Ochotona collariscollared pika

Geographic Range

Collared pikas, Ochotona collaris, are found in the mountainous regions of central and southeastern Alaska, in the Yukon-Tanana uplands to the Chigmit Mountains, and from the Richardson Mountains north of the Artic circle in the Yukon, west of the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories, and south into northwestern British Columbia (MacDonald and Jones, 1987). (Broadbooks, 1965; Franken and Hik, 2004a; MacDonald and Jones, 1987)


Collared pikas most commonly live in mountainous terrain that contains rock slides with large boulders and talus slopes. They favor the borders of talus slopes that are closest to meadows and patches of high quality vegetation. Collared pikas often colonize taluses that are on southwest facing slopes because they tend to have shorter period of snow cover and a longer plant growing season (Franken and Hik, 2004a). They also have been recorded inhabiting areas near sea level in southern Alaska and British Columbia (MacDonald and Jones, 1987; Broadbooks, 1965). Their habitat is characterized as dominantly subalpine and alpine with strong seasonal variations and a short growing season for vegetation (June to August). (Broadbooks, 1965; Franken and Hik, 2004a; MacDonald and Jones, 1987)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 3,688 m
    0.00 to ft

Physical Description

Collared pikas share common characteristics with other Ochotona species, such as their small size (around 160 g), short round ears, and a concealed tail (Smith, 2008). Their hind limbs are slightly larger than the front limbs with 5 digits on each forefoot and 4 digits on each hind foot. They have hairy plantar surfaces on the feet. Their skulls are relatively flat, with narrow zygomatic arches, short narrow rostra, and a fenestrated maxilla. Distinctive skull characteristics of ochotonids are an absent supraobital process and spongy auditory bullae. The dental formula is; I 2/1 with 2nd peg like incisors, C 0/0, P 2/3, M 2/3 (MacDonald and Jones, 1987). (MacDonald and Jones, 1987; Smith, 2008)

Collared pika ventral fur is creamy white and the dorsal fur is grayish. There are distinctive patches on the nape and shoulder forming a collar thus giving them their common name. The most diagnostic characteristic of the collared pikas is the creamy-buff fur patch over the facial gland which differs from their close relative, American pikas (Ochotona princeps), which has a brown patch. They have a common ano-genital opening, similar to birds, that is considered a pseudo-cloaca (MacDonald and Jones, 1987; Broadbooks, 1965). There is no sexual dimorphism (Smith, 2008). Sexing is done by investigating their pseudo-cloaca opening for evidence of genetalia. (Broadbooks, 1965; MacDonald and Jones, 1987; Smith, 2008)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    130 to 200 g
    4.58 to 7.05 oz
  • Average mass
    160 g
    5.64 oz
  • Range length
    17.8 to 19.8 cm
    7.01 to 7.80 in


Collared pikas exhibit an alternating male-female distribution pattern of home ranges and tend to simply mate with their nearest neighbor (Franken and Hik, 2004b; Smith, 2008). Collared pikas are considered facultatively monogamous because most males are unable to control enough territory to gain access to multiple females. (Franken and Hik, 2004b; Smith, 2008)

The peak of the breeding season occurs in May and early June. Females have up to two litters a year that range between 2 to 6 young each and average 2.2 individuals weaned. Parturition tends to be synchronous. Parturition dates vary among years in response to the highly seasonal habitat. This strategy allows full advantage of the best conditions for growth of young. Gestation last between 3 to 4 weeks (30 days). Collared pikas reach adult size in 40 to 50 days. Both females and males can breed and produce young at one year of age. However, male reproductive success depends on gaining habitat and attracting females (Franken and Hik, 2004b). Juveniles will disperse within the natal talus patch immediately following the end of gestation to make their own territory (Franken and Hik, 2004a). Although, some species of pikas have be known to have post-partum estrous and produce a second litter per year further research is need to investigate if this is true for O. collaris. (Franken and Hik, 2004a; Franken and Hik, 2004b)

  • Breeding interval
    Collared pikas breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from May to June.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 6
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    3 to 4 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    365 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Young collared pikas are born blind and nearly hairless. Female collared pikas are responsible for most of the parental investment and bear the brunt of energetic constraints of gestation and lactation. This could lead to a gradual decrease in litter size over the reproductive season due to pre-implantation losses, resorption of embryos, or losses during weaning which results in 2 to 3 young surviving to be weaned. Because it is not easy to distinguish between sexes by sight it is difficult to observe male investment in rearing offspring. (Franken and Hik, 2004b; Morrison and Hik, 2007; Smith, et al., 2004)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female


Collared pikas can have a relatively long lifespan, up to 6 to 7 years (Smith, 2008). Collared pika over-winter mortality is high and populations are continuing to decrease over time (Morrison and Hik 2007; Franken and Hik, 2004b; Smith et al., 2004). Adult and juvenile survival is strongly linked to environmental conditions such as climate (Franken and Hik, 2004b). Adult survival is correlated with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), with a time lag of 1 year. The timing and amount of snowfall and snowmelt are influenced by the PDO. This, in turn, alters growing season and food availability for collared pikas. Snow-pack is important in insulating pikas from temperature extremes during winter months. A low snow-pack year could expose collared pikas and their stored food to freezing ambient temperatures, but an earlier snowmelt could lengthen the growing season and allow more time to feed and store food for the next winter (Smith et al. 2004; Morrison and Hik, 2007). (Franken and Hik, 2004b; Morrison and Hik, 2007; Smith, 2008; Smith, et al., 2004)


Collared pikas are one of several species of Ochotonidae that do not burrow; rather they take shelter in their talus habitats. They are asocial and constantly defend their territory by chasing away intruders. They are mainly solitary, although they may be seen in pairs occasionally. Collared pikas are diurnal and do not hibernate during the winter. They spend much of the day grazing and gathering vegetation for their winter cache, this foraging behavior is called "haying." Foraging distance varies according to degrees of predation risk (Holmes, 1991; Morrison et al., 2004). Pikas rarely forage more than 10 m from talus into meadows to collect food (Morrison, 2006). Individual pikas may make several haystacks within their home range and tend to inhabit the same location annually, usually under overhanging rocks, in crevices and along boulders. Collared pikas are also kleptoparasitic and will steal food from each other (Franken and Hik, 2004b; Smith, 2008). (Franken and Hik, 2004b; Holmes, 1991; Morrison and Hik, 2007; Morrison, et al., 2004; Morrsion, 2006; Smith, 2008)

  • Range territory size
    25 to 30 m^2

Home Range

Collared pikas live in low densities (2 to 15 individuals/ha) with a home range about 25 to 30 m in diameter (Morrison and Hik, 2007; Smith, 2008). (Morrison and Hik, 2007; Smith, 2008)

Communication and Perception

Collared pikas are very vocal, with both sexes emitting calls. The call of a pika is unmistakable once it has been heard. The call is a single, piercing note that sounds like “ank” or “ink” and can be heard for several hundred yards. When calling, pikas sit with their body hunched and noses pointed slightly in the air. Collared pikas vocalize frequently during hay gathering. After depositing food they will make one or two territorial calls from hay piles to neighboring pikas. Other forms of communication include chattering, a continuous clicking of teeth by males during reproductive season, and estrous calls by females (MacDonald and Jones, 1987). Another function of vocalization serves as a predator warning to neighboring pikas, territory defense, and also establishing and maintaining social structure. Unlike American pikas (Ochotona princeps), which can produce 9 different vocalizations, collared pikas do not have an extensive repertoire. Both territorial and predator calls produced sound approximately the same (Trefry, Ochotona thesis 2008). (Broadbooks, 1965; MacDonald and Jones, 1987)

Food Habits

Like other pikas, collared pikas are an excellent example of an ecotone species, meaning their home and shelter are separated from their food storage (Broadbooks, 1965). Pikas are herbivorous and spend the summer months actively collecting a wide range of vegetation to subsist on during the winter months. Ochotona species, like other lagomorphs produce two kinds of fecal pellets: hard and soft. They consume their soft pellets to reduce the loss of nutritional value in their food. They also consume fecal pellets of other species such as hoary marmots (Marmota caligata) and ermine (Mustela erminea) (Broadbooks, 1965). Although they are primarily herbivorous, collared pikas have been recorded to consume birds as an opportunistic source of protein and fat (Krajick, 1998). If insufficient hay reserves are stockpiled in the summer, collared pikas may have to resort to eating lichens and other small plants in underground snow tunnels during winter. (Broadbooks, 1965; Krajick, 1998)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • flowers
  • Other Foods
  • dung


Collared pikas have no natural defense against predators besides hiding in cracks, crevices, and under large boulders in talus. They forage close to their home burrows. There are several known carnivorous predators, including ermine, foxes, weasels, lynx, and coyotes. Also, numerous birds of prey such as eagles and owls will hunt collared pikas (Broadbooks, 1965; Holmes, 1991; Morrison et al., 2004). (Broadbooks, 1965; Holmes, 1991; Morrison, et al., 2004)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Ochotona collaris is a key species that is consumed by numerous predators. Their hay piles could provide food for other herbivorous mammals. Collared pikas, along with other herbivorous mammals like hoary marmots (Marmota caligata) impact grass and herbaceous plant species in their high elevation habitats (Koh and Hik, 2007). (Koh and Hik, 2007)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Collared pikas are interesting and unique members of their alpine habitats. Pika haypiles and fecal pellets may improve the chances of plant colonization on talus slopes and fertilize soils. Cached winter hay piles produced by other species of pikas are collected and harvested by farmers to feed domestic cattle and sheep in Siberia (Danell et al., 1998). (Danell, et al., 1998; Smith, et al., 1990)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative effects of collared pikas on humans.

Conservation Status

The IUCN lists collared pikas as lower risk/least concern. While this suggests there is no concern for populations at this time, they could respond negatively to climate change. Collared pikas are sensitive to high ambient temperatures and are restricted to high elevation habitats that are declining in response to climate change (Smith et al., 2004). ("IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2008; Smith, et al., 2004)

Other Comments

The monogeneric family Ochotonidae comprises about one third the diversity of the Order Lagomorpha. (Smith, et al., 2004)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Charlene Leininger (author), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Hayley Lanier (editor, instructor), University of Alaska Fairbanks .



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


2008. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Accessed November 17, 2008 at http:// www.iucnredlist.ord.

Broadbooks, H. 1965. Ecology and distribution of the pikas of the Washington and Alaska.. American Midland Naturalist, 73(2): 299-335.

Danell, K., T. Willebrand, L. Baskin. 1998. Mammalian herbivores in the boreal forests: their numerical fluctuations and use by man.. Conservation Ecology, 2(2): 9. Accessed November 15, 2008 at http://www.consecol,org/vol2/iss2/art9.

Franken, R., D. Hik. 2004. Influences of habitat quality, patch size, and connectivity on colonization and extinction dynamics of collared pikas Ochotona collaris. Journal of Animal Ecology, 73: 889-896.

Franken, R., D. Hik. 2004. Interannual variation in timing of parturition and growth of collared pika (Ochotona collaris) in the southwest Yukon. Integrated Comparative Biology, 44: 186-193.

Holmes, W. 1991. Predator risk affects foraging behavior of pikas: observational and experimental evidence.. Animal behavior, 44: 186-193.

Koh, S., D. Hik. 2007. Herbivory meditates grass-endophyte relationships. Ecology, 88(11): 2752-2757.

Krajick, K. 1998. Nunataks. National Geographic, December: 62-71.

MacDonald, S., C. Jones. 1987. Ochotona collaris. Mammalian Species, 281: 1-4.

Morrison, S., L. Barton, P. Caputa, D. Hik. 2004. Forage selection by collared pikas, Ochotona collaris, under varying degrees of predation risk. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 82: 533-540.

Morrison, S., D. Hik. 2007. Demographic analysis of a declining pika Ochotona collaris population: linking survival to broad-scale climate patterns via spring snowmelt patterns.. Journal of Animal Ecology, 76: 899-907.

Morrsion, S. 2006. Foraging ecology and population dynamics of collared pikas in southwestern Yukon.. Arctic, 59(1): 104-107.

Smith, A., N. Formozov, R. Hoffmann, Z. Changlin, M. Erbajeva. 1990. The Pikas. Pp. 14-26 in J Chapman, J Flux, eds. Rabbits, Hares and Pikas. Gland, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Smith, A. 2008. Lagomorph Biology: Evolution, Ecology, and Conservation. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag. Accessed November 15, 2008 at http://www.springerlink.com/content/n5m1687741615687/.

Smith, A., L. Weidong, D. Hik. 2004. Pikas as the harbingers of global warming.. Species, 41: 4-5.