The Smallest Relative Of The Rabbit : The Pika

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Photo credit : [IG]@corvid8 - Brian M. Wolitski

Pika is an animal that lives in the parts of the Nothern Hemisphere and Asia. You will see it as a close relative of the rat. But their closest relatives are rabbits and hares. It is not difficult to identify a pika as it does not have a tail. The small and round bodies make them adorable. It also has fluffy fur and small round ears. Pikas are having a weight of four to seven ounces and have a length of about eight inches.

The American pika has a black and brown color that makes the camouflage among the rocks. The fur is thick that ensures comfort during winter. They get a lighter coat of fur in summer. Anyway, fur is still thick enough to protect them from overheating.

The genus name of pika is Ochotona princeps. It belongs to the family of Ochotonidae. The name has a meaning of little chief hare from the Indian language. Pika is also known as coneys and rock rabbits.

Let’s check out more on pikas.

How was pika discover?

Li Weidong discovered pikas in 1983. He and his team were the first people to observe this animal. After 3 years of research, they name this little rabbit pika. They found pikas on the west side of China’s Xinjiang province. A total of 29 pikas were sighted until 2015.

The population of pikas was decreased by 70% within 15 years. There are many reasons for the decrease of this innocent little animal.

Food

Photo credit : [IG]@corvid8 – Brian M. Wolitski

Pikas are herbivores. They like to eat tail wildflowers. Grasses, forbs, small shrubs, and weeds grow in their habitats. Pikas fulfill the water requirements through consumed plants.

Pikas are famous for their innovative haymaking behavior.

Breeding

Pikas make mated pairs each year before snowmelt. A female pika can give birth to two to four pups. They depend completely on their mother for about 18 days. These small pups are blind and they open years after nine days from birth. They can head out on their own by four weeks old.

What are the threats to pikas?

Climatic changes are one of the major threats for pikas. Global warming highly affects the lives of these innocent animals. The increase of average temperature and frequency of high-temperature events cause pika mortality due to overheating. Exposure of pikas to temperatures more than 77 degrees can cause death. They are considered as an indicator species for climate change. Their habitats shift upslope as a result of the increasing temperature.

Livestock grazing and human disturbances are also threats to the lives of pikas.

Who is the predator of pika?

Pika has sharp eyes and hearing. So they get the signals about predators quickly. The whole group of these animals is sensitive to the signal of each other. Just after getting a signal from one member, the whole colony dives into their burrows. They also get into the tiny spaces between the rocks to escape. They are sensitive to the alarm signals of ground squirrels and marmots. Pikas immediately look up and try to figure out the threat.

Ermine is one of the famous predators of pikas. They can easily hunt pikas by entering the burrows or rocks. Marten can also hunt pikas. Hawks, owls, and eagles are the other predators who used to hunt pikas.

Pika tends to respond to predators in different ways. They become silent to avoid the attention of a predator. But pika tends to help each other by giving signals whenever they see a predator.

Parasites like botflies live in the skin of pikas. They tend to hatch eggs on pikas. Mites, nematodes, and fleas are other parasites that tend to bother the lives of this animal.  

Interesting facts about Pika

Photo credit : [IG]@rachelintherockies – Rachel Clark

Separate names for male and female

Rabbits have different names for males and females. The names of Pikas are also similar to them. Bucks are the males while does are the females. The male pikas are larger than females.

Pikas eat the same food twice.

Pikas eat meals and produce feces consist of grass and plants. Then they eat it again for better absorption of nutrients.

Storage capacity of pikas

Most of the cold weather animal species herbinate during winter. But pikas don’t do this. They store food in the tunnel to use in the winter season. They work hard during summer to collect piles of grass, dry them, and take them into the tunnel.

Pikas clips and pulls up the stems and twigs by late June. Then the pikas carry those stems and twigs in their mouths and keep them on the rocks to dry. Haymaking becomes the major activity of pikas in summer.

Pikas steal vegetation from the hay piles of nearby neighbors. During this time, pikas become less tolerant and vigorous. They defend the vegetation caches by scolding stealers. Chasing away one another is also a famous scene during this time.

Pikas have tails but you don’t see

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, pikas don’t have tails. But it is not a true fact. They do have a tail. The dense fur of pikas perfectly obscures it. So the tail of pikas is not clearly visible to the outside.

Pikas have funny nicknames

Though the pikas are close relatives of rabbits. They don’t have a similar appearance. Anyway, the nicknames say that pikas are relatives of rabbits. They are called “Rock Rabbits” due to their habitat. ‘Whistling hare’ is another nickname for pikas. They got this name due to the shrill whistle they blow in case of an emergency.

Pikas live in colonies. 

Pikas live in a coloy. There are several pikas that live in a single colony. Whenever they got a signal about a predator they pass the message to everyone. It is done by using scent-making and endearing vocalization. They sound like squeaky toys.

Pikas or China’s ‘magic bunny’ have been listed as an endangered animal in China. It is our duty to conserve these little animals.

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