Ochotonidae – Pikas

Like rabbits, these mountain-dwelling cuties, after eating, initially produce soft green feces, which they eat again

Pikas stand as a testament to the resilience and adaptability of mammals in some of the most challenging habitats on Earth. These diminutive creatures, often mistaken for rodents but closely related to rabbits and hares, are adapted to live in cold, alpine regions across Asia and North America. Their habitats are typically found above the tree line, where vegetation is sparse, and conditions are harsh due to low temperatures and thin air.

The common name “whistling hare” stems from one of the pika’s most notable behaviors: its high-pitched alarm call. This sharp whistle serves as a warning signal to other nearby pikas when a predator is near, prompting them to scurry into the safety of their burrows or rock crevices. This vocalization is a crucial adaptation for survival in their open, exposed habitats, where early detection of threats is essential.

Physically, pikas are characterized by compact, rounded bodies covered in dense, soft fur that provides insulation against the cold. Their fur color, ranging from grayish-brown to reddish, offers camouflage among the rocks and sparse vegetation of their alpine homes. Despite species diversity within the family, pikas maintain a relatively uniform appearance, with subtle differences in size and coloration.

Pikas are active foragers, collecting various plants, grasses, and flowers. They are well known for their behavior of creating “haypiles” during the warmer months, which serve as stored food to sustain them through the winter when the ground is covered in snow and food is scarce.

The conservation status of pikas is a growing concern, particularly due to the impacts of climate change. Pikas have a very low tolerance for high temperatures, which limits their ability to adapt to warming climates. As temperatures rise, pikas may be forced to move to higher elevations in search of suitable habitat, reducing their available living space and increasing the risk of population decline.