The pika is a close relative of rabbits and hares, with two upper incisors on each side of the jaw, one behind the other. Being rock-gray in color, pikas are seldom seen until their shrill call reveals their presence. They scurry around the mountainside, stopping frequently to squeak a warning. Pikas are about the size and shape of a guinea pig, about eight inches in length and weighing about seven ounces. Their tiny round droppings and distinctive haypiles are common around rocks near and above treeline.
Pikas shed in late spring from their long winter coats to a shorter summer coat, then shed again in the fall. Because of the short warm season, end of spring shedding can overlap the beginning of the fall shed so the animals look scruffy most of the summer.
Predators of pikas include long-tailed weasels, ermines and American (pine) martens. Coyotes and hawks take a toll as well, but pikas are well protected from larger predators by their rocky habitat.
Range: Pikas are restricted to mountainous parts of Colorado and other Western states.
Habitat: Mostly alpine and subalpine talus and rockpiles.
Diet: Pikas are active year-round; they harvest vegetation from alpine meadows during the short growing season and store it for winter food in bushel-sized mounds beneath boulders.
Reproduction: Pikas breed in March or April and have a litter of three or four young after a gestation period of about 30 days. Some females have a second litter. Maximum life span is four to seven years.
By David M. Armstrong
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Environmental Studies Program, University Museum of Natural History
University of Colorado-Bouldermausmann@aol.com