This tiny fur-bearing animal is a close relative of the rabbit. In fact, this rather cute animal is sometimes given the common name “rock rabbit.” The pika has a distinctive squeal or call that is very high-pitched and sometimes compared to a whistle. This is most often heard during times of perceived danger when the pika is heading to its burrow.
The name probably comes from the Russian word for “squeak.” This may be rather accurate since the pika’s natural habitat is in cold climates, primarily on the Asian continent and in the northern parts of Europe. They are also found in the northern regions of the North American continent.
The pika usually lives in burrows on the side of a mountain. They make use of natural crevices and holes created by weather conditions as well. Some species of pika live in open land, such as the steppes of Russia (Siberia).
In recent years, the pika populations may be declining due to human activity that takes over the animal’s natural habitat. Some who have studied this interesting relative of the rabbit also believe that the pika’s numbers are on the way down because climates are changing so radically.
While the size of the pika may make it seem defenseless, scientific studies show that this animal has probably existed in various parts of the world for many centuries. Some species have probably existed for thousands of years. Some government agencies have given serious thought to providing protected status for the pika.
The diet of the pika is similar to that of rabbits. They eat soft, green plants and grasses. The meals of the species regularly include moss, lichen and small twigs as well. Because they are strictly herbivorous, the pika has no canine teeth. They have the common teeth for gnawing on plant material, however.
The number of young produced in a pika litter help the species to survive, as they often have as many as five young in a litter. In fact, the types of pika that live in burrows in flat ground may have even more young each time they give birth. Studies have shown that the gestation period for this animal is very short – a month or less in many cases.
While they pika may be active at any time of the day or night, depending on necessity, most are active during the daylight hours. As colder weather approaches, a pika will construct a warm bed in its burrow and gather a food supply. But they do not hibernate during the winter months.
In Europe and Asia, pika species are known to be communal, sharing such activities as food gathering with others in the immediate area. This is not true of the North American types, however. They tend to be very shy around larger animals and humans, for obvious reasons. The color of the fur is gray or a gray/brown mix. In addition to the intrusion of human beings, the pika populations in some areas have been reduced due to poisons intended for crops.