Pika is a common name for the smallest members of the order Lagomorpha, which also includes rabbits and hares.
Only one genus, Ochotona, is recognised within the family, covering 30 species.
Members of this group include silver pikas, collard pikas, steppe pikas, American pikas Chinese red pikas, Himalayan pikas, and many other species.
Pikas are native to cold climates, mostly in Asia, North America, and parts of Eastern Europe.
The two species found in North America are the American pika, found primarily in the mountains of the western United States and far southwestern Canada, and the collared pika of northern British Columbia, the Yukon, western Northwest Territories, and Alaska.
Pikas are found in two distinct habitats: broken rock (talus) habitat or in meadow, steppe, forest, and shrub habitats.
The large-eared pika of the Himalayas and nearby mountains is found at heights of more than 6,000 meters (20,000 ft) above sea level, among the highest of any mammal.
The average lifespan of pikas is about 7 years in the wild.
Pikas are notable for their short, rounded ears, lack of a tail, and round body.
They are about 15 to 23 centimeters (5.9 to 9.1 in) in body length and weigh between 120 and 350 grams (4.2 and 12.3 oz), depending on species.
Their fur is long and soft and is generally grayish-brown in colour, although a few species are rusty red.
These animals are herbivores, and feed on a wide variety of plant matter, including forbs, grasses, sedges, shrub twigs, moss, and lichen.
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.
Once the grasses dry out, the pikas take this hay back to the burrows for storage.
Each rock-dwelling pika stores its own “haypile” of dried vegetation, while burrowing species often share food stores with their burrow mates.
Pikas engage in a variety of calls. Rock-dwelling pikas have a vocal repertoire of two calls, while burrowing pikas have a number of different vocalizations.
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.
Traditionally, pikas were a valuable source of fur throughout Asia and in particular the Soviet Union.
The name “pika” appears to be derived from the Tungus piika, and the scientific name Ochotona is from the Mongolian word ogdoi which means pika.
The pika is also known as the “whistling hare” for its high-pitched alarm call when diving into its burrow.