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Pikas: Ochotonidae

American Pika (ochotona Princeps): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: The American pika is a medium-sized pika with short ears, an oval body shape, and no apparent tail. American pikas have a body length of 6 to 8.5 inches (16.2 to 21.6 centimeters) and weigh about 6 ounces (168 grams). Their hind feet are relatively large compared to their body, 1 to 1.4 inches (2.5 to 3.5 centimeters).

Geographic range: The American pika is found in the western United States in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, California, and New Mexico, and in British Columbia in western Canada.

The American pika lives in the western United States and Canada. (John Shaw/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

Habitat: American pikas are found in rocky mountain areas, grassland, coniferous forest, deciduous forest, and the border between meadows and rocky terrain.

Diet: American pikas are herbivores, meaning they eat mainly plants. Their diet includes grasses, thistles, sedges (a wetland plant that resembles grass), and fireweed. Because pikas live in climates with harsh winters, most species build large hay piles during the summer to provide food during the winter. They cut off grass stems at the root and bring them to selected places on the surface, piling them into conical-shaped mounds. Once dry, each hay pile can weigh from 2 to 5 pounds (0.9 to 2.25 kilograms). Some pikas store their hay in tree hollows, under tree stumps, and in rock cavities. Each of these stashes can weigh from 15 to 40 pounds (6.75 to 18 kilograms).

Behavior and reproduction: American pikas are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day. They are territorial, meaning they defend an area they consider their home from intruders. Males and females have separate territories. They spend most of their day looking for food, guarding their territory, and sunning themselves on rocks.

American pikas usually breed from late April to early July. The female gives birth to two to four babies in the spring or summer. The gestation period is about thirty days.

American pikas and people: American pikas play an important role in maintaining the diversity and abundance of alpine meadow plants through their storage of grasses for food during the winter.

Conservation status: The American pika is not listed as threatened by the IUCN. However, populations have drastically declined between 1994 and 1999 and continued to decline into 2004. Seven subspecies (populations of a species living in specific areas) are listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable and several subspecies are considered threatened or endangered by other conservation groups. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsPikas: Ochotonidae - Behavior And Reproduction, American Pika (ochotona Princeps): Species Accounts, Northern Pika (ochotona Hyperborea): Species Accounts - PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS, GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, PIKAS AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS