Native to Nevada, the American Pika (Ochotona princeps) is a small, diurnal mammal that has adapted to the cold climate in high-elevation boulder fields and alpine meadows in the mountains of the American West. It belongs to the lagomorph family of hares and rabbits and is exclusively found in alpine terrain, above the tree line, while occupying rock faces, talus, and cliffs near mountain meadows.
The American Pika has a small, round body and peppery brown fur—think of it as a mixture between a rabbit and a mouse. These creatures range between six and eight inches long and weigh about six ounces, and can most easily be spotted in northeastern Nevada near the Ruby Mountains. It is an herbivore that stores its food in small piles called “haystacks” for the long winters.
The pika is a very vocal animal, using calls and songs to communicate with its colony. Warning calls signal potential predators as well as alert the colony of challenging males. Males use song to attract females during mating season, and females will occasionally mimic the males’ song.
In early to mid spring, American pikas begin to breed. Many will breed twice annually, once in spring and once in early summer. The female’s gestation period is 30 days, with an average litter of two to six young. The young are weaned in a month, full grown in three months, and of breeding age in one year.
Global warming may have contributed to numerous local and regional extirpations of Pika populations. The animals are very sensitive to increasing temperatures and are considered one of the best warning systems for detecting an increase in temperature within pika habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife considered the pika for protection under the Endangered Species Act due to documented extirpations, but protection was found not warranted from information on pika distribution and information indicating that pika could withstand increased temperatures within their occupied regions. #NVWildlife