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Pika - Ochotonidae

Pika - Ochotonidae

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Pikas (Ochotonidae) are a group of lagamorphs that includes about 30 species. They are small and have a round body, rounded ears, short legs and a short tail. Pikas resemble guinea pigs (which are rodents) but the similarities are superficial and misleading. Pikas are, in fact, more closely related to rabbits and hares (like pikas, rabbits and hares are lagomorphs) than they are to guinea pigs or any rodent group.

Pikas have mostly red-brown to gray colored fur. They shed their coat of fur twice each year. Their winter coat is usually lighter in color than their summer coat.

Pikas are active during the day (diurnal). They live in burrows that they dig themselves and, when above ground, often seek refuge in rock crevices. Unlike many other lagomorphs, pikas are not built for speed. Their compact physique and relatively short legs make them slower runners and not so skilled at hopping long distances. Instead they move by taking small leaps and seek refuge in burrows and rock crevices when threatened.

Pikas are also known less commonly as "calling hares", a name they earned because of to their unique vocalizations. Pikas most frequently produce calls when sitting at a lookout either atop a rock or near the entrance of their burrow. Their calls or "songs" take on a variety of forms: long calls, short calls and trills.

Pikas are hunted by a variety of predators including ermines, steppe weasels, red foxas and steppe foxas. Like hares and rabbits, pikas have an impressive reproductive rate, which enables their populations to recover quickly from predation, disease and harsh conditions.

Pikas have an exceptionally high average body temperature of 104°. This temperature is close to the lethal limit for mammals and pikas therefore must take care not to overheat during warm periods. For this reason, pikas limit their activity during the heat of the day and simply do not live in ranges where ambient temperatures are too high.

Size and Weight:

Between 5 and 10 inches long and about 3.5 to 14 ounces

Diet:

Like hares and rabbits, pikas are herbivores. They feed on grasses and other plant materials such as mosses, shrubs, weeds, bark, berries, roots, leaves and fruit. Pikas, like other lagomorphs, eat their feces and as a result, food is passes through their digestive tract twice to ensure full nutrient uptake. This double digestive process is crucial to pikas, if they are prevented from eating their feces, they will suffer malnutrition and die.

Pikas do not hibernate and for this reason they must gather and store enough food supplies to last the winter, when harsh weather limits their foraging options. During the warmer months of the year, pikas spend much of their time stashing spare plants. They cut swatches of fresh plants with their sharp teeth. The carry bundles of cuttings in their mouth and stash them in storage locations. These storage piles are either nestled within the rocks or are located near their dens in big mounds or "haystacks". In Russia, this behavior has earned pikas the nick name of "haystack makers". Some species also cover their haystacks with stones to prevent them from blowing away.

Habitat:

Pikas are not as widespread as their cousins the hares and rabbits. They inhabit mountains, rocky terrain, semi-deserts and high-elevation plains in North America, Europe and Asia. There are two species of pikas that live in North America, the collared pika and the North American pika. All other pikas inhabit Europe and Asia.

Reproduction:

Pikas reproduce sexually. Their gestation period is between 20 and 30 days. Females give birt to between 2 and 13 young, although on average litter sizes are fewer than 5. Pikas are thought to live between about 4 and 6 years.

Classification:

Pikas are one of two groups of lagomorphs (the other group is the hares and rabbits). Pikas are divided into three subgroups of pikas: northern pikas, shrub-steppe pikas and mountain pikas.

Evolution:

The earliest pikas date back to the early Oligocene.
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