I finally saw my first pikas (Ochotona princeps) while visiting the Lava Cast Forest south of Bend OR. Found in the mountains of Western North America, pikas live amid talus below cliffs and on lava flows comprised of broken rocks. The Lava Cast Forest was covered by lava flows from Newberry Crater about 6,000 years ago. The high altitude and lava rock provide a perfect environment for pikas.
Pikas belong to the Order Lagomorpha along with rabbits and hares. Although the pika looks similar to ground squirrels or other rodents, it has four incisor teeth, like rabbits and hares, while rodents have two incisor teeth.
The size of a guinea pig, the pika has rounded ears with white edges, no external tail and densely furred soles on its feet, except for black pads at the end if its toes. Variable in color, pikas can be grey buff to cinnamon or even dark brown.
Pikas do not hibernate. Their diet consists of herbaceous plants and grasses, so these little lagomorphs collect plants during the summer and dry the foliage in piles or “haystacks”. Once dry, pikas store their winter food deep in the loose rocks.
Pikas are territorial and defend their individual territories. Usually two pikas of the opposite sex with adjacent territories will mate. Female pikas are reflex ovulators, meaning that they only ovulate after copulation. After one month of gestation one to five altrical (helpless and naked and with closed eyes) pups are born, usually in May or June. After four weeks the young are weaned and independent.
Pikas have a distinctive calls – sharp and bleating – that give voice to excitement, curiosity and alarm.
Diurnal, pikas are active during the day but not at night. They are also very sensitive to heat. If exposed to temperatures greater than 77.9° F for more than six hours pikas will die. Therefore they seek shelter from the heat deep in the rocks and live at higher latitudes and elevations.
Martens, weasels, raptors, bobcats and coyote are their main enemies.
I was delighted to see these cute mammals, even though they did not sit still long enough for good photographs.