Pika (family Ochotonidae)

Rabbits are cute. Hares can still be cute, but I think most people would agree that on the whole, rabbits are cuter. But the most adorable of all lagomorphs has to be the pika. The pika’s fat cheeks, short ears, and fluffiness earn it the top spot for sure.

Pikas are members of the lagomorph family, which includes rabbits and hares. There are thirty species of pikas, which is why I couldn’t just pick one species to write about. Though they are found mostly in Asia, two species live in North America, the collared pika and the American pika. Pikas can be divided into two groups, based on what habitats they live in. One group lives in rocky areas, while the other is found in meadows or forest habitats.

Pikas are small creatures, ranging from 12 to 30 cm in length. They don’t have visible tails (unlike hares and rabbits), and much shorter ears than their relatives. They can’t move their ears very much, but pikas can close their nostrils if they want to. Their hind and forelimbs are roughly the same size (again, very different from their hopping cousins), and the soles of Pikas’ feet are covered in hair.

Reproduction in pikas is varied, but again they generally fall into two categories, depending on where they live. Meadow pikas tend to be more monogamous and breed once per year, having litters of 1 to 5 pups. Meadow pikas, on the other hand, can be breeding machines. If environmental conditions are right, they can have litters of up to ten young, and can have litters every three weeks. While rocky pikas only reach sexually maturity the next breeding season, meadow pikas that are born early in the year will be sexually mature by the end of the season and have litters of their own.

Pikas are herbivores, eating grasses and leaves or shrubs. Pikas produce two types of faeces, hard pellets and soft caecotrophs. They consume the caecotrophs to extract as many nutrients from their plant-based diet as possible. Pikas store some of their food in preparation for the winter season, and will select which plants to forage for based on whether they are consuming the food right away or storing it later in a haypile.

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Pikas are cute, but baby pikas are cuter. Image source: http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/ufiles/95/833495.jpg

Rocky pikas are very territorial, living alone and only coming together to mate. These pikas will venture into one another’s territory to try and steal from haypiles. Meadow pikas are much more cooperative, living in family groups in communal burrows. They also don’t steal from one another, and use group haypiles. Overall I’d say meadow pikas seem a lot nicer than their rocky counterparts.

Asides from the eating their own poop thing, pikas are probably one of the most adorable animal species I’ve ever written about. I’m sure you all agree.

Cover image source: Wikipedia

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