Temporal range: Oligocene–Recent[2]
American Pika, (Ochotona princeps), in Sequoia National Park
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Ochotonidae
Thomas, 1897
Genus: Ochotona
Link, 1795
Type species
Ochotona minor
Link, 1795
(Lepus dauuricus Pallas, 1776)

See text

The pika (play /ˈpkə/ py-kə; archaically spelled pica) is a small mammal, with short limbs, rounded ears, and short tail. The name pika is used for any member of the Ochotonidae, a family within the order of lagomorphs, which also includes the Leporidae (rabbits and hares). One genus, Ochotona, is recognised within the family, and it includes 30 species.[citation needed] It is also known as the "whistling hare" due to its high-pitched alarm call when diving into its burrow. The name "pika" appears to be derived from the Tungus piika.



Pikas are native to cold climates, mostly in Asia, North America and parts of eastern Europe. Most species live on rocky mountain sides, where there are numerous crevices to shelter in, although some also construct crude burrows. A few burrowing species are instead native to open steppe land. In the mountains of Eurasia, pikas often share their burrows with snowfinches, which build their nests there.[3]


Ochotona sp. fossils

Pikas are small mammals, with short limbs, rounded ears, and short tails. They are about 6-9 in. in body length, with a tail less than 2 cm long, and weigh between 120 and 350 grams, depending on species. Like rabbits, after eating they initially produce soft green feces, which they eat again to extract further nutrition, before producing the final, solid, fecal pellets.

These animals are herbivores, and feed on a wide variety of plant matter. Because of their native habitat, they primarily eat grasses, sedges, shrub twigs, moss, and lichen. As with other lagomorphs, pikas have gnawing incisors and no canines, although they have fewer molars than rabbits, giving them a dental formula of: Upper:, lower:

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 of between 25 and 30 days.[3]


Vegetation pile, drying on rocks for subsequent storage. Gad Valley, Snowbird Ski Resort, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
American pika with mouthful of dried grass. Sequoia National Park, CA

Pikas are diurnal or crepuscular, with higher altitude species generally being more active during the daytime. They show their peak activity before the winter season. Pikas do not hibernate, so they rely on collected hay for warm bedding and food. Pikas gather fresh grasses and lay them in stacks to dry. Once the grasses dry out, the pikas take this hay back to the burrows for storage. It is not uncommon for pikas to steal hay from others; the resulting disputes are usually exploited by neighboring predators like ferrets and large birds.

Eurasian pikas commonly live in family groups and share duties of gathering food and keeping watch. At least some species are territorial. North American pikas (O. princeps and O. collaris) are asocial, leading solitary lives outside the breeding season.


There are 30 species listed.


  1. ^ a b Hoffman, Robert S.; Smith, Andrew T. (16 November 2005). "Order Lagomorpha (pp. 185-211". In Wilson, Don E., and Reeder, DeeAnn M., eds. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2 vols. (2142 pp.). pp. 185–193. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. http://www.bucknell.edu/msw3. 
  2. ^ Savage, RJG, & Long, MR (1986). Mammal Evolution: an illustrated guide. New York: Facts on File. pp. 128. ISBN 0-8160-1194-X. 
  3. ^ a b Kawamichi, Takeo (1984). Macdonald, D.. ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 726–727. ISBN 0-87196-871-1. 

External links

  • The Trek of the Pika "A story complete with sounds of pika calls" 30 October 2002
  • [1] "A radio feature on how Pikas in the Rockies are coping with climate change. " 31 July 2007

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  • pika — [pī′kə] n. [< Tungusic name] any of a family (Ochotonidae) of small, short legged lagomorphs with rounded ears, found in rocky areas, usually at high altitudes, in W North America and in Asia …   English World dictionary

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