Ochotona pusillasteppe pika

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Geographic Range

Ochotona pusilla is distributed in central Eurasia from the Volga River and southern Ural Mountains in the north to the Irtysh River on the south side of its range. Two countries, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation, contain all populations of this species. ("Ochotona pusilla", 2002; Nowak, 1995)

Habitat

Steppe pikas are found in temperate steppe grasslands where they excavate burrows for shelter. The grassland vegetation consists of dense, lush grasses and occasional bushes. ("Ochotona pusilla", 2002; Nowak, 1995)

Physical Description

The average length of O. pusilla is 15 cm. Although the weight of this species is not reported, the members of the genus are known to be 125 to 400 g. Males and females are the same size, and the two are difficult to distinguish. They have the same fur coloring: grayish brown on the back and white on the belly. The tail is not visible. The head is short, with ears that are small and rounded. All four legs are approximately the same length, although the back are slightly longer than the front pair. The five fingers and toes on each foot are well insulated by a dense covering of fur on the bottom of the feet. They have twenty-six teeth. ("Pikas, or Conies", 2000; Nowak, 1995; Nowak, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    262.5 g
    9.25 oz
    AnAge
  • Average length
    15 cm
    5.91 in

Reproduction

This information is not known for this species. However, other species in the genus appear to be monogamous or polygynous, with males extending territories to overlap those of one or more females during the breeding season. Some species may be gregarious, living in colonies through much of the year. However, this information seems to be suspect, and the colonies that have been viewed may really represent family groups. (Nowak, 1999)

Steppe pika litter sizes range from one to thirteen, averaging between eight and nine. An adult female may produce three to five litters per year during the spring and summer. Male pikas reach sexual maturity at one year of age while a female can mature in four to five weeks and have up to three litters by autumn. ("Ochotona pusilla", 2002; Nowak, 1995)

Gestation period for O. pusilla has not been reported, but is probably similar to the 30 days reported for other species in the genus. Weaning in other Ochotona species is reported to occur by 30 days of age. (Nowak, 1999)

Newborn picas are reported to weigh about 9 g. They are naked and helpless at birth, but grow quickly. In some species, the young are ready to disperse by approximately 30 days of age. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Steppe pikas breed 3 to 5 times during the spring and summer.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season spans the spring and summer months.
  • Range number of offspring
    3 to 13
  • Average number of offspring
    8.5
  • Average number of offspring
    8
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    20 to 24 days
  • Range weaning age
    20 to 22 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    4 to 5 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

The extent of parental care in steppe pikas includes mothers nursing their offspring, and providing protection for them in the form of a burrow. After being weaned, the young will be forced to fend for themselves. (Nowak, 1995)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

No information for lifespan/longevity is available on this species, but in O. princeps the maximum lifespan is 7 years. Because O. pusilla has a much higer reproductive rate, it is likely that they do not live as long as this other species in their genus. (Nowak, 1999)

Behavior

Ochotona pusilla may be active at any time of day or night. This species is unique because unlike most other pikas, it is often nocturnal and will call throughout the night. (Nowak, 1995)

Steppe pikas do not hibernate. They are active throughout the winter. On darker days when there is a layer of snow and the wind speed is low, they will climb to the surface and forage for food which is buried by the snow. They do not rely on their cache of grass to last them through the winter. (Nikol'skii, et al., 2000)

This species is reported to be gregarious. Large colonies and family groups are common among steppe pikas. However, the extent of social interactions within the species is not known. The population densities of this species vary from 0.1/ha to 80/ha. (Nowak, 1995; Nowak, 1999)

Home Range

Home range size has not been reported for this species.

Communication and Perception

Ochotona pusilla emit vocalizations which sound like a whistle. In some languages the translation of pika to English means "Whistling Hare". It is likely that there is some form of tactile communication, especially between mother and young and between mates. (Nowak, 1995)

Food Habits

The diet of a steppe pika consists primarily of different types of grasses. They will cache dried grass in "haystacks." Individuals are reported to sometimes "raid" the haystacks of others. These caches of food are not enough to sustain an individual over the winter, so these animals are forced to forage at all times of the year. (Nikol'skii, et al., 2000; Nowak, 1995; Nowak, 1999)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts

Predation

No information is available for rates of predation on this species. However, based on their explosive reproduction, O. pusilla is likely an important food item for a variety of carnivores and birds of prey.

Ecosystem Roles

Although no specific predators were mentioned in any of the literature, one can hypothesize O. pusilla is a prey species due to the fact it is a small herbivore with explosive population growth potential. Because of their foraging behavior, it is likely that they have some impact on vegetational growth. (Nowak, 1995; Nowak, 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Ochotona pusilla is of little economic importance for humans due to the remoteness of the areas occupied by this species. (Nowak, 1995)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of O.pusilla on humans.

Conservation Status

Ochotona pusilla is protected in at least one protected nature reserve, the Orenburgskiy reserve in the Belayevskiy region of Orenburg area, the South Urals. (Nikol'skii, et al., 2000)

The steppe pika is listed on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable but it is not protected under CITES. ("Ochotona pusilla", 2002)

Other Comments

The history of O. pusilla can be traced back to the end of the Pliocene where it originated in Asia. At the end of the Pleistocene this species had a much wider range than it does today because steppes were more widespread. The species is currently restricted to steppe environments. Because of this, the species has lost a lot of habitat when humans have moved into their range. (Erbajeva, 2001)

Contributors

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Brianne Ordway (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Chris Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Glossary

Palearctic

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

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

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.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

colonial

used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

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

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.

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

fossorial

Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

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).

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

nocturnal

active during the night

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

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

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

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

social

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"

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

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).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

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.

savanna

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.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

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

References

International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 2002. "Ochotona pusilla" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed December 05, 2002 at http://www.redlist.org/search/details.php?species=15052.

Geobopological Survey. 2000. "Pikas, or Conies" (On-line). GeoZoo. Accessed March 31, 2004 at http://mammals.geozoo.org/lag/och/index.php.

Erbajeva, M. 2001. New Ochotonids (Lagomorpha) from the Pleistocene of France. Geodiversitas, 23: 395-409.

Nikol'skii, A., E. Roschina, O. Soroka. 2000. Some Specialties of Winter Ecology of Ochotona pusilla in the Nature Protected Reserve "Orenburgskiy". Bulletin of Moscow Society of Naturalists, 105: 17-24.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins Univesity Press.

Nowak, R. 1995. "Pikas, Mouse Hares, or Conies" (On-line). Walker's Mammals of the World Online. Accessed March 31, 2004 at http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/lagomorpha/lagomorpha.ochotonidae.html.