Definitions

pika

pika

[pahy-kuh]
pika, short-haired mammal related to rabbits and hares, also called mouse hare and rock rabbit. Pikas live above the timber line in the mountains of N Asia and W North America. The pika differs from the rabbit in that its body is smaller and the ears on its blunt head are shorter; also unlike the rabbit, the fore and hind limbs are about equal in length. The pika moves with a scampering gait. Its fur varies from red to gray and covers the soles of its feet. Pikas generally shelter in communities beneath rocks, although some Asian species burrow. Their diet consists primarily of green plants. Because food is difficult to obtain in winter in the harsh tundra environment, pikas cut, sun-dry, and store vegetation for winter use. Pikas are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Lagomorpha, family Ochotonidae.

American pika (Ochotona princeps).

Any of numerous round-eared, tailless members (genus Ochotona, family Ochotonidae) of the rabbit order (Lagomorpha), found in Asia, eastern Europe, and parts of western North America. Though not hares, they are sometimes called mouse hares. The hind legs are less developed than a rabbit's; pikas scamper rather than bound. Their brownish or reddish fur is soft, long, and thick. Most pikas weigh between 4.5 and 7.1 oz. (125 and 200 g) and are about 6 in. (15 cm) long. Many species live in rocky, mountainous areas, but some Asian species inhabit burrows. Pikas do not hibernate, but in summer and autumn they “harvest” vegetation and store it in protected places (e.g., under rocks) to be eaten in winter.

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Pikas are small hamster-like animals, with short limbs, rounded ears, and short tails. The name pika (archaically spelled pica) 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. Pikas are also called rock rabbits or coneys. It is also known as the "whistling hare" due to its high-pitched alarm call when diving into its burrow. The pika may look like a hamster, but is actually a cousin of the rabbit. The name "pika" appears to be derived from the Tungus "piika", or perhaps from the Russian "pikat", to squeak. In the United States the pronunciation of the name is usually altered from /pika/ to /'paɪ·ka/, probably due to the spelling.

Habitat

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.

In an article in the Journal of Biogeography, archeologist Donald Grayson warned that human activity and global climate change appeared to be pushing the American pika population to ever-higher elevations and thus possibly toward extinction. Grayson studied pika habitation over the past 40,000 years in the region between the Sierra Nevada (U.S.) and Rocky Mountains. An earlier Journal of Mammalogy article reached a similar conclusion.

Characteristics

Pikas are small hamster-like animals, with short limbs, rounded ears, and short tails. They are about 18-20 cm in body length, with a tail less than 2 cm long, and weigh between 75 and 290 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 premolars than rabbits, giving them a dental formula of:

Rock-dwelling pikas have small litters of less 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.

Activity

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.

Species

References

External links

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