Pikas are a group of 29 species of small mammals found across Asia and in North America. 23 of these species live in China, two live in the western North American mountains, and the rest live in other parts of Asia. Pikas usually live at high elevations. About half of all Asian pikas build burrows in meadows or steppes, while the rest, as well as the two North American species, live in rocky crevices. As well as the differences in where they live, there are numerous other differences between rocky-dwelling pikas and burrowing pikas. Rocky-dwelling pika live about seven years while burrowing pikas live up to one year; rocky pika have smaller, more stable populations compared to burrowing pika’s large, irregularly numbered populations. Rocky pika also have two small litters, one usually successful, while burrowing pika have 5 litters of up to 13, and rocky pikas are less social and more territorial while burrowing pikas are very social and live in family groups. Despite their looks, pikas are not rodents; they are actually related to hares and rabbits. North American pikas came from Siberian pikas who crossed the land bridge. These pikas used to live across North America, but their habitat has steadily shrunk to higher and higher elevations. Pikas eat grasses, weeds, and wildflowers, and in preparation for the winter, they will lay grasses and flowers in the sun to dry them, then store them in their den.
Pikas usually live far from people, yet they are still threatened by them. Pikas on the Tibetan plateau were thought to reduce the amount of grass for domesticated animals, and so were exterminated by the government. In actuality, pikas are important to the biodiversity of the steppes. Three species of pika from China and one from Russia and Kazakhstan are listed as endangered. Koslov’s pika, in China, is especially rare. Asian pikas are especially threatened by extermination. However, the main problem facing North American pikas are their temperature sensitivity. Because pikas have adapted to very cold environments, even being exposed for a short time for temperatures more than 78 degrees can kill them. Because of this, in southern parts of the U.S. pikas live in higher elevations, while in Canada they can be found in much lower elevations. Because of this sensitivity, climate change is particularly damaging to the North American pika. As temperatures rise, pikas find they have nowhere cold left to go, as they live so high they can’t simply climb higher. Even if they don’t die from the heat, vegetation changes, new predators, less snow, and more extreme weather threatens them as well. There is a bleak future ahead for the pika if we cannot find a way to slow the effects of climate change.
Image by Anderson/U.S. National Park Service
Tibetan steppe pikas are very important to the biodiversity of the area. The North American pika is threatened by the effects of climate change and it is not the only animal that is. In helping slow the effects of climate change we will not only help the American pika but other animals as well.
Now that new research has shown that pikas do not actually reduce the amount of green for domesticated animals, the amount of pikas being exterminated will hopefully slow, but still they need protection. You can help by advocating for laws against extermination. For the North American pika you can help by reducing your detrimental impact on the world as well as advocating for laws regulating companies, as well as other ways to slow the effects of climate change.
Image by Kenneth W. Fink/Root Resources
Image by Chris Kennedy
Image by National Fish and Wildlife Service
Image by Contunico © ZDF Enterprises GmbH, Mainz
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Cover image by National Fish and Wildlife Service