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Ochotona princeps

Hares and Pikas
Pikas (Ochotonidae)

Measurement: Size: 17-19 cm Weight: 105-130 g (3.7-4.6 oz)

Description: Few visitors get to see the pika, but most are tormented by their high-pitched call. Because they choose desolate rock and scree slopes for their home, their calls seem to come from all directions at once. Patient observers are rewarded though, and if you sit still, you will eventually notice movement. Follow this bouncing fuzz ball, and when it stops you can get a good look at the wondrous pika

Visibly, they are a small, guinea pig-like animal with round ears and no visible tail. They gain their name from their call, which essentially mimics their name, and resembles a high pitched "peeeek". While they may look like a small rodent, they are actually related to rabbits, and are not rodents at all.

Range: Pikas are found only at high elevation, usually above 2000 m (6,500 ft) where they eek out a living amidst seemingly desolate rock and scree slopes. They make their nests in the rocks, venturing out to feed on nearby vegetation. Their range extends throughout the Canadian and American Rockies, but they are not found east of the mountains.

Why is their range so limited? Despite high tolerances for cold climates, they die quickly if their body temperature rises only a degree or two above normal. This limits their distribution to the high country where high temperatures are rare.

Diet: Pikas are exceedingly industrious animals. They do not hibernate during the winter, but rather survive on food stores collected during the summer. This means that their time is spent busily scurrying from the security of their scree slope to nearby meadows to collect plants. They fill their mouth with a wide selection of plants, arranging the plants crosswise until there is no more room, and then scurrying back to the rock pile. Normally very vocal, they are silent when they leave the rocks due to their vulnerability to predators at this time.

Once collected, the plants are carefully placed in hay piles that will be left out to season, much like a farmer leaving his hay bales out. These will serve as the pika's winter food supply. The hay piles can be as large as a bushel, for the alpine winter can be very long, and there must be sufficient food to last.

Reproduction: Pikas mate in the spring, with a litter of 2 to 5 young born approximately 30 days later. In good years, they may produce two litters. Male and female territories are often adjacent to one another, and except for mating, each excludes the other from their bit of the rock. Since food is limited, they must ensure enough range for their survival.


Pikas are one of the most well developed mountain animals, so well developed in fact that they exist only within the confines of the high country. Their poor tolerance of heat has forced them uphill with warming climates since the end of the last ice age.

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All Material Ward Cameron 2005



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