Ochotona rutilaTurkestan red pika

Geographic Range

Ochotona rutila occurs east of the Caspian Sea within the mountain ranges of Tien Shan, Pamir, Kirgiz, and Gissar. Their range extends from southeast Russian Turkestan to northern Afghanistan. (Corbet, 1978; Smith, et al., 1990)


Ochotona rutila is present at elevations between 2000 m and 3000 m (Corbet, 1978). Habitat types range from spruce forests to sub alpine meadows (Ognev, 1940). Their distribution is patchy, with individuals or pair groups occupying large home ranges. In general, pika species inhabit one of two different habitat types, although overlap does occur. Talus-dwelling pikas are commonly found on steep, rocky slopes, while burrowing pikas live in grasslands, shrub habitats and/or forests (Smith, 1981). Ochotona rutila is a talus-dwelling species, inhabiting rock dominated environments at moderate elevations. The weather within their range is characterized by cold and rainy summers and snowy winters (Angermann, 1975). Snow depth can have a significant effect on winter survival rates of red pikas, possibly affecting the range at which they are found. This would explain why red pikas are not found at elevations greater than 3,000 m (Ognev 1940, Bernstein 1963 as cited in Smith et al. 1990) as snow levels above this elevation may become too deep to access food. However, moderate levels of snow are needed for insulation during winter months (Angermann, 1975). The preferred habitat for red pikas is a moderate, rocky slope with vegetation growing between large stones at an elevation between 2,000 and 3,000 m. A breeding pair will use the largest stones for their shelter (Smith et al. 1990). (Angermann, 1975; Bernstein, 1963; Ognev, 1940; Smith, et al., 1990; Smith, 1981)

  • Range elevation
    2000 to 3000 m
    6561.68 to 9842.52 ft

Physical Description

The morphology and body mass of Ochotona species is similar. However, it has been speculated that the length of vibrissae and the shape and thickness of claws can distinguish talus-dwelling pikas from burrowing pikas (Smith et al. 1990). Talus-dwelling pikas are thought to have longer vibrissae while burrowing pikas have straighter, more powerful claws (Smith et al. 1990). As a talus-dwelling pika, red pikas have relatively long vibrissae, ranging in length from 80 to 94 mm (Ognev, 1940) Males and females are monomorphic, with females being only slightly heavier than males while carrying their young. Both males and females have a cloaca that must be everted in order to determine their gender (Duke, 1951, Krear, 1965). The average weight of red pikas is unknown. Turkestan red pikas have two molts per year that vary in color seasonally. The summer coats of red pikas are described by Smith as “a rich rust-reddish dorsally with a more yellow cinnamon-buff tinge on the flanks" (Smith et al. 1990). Red pika pelts have a distinctive wide, cream colored collar behind the ears that narrows dorsally. In contrast, their winter coat is gray with dark brown spots (Ognev, 1940). The pelage of juvenile red pikas is indistinguishable from their parent's 20 days after birth. Ochotona erythrotis, an allospecies formerly synonomized with Ochotona rutila, can be easily distinguished from red pikas based on the presence of frontal fenestrae. Red pika skulls do not have frontal fenestrae (Ognev, 1940). (Angermann, 1975; Duke, 1951; Ognev, 1940; Smith, et al., 1990)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    100 to 400 g
    3.52 to 14.10 oz
  • Range length
    215 to 230 mm
    8.46 to 9.06 in


Both male and female red pikas reach sexual maturity at approximately one year of age. Once sexually active, pikas often pair with individuals in nearby territories. Interactions between partners can be very physical, appearing as long boxing sessions (Smith et al. 1990). Asian talus-dwelling pikas are unique from those found in North American in that a breeding pair will defend a shared territory instead of having individual territories (Smith, 1981). It is unknown, however, whether breeding pairs remain monogamous through out their life. Red pikas breed seasonally in spring and summer months. (Smith, et al., 1990; Smith, 1981)

Talus-dwelling pikas characteristically have a low reproduction rate. Red pikas commonly have 2 to 3 litters per year with 2 to 6 young (average 4.2) per litter (Smith et al. 1990). Young are born covered with hair (Angermann, 1975). They gain their hearing after nine days and are able to see after 13 to 14 days. Young become independent of their parents after 20 days (Angermann, 1975) and will become sexually mature the following spring (Bernstein 1964 as cited in Smith et al. 1990). (Angermann, 1975; Bernstein, 1964; Smith, et al., 1990)

  • Breeding interval
    Red pikas breed 2 to 3 times per year during during the spring to summer season.
  • Breeding season
    The specific time of year in which mating occurs is unknown. Mating can occur in spring and summer months as a female can have multiple litters per year.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 6
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average time to independence
    20 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Juvenile red pikas receive biparental care, having both the male and female of the breeding pair participate in rearing of offspring. Young are weaned from their parents after they are approximately 20 days old (Angermann, 1975). They may remain on their parents’ territory during their first summer, feeding on their parents’ food stores. However, after dispersing, juveniles can be challenged by adults and may therefore try to avoid all contact with adults until after they have established their own territories (Smith, 1981). (Angermann, 1975; Smith, 1981)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • 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


Red pikas live for approximately 3 years. Other talus-dwelling species have been found to live for up to 6 years. Approximately 22% of juveniles survive their second winter (Angermann, 1975). (Angermann, 1975)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 (high) years


Talus-dwelling pikas are known for being asocial and territorial. Red pikas typically have small, stable populations and large home ranges. They can be found in pairs or family groups, but never form large congregations or colonies. Territories are commonly maintained by a breeding pair rather than individually (Smith et al. 1990). Individuals, pairs, or family groups will keep a distance of 50 to 100 m from their neighbors, with each territory having only one shelter and food cache. Red pikas use naturally occurring crevices between rocks for their shelter. A breeding pair may use the same shelter and food cache site for life (Angermann, 1975). (Angermann, 1975; Smith, et al., 1990)

The physical behavior of pikas can be greatly affected by temperature. Pikas generally operate at relatively high body temperatures (40.1۫ C) while having a low tolerance to any increase in body temperature (Smith, 1981). As a result, pikas will regulate their body temperature by changing behavior. During hot summer days, pikas may become inactive in order to minimize any increase in body temperature. In fact, as a crepuscular species, red pikas generally avoid activity during the daytime and are most active at dusk (Ognev, 1940). Pikas may also alter their home range to be close to cooler temperatures (Smith, 1981). During summer months and early fall, pikas busily collect food for the winter. Red pikas have been observed adding plants to their hay stacks 20 to 30 times per hour. During winter months, pikas do not hibernate but may decrease their above snow activity levels. During this time they rely strongly on their hay-stacks for food. Very little is known about the daily activities or energy expenditures of red pikas during the winter (Angermann, 1975). (Angermann, 1975; Smith, 1981)

Home Range

Red pikas typically have a large home range as compared to other tallus-dwelling pikas. This is because red pikas will only feed on vegetation that is less than 2 m from the talus edge. As a result they occupy large home ranges to ensure an adequate food supply. The average size of a red pika territory is unknown. (Smith, et al., 1990)

Communication and Perception

Most pikas rely strongly on vocalizations for communication. In contrast, red pikas are not very vocal. They do not have a typical alarm call to warn of approaching predators. Instead, red pikas will hide under rocks from their predators. In some cases they have been heard making chattering sounds, similar to the call of Ochotona hyperborea, while hiding from a predator. It has also been observed that mates will make chirping sounds when they meet. Pikas also secrete scent from a scent gland to mark their territories. (Smith, et al., 1990)

Food Habits

Red pikas are herbivores and feed on the blossoms, green leaves, and young shoots of grasses and other plants when available. Red pikas have been observed eating Epilobium and wild cranesbill (Ognev, 1940). In the fall, when green food becomes unavailable, they will switch their diets to more woody debris (Angermann, 1975). As a non-hibernating species, pika need to ensure they can access enough food during winter months when food is scarce. They do this by collecting grasses in hay piles throughout the late summer and early fall that they will eat during winter months. To avoid risk of predation red pikas do not forage more than two meters from talus areas. They feed mainly from small outcroppings of vegetation growing between stones. In order to have an adequate food supply, red pikas have larger home ranges than other talus-dwelling pikas (Smith et al. 1990). (Angermann, 1975; Ognev, 1940; Smith, et al., 1990)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • flowers


Pikas have many predators, including birds of prey, canids, and weasels. One species that specializes on the predation of red pikas is Mustela erminea, short-tailed weasels. Where they overlap with red pikas, 19% of short-tailed weasel scat has been found to contain red pika fur (Sludskiy and Strautman, 1980). Possibly in response to predation, red pikas do not forage farther than two meters from the edge of the talus. (Sludskiy and Strautman, 1980)

Ecosystem Roles

As previously stated, pikas are an important food source for many local predators, including birds of prey, canids, and weasels. Although red pika populations tend to be small and well dispersed, they remain a common food source for predators such as short-tailed weasels (Mustela erminea). Pikas can also act as an important food source for local artiodactyl populations who will feed on their hay stacks in the winter if they can be found (Smith et al. 1990) (Smith, et al., 1990)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

As non-burrowing pikas that do not graze on agricultural crops, red pikas have been of little to no economic importance for humans. The home ranges of red pikas tend to be larger than those of other talus-dwelling pikas because of their particular food habits, feeding only on vegetation found within two meters of a rocky substrate. As a result, populations of red pikas tend to have very low densities and would therefore not be of economic importance to fur harvesters or a hindrance to farmers (Smith et al. 1990).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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

Conservation Status

Despite their small population, there is nothing that suggests that red pika populations are declining (Smith et al. 1990). Also, Ochotona rutila is not listed under CITES or IUCN. However, there has been little study to date on red pikas.


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Anna Maguire (author), University of Alaska Fairbanks, Link E. Olson (editor, instructor), University of Alaska Fairbanks.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate

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


active at dawn and dusk


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.

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

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


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.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


"UNEP-WCMC Species Database: CITES - Listed Species" (On-line). Accessed November 27, 2006 at http://www.unep-wcmc.org/isdb/CITES/Taxonomy.

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Bernstein, A. 1963. Data on the ecology of red pika (Ochotona rutila Sev.) in Zailisk Alatau (Tien Shan). Way of life and feeding. Byull. Mosk. Obshch. Ispytat. Prirody, Otd. Biol., 68: 24-36. As cited by Smith et al. 1990.

Bernstein, A. 1964. The reproduction by red pika (Ochotona rutila Sev.) in the Zailisk Alatau. Byull. Mosk. Obshch. Ispytat. Prirody, Otd. Biol., 69: 40-48. As cited by Smith et al. 1990.

Corbet, G. 1978. The mammals of the Palaearctic Region: A taxonomic review. London: Br. Mus. Nat. Hist.

Duke, K. 1951. The external genitalia of the pika, Ochotona princeps. J. Mammal., 32: 169-173. As cited by Smith, 1981.

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.

Ognev, S. 1940. Mammals of the USSR and adjacent countries. Volume 4.. Moscow: Izv. Akademi Nauk USSR.

Sludskiy, A., E. Strautman. 1980. Mammals of Kazakhstan. Volume 2.. Alma-Ata.: Nauka Publishing House of Kazakh SSR. As cited by Smith, 1980.

Smith, A. 1988. Patterns of pika (genus Ochotona) life history variation. Pp. 233-256 in M Boyce, ed. Evolution of Life Histories of Mammals: Theory and Pattern. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Smith, A. 1981. Population dynamics of pika. Pp. 572-587 in K Myers, C MacInnes, eds. Proceedings of the World Lagomorph Conference. New Haven, CT: Guelph University Press.

Smith, A., N. Formozov, R. Hoffmann, Z. Changlin, M. Erbajeva. 1990. The Pikas. Pp. 14-51 in J Chapman, J Flux, eds. Rabbits, Hares and Pikas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Gland, Swizerland: IUCN.

Yu, N., C. Zheng, Y. Zhang, W. Li. 2000. Molecular Systematics of Pikas (Genus Ochotona) Inferred from Mitochondrial DNA Sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 16: 85-95.