nutrition, before producing the final, solid, fecal pellets. Collared pikas have been known to store dead birds in their burrows for food during winter and eat the feces of other animals.
These animals are herbivores, and feed on a wide variety of plant matter, including forbs, grasses, sedges, shrub twigs, moss, and lichens. As with other lagomorphs, pikas have gnawing incisors and no canines, although they have fewer molars than rabbits; they have a dental formula of: 18.104.22.168. Another similarity that pikas share with other lagomorphs is that the bottom of their paws are covered with fur and therefore lack paw pads.
Rock-dwelling pikas have small litters of fewer than five young, while the burrowing species tend to give birth to more young, and to breed more frequently, possibly due to a greater availability of resources in their native habitats. The young are born after a gestation period between 25 and 30 days.
Pikas are diurnal or crepuscular, with higher-elevation species generally being more active during the daytime. They show their peak activity just before the winter season. Pikas do not hibernate, so they generally spend time during the summer collecting and storing food they will eat over the winter. Each rock-dwelling pika stores its own "haypile" of dried vegetation, while burrowing species often share food stores with their burrow mates. Haying behavior is more prominent at higher elevations. Many of the vocalizations and social behaviors that pikas exhibit are related to haypile defense.
Impacts of human activity on the Tundra ecosystems where pikas live have been recorded dating back to the 1970s. Rather than hibernate during winter, pikas forage for grasses and other forms of plant matter and stash these findings in protected dens in a process called 'haying' which they sustain themselves with during winter seasons. Sometimes pikas think that humans are predators, so they sometimes respond to humans as they do to other species which may actually be preying on the pikas. Such interactions with humans have been linked to pikas having reduced amounts of foraging time, consequentially limiting the amount of food they can stockpile for winter months. Pikas are unable to safely withstand surrounding temperatures above 25° C, so they must spend their time in shaded regions and out of direct sunlight when temperatures are high. A link has also been found between temperature increases and lost foraging time, where for every increase of 1° C to the ambient temperature in alpine landscapes home to pikas, those pikas lose 3% of their foraging time.
Eurasian pikas commonly live in family groups and share duties of gathering food and keeping watch. Some species are territorial. North American pikas (O. princeps and O. collaris) are asocial, leading solitary lives outside the breeding season.
Pikas have distinct calls that vary in duration. The call can either be short and quick, a little longer and more drawn out, or long songs. The short calls are an example of geographic variation. The pikas determine the appropriate time to make short calls by listening for cues for sound localization. The calls are used for individual recognition, predator warning signals, territory defense, or as a way to attract the opposite sex. There are also different calls depending on the season. In the spring, the songs become more frequent during the breeding season. In late summer, the vocalizations become short calls. Through various studies, the acoustic characteristics of the vocalizations can be a useful taxonomic tool.
The average lifespan of pikas in the wild is roughly seven years. A pika's age may be determined by the number of adhesion lines on the periosteal bone on the lower jaw. The lifespan does not differ between the sexes.
The 33 species currently recognized are:
- Order Lagomorpha
- Family Ochotonidae: pikas
- Genus Ochotona
- Subgenus Conothoa: mountain pikas
- Chinese red pika, O. erythrotis
- Forrest's pika, O. forresti
- Gaoligong pika (O. gaoligongensis) and black pika (O. nigritia) are now thought to be conspecific with O. forresti
- Glover's pika, O. gloveri
- Muli pika (O. muliensis) is now thought to be conspecific with O. gloveri
- Ili pika, O. iliensis
- Koslov's pika, O. koslowi
- Ladak pika, O. ladacensis
- Large-eared pika, O. macrotis
- Royle's pika, O. roylei
- Himalayan pika (O. himalayana) is now thought to be conspecific with O. roylei
- Turkestan red pika, O. rutila
- Subgenus Alienauroa
- Yellow pika (O. huanglongensis)
- Sacred pika (O. sacraria)
- Flat-headed pika (O. flatcalvariam)
- Subgenus Ochotona: shrub-steppe pikas
- Gansu pika or gray pika, O. cansus
- Plateau pika or black-lipped pika, O. curzoniae
- Daurian pika, O. dauurica
- Nubra pika, O. nubrica
- Steppe pika, O. pusilla
- Qionglai pika, O. qionglaiensis
- Afghan pika, O. rufescens
- Sijin pika, O. sikimaria
- Tsing-ling pika, O. syrinx
- Moupin pika, O. thibetana
- Thomas's pika, O. thomasi
- Subgenus Pika: northern pikas
- Alpine pika or Altai pika, O. alpina
- Helan Shan pika or silver pika, O. argentata
- Collared pika, O. collaris
- Korean pika, O. coreana
- Hoffmann's pika, O. hoffmanni
- Northern pika or Siberian pika, O. hyperborea
- Manchurian pika, O. mantchurica
- Kazakh pika, O. opaca
- Pallas's pika, O. pallasii
- American pika, O. princeps
- Turuchan pika, O. turuchanensis
- Subgenus Conothoa: mountain pikas
- Genus Ochotona
- Family Ochotonidae: pikas
Many fossil forms of Ochotona are described in the literature, from the Miocene epoch to the early Holocene (extinct species) and present (16.4-0 Ma). They lived in Europe, Asia, and North America.Some species listed below are common for Eurasia and North America (O. gromovi, O. tologoica, O. zazhigini, and probably O. whartoni).
- large forms
- †Ochotona chowmincheni (China: Baode area, late Miocene)
- †Ochotona gromovi (Asia, Pliocene, see also North America)
- †Ochotona gudrunae (China: Shanxi, early Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona guizhongensis (Tibet, late Miocene)
- †Ochotona lagreli (China: Inner Mongolia, late Miocene to late Pliocene)
- †Ochotona magna (China, early Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona tologoica (Transbaikalia, Pliocene, see also North America)
- †Ochotona transcaucasica (Transcaucasia: eastern Georgia and Azerbaijan, Transbaikal and probably southern Europe, early to late Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona ursui (Romania, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona zasuchini (Transbaikalia, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona zazhigini (Asia, Pliocene, see also North America)
- †Ochotona zhangi (China, Pleistocene)
- medium-sized forms
- †Ochotona agadjianiani (Asia, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona antiqua (Moldavia, Ukraine, and the Russian Plain, Caucasus, and probably Rhodes, late Miocene to Pliocene)
- †Ochotona azerica (Transcaucasia: Azerbaijan, middle Pliocene)
- †Ochotona lingtaica (Asia, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona dodogolica (Asia: western Transbaikalia, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona nihewanica (China: Hebei, early Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona plicodenta (Asia, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona polonica (Europe: Poland, Germany, France, Pliocene)
- small-sized forms
- †Ochotona bazarovi (Asia, upper Pliocene)
- †Ochotona dehmi (Germany: Schernfeld, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona filippovi (Siberia, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona gracilis (Asia, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona horaceki (Slovakia: Honce, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona minor (China, late Miocene)
- †Ochotona sibirica (Asia, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona valerotae (France: Valerots site, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona youngi (Asia, Pliocene)
- other examples
- †Ochotona agadzhaniani (Transcaucasia: Armenia, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona alaica (Asia: Kyrgyzstan, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona (Proochotona) eximia (Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Miocene to Pliocene)
- †Ochotona (Proochotona) gigas (Ukraine, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona gureevi (Transbaikalia, middle Pliocene)
- †Ochotona hengduanshanensis (China, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona intermedia (Asia, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona (Proochotona) kalfaense (Europe: Moldova, Miocene)
- †Ochotona (Proochotona) kirgisica (Asia: Kyrgyzstan, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona kormosi (Hungary, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona (Proochotona) kurdjukovi (Asia: Kyrgyzstan, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona largerli (Georgia, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona lazari (Ukraine, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona mediterranensis (Turkey, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona ozansoyi (Turkey, Miocene)
- †Ochotona pseudopusilla (Ukraine and Russian Plain, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona spelaeus (Ukraine, late Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona tedfordi (China: Yushe Basin, late Miocene)
- †Ochotona cf. whartoni (Irkutsk Oblast and Yakutia, Pleistocene, see also North America)
- †Ochotona zabiensis (southern Poland, early Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona sp. (Greece: Maritsa, Pliocene)
- †Ochotona sp. (Hungary: Ostramos, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona sp. (Siberia, Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona sp. (Yakutia, Pleistocene)
- large forms
- North America
- †Ochotona gromovi (US: Colorado, Pliocene, see also Eurasia)
- †Ochotona spanglei (US, late Miocene or early Pliocene)
- †Ochotona tologoica (US: Colorado, Pliocene, see also Eurasia)
- †Ochotona whartoni (giant pika, US, Canada, Pleistocene to early Holocene, see also Eurasia)
- †Ochotona wheatleyi (US: Alaska, Pliocene, late Pleistocene)
- †Ochotona zazhigini (US: Colorado, Pleistocene, see also Eurasia)
- extinct small pikas similar to the O. pusilla group (Pleistocene)
Paleontologists have also described multiple forms of pika not referred to specific species (Ochotona indet.) or not certainly identified (O. cf. antiqua, O. cf. cansus, O. cf. daurica, O. cf. eximia, O. cf. gromovi, O. cf. intermedia, O. cf. koslowi, O. cf. lagrelii, O. cf. nihewanica). The statuses of Ochotona (Proochotona) kirgisica and O. spelaeus are uncertain.
The North American species migrated from Eurasia. They invaded the New World twice:
- O. spanglei during the latest Miocene or early Pliocene, followed by a roughly three-million-year-long gap in the known North American pikas record
- O. whartoni (giant pika) and small pikas via the Bering Land Bridge during the earliest Pleistocene
Ochotona cf. whartoni and small pikas of the O. pusilla group are also known from Siberia. The extant, endemic North American species appeared in the Pleistocene. The North American collared pika (O. collaris) and American pika (O. princeps) have been suggested to have descended from the same ancestor as the steppe pika (O. pusilla).
The range of Ochotona was larger in the past, with both extinct and extant species inhabiting Western Europe and Eastern North America, areas that are currently free of pikas. Pleistocene fossils of the extant steppe pika O. pusilla currently native to Asia have been found also in many countries of Europe from the United Kingdom to Russia and from Italy to Poland, and the Asiatic extant northern pika O. hyperborea in one location in the middle Pleistocene United States.
Other genera of ochotonids (currently living only Ochotonidae) include except Ochotona (pika) extinct †Albertona, †Alloptox, †Amphilagus, †Australagomys, †Austrolagomys, †Bellatona, †Bellatonoides, †Bohlinotona, †Cuyamalagus, †Desmatolagus, †Eurolagus, †Gripholagomys, †Gymnesicolagus, †Hesperolagomys, †Heterolagus, †Kenyalagomys, †Lagopsis, †Marcuinomys, †Ochotonoides, †Ochotonoma, †Oklahomalagus, †Oreolagus, †Paludotona, †Piezodus, †Plicalagus, †Pliolagomys, †Prolagus, †Proochotona (syn. Ochotona), †Pseudobellatona, †Ptychoprolagus, †Russellagus, †Sinolagomys and †Titanomys. The earliest one is Desmatolagus (middle Eocene to Miocene, 42.5–14.8 Ma), usually included in the Ochotonidae, sometimes in Leporidae or in neither ochotonid nor leporid stem-lagomorphs.
Ochotonids appeared in Asia between the late Eocene and the early Oligocene, and continued to develop along with increased distribution of C3 grasses in previously forest dominated areas under the "climatic optimum" from the late Oligocene to middle Miocene. They thrived in Eurasia, North America, and even Africa. The peak of their diversity occurred during the period from the early Miocene to middle Miocene, most of them became extinct during the transition from the Miocene to Pliocene, what was accompanied by diversity increase in the leporids. It has been proposed that this switch between ochotonids and larger leporids was caused by expansion of C4 plants (particularly the Poaceae) related to global cooling in the late Miocene, since extant pikas reveal a strong preference for C3 plants (Asteraceae, Rosaceae, and Fabaceae, many of them C3). Replacement of large areas of forests by open grassland first started probably in North America and is called sometimes "nature's green revolution".
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- Gidley, J. W. (1913). "Preliminary report on a recently discovered Pleistocene cave deposit near Cumberland, Maryland". Proceedings of the United States National Museum. 46 (2014): 93–102. doi:10.5479/si.00963801.46-2014.93. hdl:2027/hvd.32044107347718. [M. Uhen/M. Shalap/M. Shalap]
- Grady, F.; Garton, E. R. (2000). "Paleontology and historic field trip of the John Guilday Cave Preserve (Trout Rock)". Bulletin – West Virginia Speleological Survey. 14: 241–244. [M. Uhen/M. Shalap/M. Shalap]
- Guilday, J. E. (1979). "Eastern North American Pleistocene Ochotona (Lagomorpha: Mammalia). Carnegie Museum of Natural History". Annals of Carnegie Museum. 48 (24). [J. Alroy/J. Alroy]
- Janossy, D. (1970). "Ein neuer Eomyide (Rodentia, Mammalia) aus dem Ältestpleistozän ("Oberes Villafrankium", Villanyium) des Osztramos (Nordostungarn); (A new Eomyid (Rodentia, Mammalia) from the lowermost Pleistocene (upper Villafranchian) from Osztramos mountain (Northeastern Hungary)". Annales Historico-Naturales Musei Nationalis Hungarici. 62: 99–113. [J. Alroy/S. Kuemmell/S. Kuemmell]
- Janossy, D. (1986). Pleistocene vertebrate faunas of Hungary. Developments in Palaeontology and Stratigraphy. 8. Amsterdam: Elsevier. ISBN 978-0-444-99526-1. [A. Turner/H. O'Regan/H. O'Regan]
- Kurten, B.; Anderson, E. (1980). Pleistocene mammals of North America. ISBN 978-0231037334. [J. Alroy/J. Alroy/J. Alroy]
- Mead, J. I.; Grady, F. (1996). "Ochotona (Lagomorpha) from late Quaternary cave deposits in eastern North America". Quaternary Research. 45 (1): 93–101. Bibcode:1996QuRes..45...93M. doi:10.1006/qres.1996.0009. [J. Alroy/J. Alroy/J. Alroy]
- Qiu, Z. (1987). "Neogene micromammals of China". Whyte, P., Ed. Paleoenvironment of East Asia from the Mid-Tertiary, Second International Conference on the Paleoenvironment of East Asia. 77 (1–2): 834–848. [W. Clyde/J. Finarelli/W. Clyde]
- Rasmussen, D. L. (1974). "New Quaternary mammal localities in the upper Clark Fork River valley, western Montana". Northwest Geology. 3: 62–70. [M. Uhen/C. Peredo]
- Sotnikova, M.V.; Dodonov, A.E.; Pen'kov, A.V. (1997). "Upper Cenozoic bio-magnetic stratigraphy of Central Asian mammalian localities". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 133 (3–4): 243–258. Bibcode:1997PPP...133..243S. doi:10.1016/s0031-0182(97)00078-3. [A. Turner/H. O'Regan/H. O'Regan]
- Terzea, E. (1996). "Biochronology of the Pleistocene deposits at Betfia (Bihor, Romania)". Acta Zoologica Cracovensia. 39 (1): 531–540. [A. Behrensmeyer/H. O'Regan/H. O'Regan]
- Winkler, A. J.; Grady, F. (1990). "The middle Pleistocene rodent Atopomys (Cricetidae: Arvicolinae) from the eastern and south-central United States". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 10 (4): 484–490. doi:10.1080/02724634.1990.10011831. [J. Alroy/J. Alroy]
- Additional contributors to utilized records of Paleobiology Database (authorizers supplying these records) include John Alroy, Anna Behrensmeyer, Will Clyde, Alan Turner, Mark Uhen.
- Orr, Robert Thomas (1977). The Little-known Pika (illustrated ed.). New York: Macmillan. ISBN 9780025939608.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ochotona.|
|Wikispecies has information related to Ochotona.|
- The trek of the pika, by Michael Morris, Parks Canada, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks. (includes sound file)