A pika is a mammal in the family Ochotonidae, placed among the same order as hares and rabbits. This rabbit relative can be found in North America and parts of Eurasia, and it strongly resembles a hamster, although pikas are not in fact closely related to the hamster. Some concerns about the pika have been raised, as these animals are vulnerable to habitat destruction and climate change, leading several species to be threatened, especially in North America.
You may also hear pikas called whistling hares, a reference to the strange whistling noises which some species make. They are also called mouse hares, rock rabbits, or central Asian rabbits. The name “pika” appears to come from the Russian word pikat, which means “to squeak.” These animals are extremely shy and very small, making it hard to see them in the wild unless one spends months studying them, but some zoos have pika populations for people who would like to get a closer look at the animal.
Pikas are brownish to gray in color, and they live primarily at high altitudes in rocky areas, using the crevices of the rocks for shelter. During the summer, the pika harvests and cures food to use during the lean months of the winter, as the animals are active year round. Most pikas are active primarily during the day, with some living in family colonies while others choose to live alone. Pikas bear litters of five to six individuals, and have a very short gestation period, like many of their rabbit relatives.
In North America, biologists are concerned about the impact of climate change on the pika. Normally, increasing temperatures would lead these animals to simply travel northwards in search of more hospitable climates. However, North American pikas have very restricted ranges, living on habitat islands in the midst of human civilization. As a result, they cannot migrate to find better places to live, and their habitats are rapidly being restricted even further due to encroachment.
In Eurasia, the plight of the pika is not as severe, although the animals are extensively hunted, and they are vulnerable to pollution and habitat encroachment as the expanding human population demands more space. In some areas, this animal is viewed as a pest, because it eats grain and other resources, and people may set out traps and poison to control the pika population. In addition to achieving the desired goal of reducing the numbers of pikas in the area, poison also hurts other animals in the same environment who use the pika as a source of food.