The term pika is used to refer to small mammals in the Ochotonidae family, which holds one genus known as Ochotona. This genus holds thirty species, sometimes referred to as whistling hares, which can be found in cold areas of North America, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Most of the species within this genus reside in rocky areas, although some can be found in steppe environments.
Pikas reach an average body length between 5.9 and 9.1 inches, with a weight of up to twelve ounces. They prefer to live in family groups, but some species are known to be territorial. Individuals residing at higher elevations are typically active during the day, while other species are active during dawn and dusk hours. Because pikas do not hibernate during the cold winter months, they must store dry grasses and other food sources to consume. Burrowing species that reside at lower elevations store food in burrows that can be shared with their group members, but pikas residing at higher elevations store only enough food for themselves.
Pikas feed on a variety of vegetation including grasses, forbs, sedges, lichen, twigs, and moss. Pikas will also consume fresh feces in order to gain more nutrients from their diet. Those living at higher elevations tend to reproduce less than those living at lower elevations, most likely due to a lack of resources. Members of this genus include the silver pika, the alpine pika, and the Afghan pika.
Image Caption: A Collared Pika in Hatchers Pass Alaska, 2011. Credit: The poison of doubt/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)