Ochotona hyperboreanorthern pika

Geographic Range

Ochotona hyperborea is found in the Ural, Putorana, and Sayan mountains, east of the Lena River to Chukotka, Koryatsk and Kamchatka, upper Yenesi, Transbaikalia and Amur regions, eastern and southern Siberia, northern Mongolia, Manchuria, North Korea, Sakhalin Island (Russia) and Hokkaido (Japan). (Nowark, 1999; Wilson, 1993)


Ochotona hyperborea most often inhabits the talus region of rocky terrain in moist coniferous forests. Sometimes they will burrow under or near tree stumps or fallen logs. (Gliwicz, et al., 2006)

Physical Description

During the summer, the fur of northern pikas is light brownish-red and gradually becomes redder along the sides. The belly is reddish-white. In the winter months the fur is much grayer with a hint of brown coloration. (Nowark, 1999; Smith, et al., 1990)

Species of Ochotona are similar in body mass and morphology. Northern pikas range in length from 127 to 186 mm, with a tail length of 50 to 120 mm. Sexes are monomorphic and hard to distinguish. The fur is long, dense, soft and fine. Pikas have rounded ears that are about as wide as they are high. Their legs are short; the hind legs are only slightly shorter than their forelimbs. They have five fingers and toes and the feet are heavily furred on the underside. (Nowark, 1999; Smith, et al., 1990)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range length
    127 to 186 mm
    5.00 to 7.32 in


During the mating season males frequently give successive calls to declare their possession of territory. While northern pikas typically live as mated pairs, males may breed with three females. Males may travel over 200 m to mate with another female. Occasionally, females will be visited by multiple males at the same time. (Macdonald, 1984; Smith, et al., 1990)

Northern pikas have stable populations but low reproductive rates. Northern pikas in the northern parts of their range tend to have one large litter a year. In the southern parts of their range they breed twice a year, with slightly smaller litters. Litter size ranges from one to nine young, with average litter size being three to four. Gestation period is 28 days. Sources disagree over whether northern pikas breed as yearlings or if females are unable to breed until their second year. (Macdonald, 2001; Smith, et al., 1990)

  • Breeding interval
    Northern pikas in the northern parts of their range tend to have one large litter a year. In the southern parts of their range they breed twice a year, with slightly smaller litters.
  • Breeding season
    Northern pikas breed once in the spring and, if they breed twice a year, again in the summer.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 9
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average gestation period
    28 days

When young leave their natal territory varies geographically. In the southern parts of their range young disperse and form pairs in their first summer. In the northern part of their range, young that are born in the summer remain with their parents throughout the winter before dispersing. Northern pikas in the Ural Mountains also contributed to their parent’s food stores while they remained in their territory. Females nurse and care for their young in a summer nest. The mated pair or family group contribute to gathering food stores for the winter. (Smith, et al., 1990)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents


The average lifespan of O. hyperborea is two years. It is rare from them to live longer than three years. (Smith, et al., 1990)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    9.4 years


Northern pikas are active at all times of the day, but mostly in the morning and evening hours. They do not hibernate. Pikas have been observed sunning themselves on exposed rocks. From summer to fall, both sexes frequently give short calls. During the summer months they also accumulate hay piles. Northern pikas are a kleptoparasitic species, males sometimes steal hay from pikas in other territories. (Macdonald, 1984; Nowark, 1999; Smith, et al., 1990)

Males and females defend territories throughout their lifespan. Females tend to stay within their territory, but males trespass onto nearby territories. It is rare for male and female partners to have physical contact with one another. Occasionally, in areas of high density, territories may contain one male and two females. (Macdonald, 1984; Smith, et al., 1990)

Home Range

Home range sizes have not been determined.

Communication and Perception

A song is used by males during the breeding season. This long call is composed of a chattering sounds followed by a sequence of loud sharp whistles. It is possible to distinguish individuals by their calls. Northern pikas do not respond to calls of northern pikas from other territories. A short call is used between mated pairs to announce presence or to warn others of an approaching predator. In the spring only females use the short call. In the fall, a short call can be heard from either sex. Different dialects of the short call have been observed in different parts of their range. (Macdonald, 2001; Smith, et al., 1990)

Northern pikas mark territories by rubbing their neck glands on the corners of stones. This occurs more often in the spring. Territory may also be marked by urination. (Smith, et al., 1990)

Food Habits

During the summer and early autumn months northern pikas gather grasses, sedges, weeds, and many flowering and woody plant parts. They sometimes climb a few meters into trees and ontolimbs to cut twigs. Grasses are often placed in exposed locations to be cured by the sun. Once dried, vegetation is stored in hay piles. Hay piles are made within each individual's territory and are consumed by a mating pair in the winter. During the winter, northern pikas make tunnels in the snow to harvest nearby vegetation. (Macdonald, 1984; Macdonald, 2001; Nowark, 1999)

Northern pikas are coprophagous. They defecate small green droppings, typically during the day. At night, they defecate black droppings which are often encased in a gelatinous substance. The black droppings have higher energy values and are reingested. (Nowark, 1999)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • flowers
  • bryophytes
  • lichens
  • Other Foods
  • dung


Northern pikas don’t hibernate, this makes them more vulnerable to predation from middle-sized mustelid, felid or canid carnivores. Northern pikas are an important food source for some mustelids, such as ermine (Mustela erminea) and sables (Martes zibellina). Pikas avoid predation by using pathways in their talus habitats to avoid being out in the open. They are also cryptically colored and may emit warning whistles when predators are detected. (Smith, et al., 1990)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

During the winter months, ungulates such as reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) and snow sheep (Ovis nivicola) eat the food stores of northern pikas. Hares, marmots and voles also feed on pika food stores. Pikas compete with other small herbivores for foliage resources. (Smith, et al., 1990)

Remnant pika food stores may promote plant growth in the area. Nitrophylic plants grow well in piles of pika fecal pellets. Northern pikas may also change nearby habitat by overgrazing, which alters the composition of plant communitites. (Nowark, 1999; Smith, et al., 1990)

Mutualist Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In the past the fur of O. hyperborea was used to make high quality felt. Trapping of pikas for their fur is no longer economically viable, so is no longer common. (Smith, et al., 1990)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of northern pikas on humans.

Conservation Status

Northern pikas appear to be common throughout their range. (Smith, et al., 1990)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Allison O'Brien (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor, instructor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.



living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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


an animal that mainly eats the dung of other animals


active at dawn and dusk


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 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 kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

stores or caches food

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


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


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


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.


Gliwicz, J., S. Pagacz, J. Witczuk. 2006. Strategy of Food Plant Selection in the Siberian Northern Pika. Artic, Antartic, and Alpine Research, 38:1: 54-59. Accessed November 25, 2006 at http://www.bioone.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1657%2F1523-0430%282006%29038%5B0054%3ASOFPSI%5D2.0.CO%3B2.

Macdonald, D. 2001. The Encyclodpedia of Mammals. UK: Andromeda Oxford Limmited.

Macdonald, D. 1984. The Encyclodpedia of Mammals. UK: Andromeda Oxford Limmited.

Nowark, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press.

Smith, A., N. Formozov, R. Hoffman, Z. Changlin, M. Erbajeva. 1990. Chapter 3: The Pikas. Pp. 14-60 in J Chapman, J Flux, eds. Rabbits, Hares and Pikas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

Wilson, D. 1993. Mammal Species of the World. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.