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Living OrganismsAnimalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Lagomorpha / Ochotonidae / Ochotona / Species

Ochotona curzoniae - Plateau pika (Click photographs/illustrations for full picture & further details)

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INDEX - INFORMATION AVAILABLE

GENERAL & REFERENCES

APPEARANCE / MORPHOLOGY

LIFE STAGES / NATURAL DIET / PHYSIOLOGY

BEHAVIOUR

HABITAT & RANGE

CONSERVATION

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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

Specific Ochotona curzoniae information
  • Black-lipped pika. (B285.w5i, N37.2.w1)
  • Ochotona melanostoma. (B605.3.w3; B607.w20)
General pika information
  • The name pika originated from the Tungus of Siberia who attempted to mimic the call "peeka" of the local pika species. (B285.w5g)
  • The generic name of Ochotona is derived from the Mongolian name for pikas: "ogdoi". (B285.w5g)
  • Mouse hares or conies are alternative names for pikas. (B147)
  • "Pishchukha" is the Russian common name for all species of pika and some gerbils (Rhombomys opimus, Meriones tamareiscinus (Muridae - (Family)). (B605.3.w3)

Names for new-borns / juveniles

--

Names for males

--

Names for females

--

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General Appearance

  • The plateau or black-lipped pika is a sandy-brown pika dorsally with dirty yellowish-white ventrally; the nose has a black tip, with this colour extending to the lips as a variably-distinct ring; behind each ear is a rust-coloured patch. (B605.3.w3)

Adult: 

General pika information

  • Pikas are small, egg shaped, rodent-like lagomorphs which weigh under 500 g. They have rounded, relatively large ears, short legs, and a very short tail which is hardly visible. (B285.w5g)

Newborn:

General pika information

  • Newborn pikas are helpless and naked (B147, B287) or slightly furred. (B287)

Similar Species

Sexual Dimorphism

General pika information

  • Male and female pikas are similar in size and can be difficult to tell apart from one another. (B147)

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References

Species Authors & Referees

Editor: Nikki Fox BVSc MRCVS (V.w103)

ORGANISATIONS

ELECTRONIC LIBRARY
(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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Husbandry Information

Notes

  • --

Management Techniques

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Appearance / Morphology

Measurement & Weight

 

There is very little reported data on this specific species so most of the details below are taken from general pika information.

LENGTH
Adult: 

General pika information

  • Pikas measure 120-300 mm. 
    • 120-285 mm. (B285.w5g)
    • 125-300 mm, with most species averaging around 200 mm or less. (B147)
  • Males and females are similar in size. (B147)

Newborns: 

  • Ochotona curzoniae specific information: 57.6 mm mean average head - body length (standard deviation 4.3, sample size 36). (B287)

HEIGHT
Adults and sub-adults: --
Juveniles: --

WEIGHT
Adult:

General pika information

  • Pikas weigh 50-400 g
    • 50-350 g. (B285.w5g)
    • 125-400 g. (B147)

Newborns:  

  • Ochotona curzoniae specific information: 11.2 g was the mean weight reported from a sample size of 36 newborns; standard deviation was 1.2. (B287)

GROWTH RATE:--

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Head and Neck

Notes

Note: This species is a burrowing pika rather than a rock dwelling pika. (B605.3.w3)

GENERAL HEAD STRUCTURE:
Adult:

Skull:

General pika information

  • In general, the head of pikas is blunt and short, and the skull is quite flattened rather than arched. There is also a constriction between the orbits. (B147)
  • Specific Ochotona curzoniae information:
    • Medium sized skull which is sharply elevated in the area of the frontal bones.
    • Moderately narrow interorbital region.
    • Moderately sized tympanic bullae.
Specific Ochotona curzoniae information:
  • Medium sized skull which is sharply elevated in the area of the frontal bones.
  • Moderately narrow interorbital region.
  • Moderately sized tympanic bullae.

(B605.3.w3)

  • Ears:
    • General pika information: Pikas have small, rounded ears which are 12-36 mm in length. (B147; B285.w5g)
  • Nostrils: 
    • General pika information: Pikas can completely close their nostrils. (B147)
  • Vibrissae: 
    • General pika information: These are shorter in burrowing pikas, such as this species, compared to rock dwelling pikas. (B605.3.w3)

Newborn: --

DENTITION

General pika information
  • There are 26 teeth in total - two less than other lagomorphs who have one more upper molar on each side. (B285.w5a, B605.1.w1)
  • The dental formula of pikas is 2/1 incisors, 0/0 canines, 3/2 premolars, and 2/3 molars. (B147, B605.1.w1)

Incisors

  • Lagomorphs, including pikas, differ from rodents by having two pairs of upper incisors rather than just the one pair. The additional set of incisors are called peg teeth and are found directly behind the long pair in the upper jaw. (B147, B285.w5a, B605.1.w1)
  • At birth, lagomorphs actually have three pairs of upper incisors, but they quickly lose the outer incisor on each side. (B147)
  • The incisors are covered completely by enamel. (B147)
  • The upper incisors' roots are found in the skull's premaxillary bones. However, the length of the lower incisors' roots varies. (B147)
    • [Note: lagomorphs have teeth which grow throughout their lives. For this reason the portion of the teeth which is not exposed (not above the gum line) is strictly speaking not a "root"; however, it is sometimes convenient to describe it as a root.]
  • The first upper incisors have a cutting edge which is V-shaped. (B147)
  • The peg teeth lack a cutting edge. (B147)

Molars

  • Pikas have high crowned cheek teeth with no roots [the teeth grow continuously throughout life]. (B147)
  • The lower tooth rows are closer together than the upper tooth rows. (B147)

EYES:

General pika information

  • Adult: Pikas have eyes positioned to give a broad field of vision (B285.w5a)
  • Newborn: Neonates are blind; the eyes open at eight to ten days. (B287)

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Legs, Spine and Tracks

Notes

General pika information
  • Pikas have short legs. (B285.w5g)
  • The hindlimbs are just slightly longer than the forelimbs. (B147, B430.w2, B605.2.w2)
  • They have five digits on each foot. (B147)
  • The feet are heavily furred on the underside. (B147)
  • In burrowing pikas, such as this species, the claws are more straight and powerful than those of the rock dwelling pikas. (B605.3.w3)

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Tail

Notes

General pika information
  • The tail of pikas is virtually absent at a length of 5 mm (B285.w5g); it is not visible. (B147; B430.w2)

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Skin / Coat / Pelage

Notes

Adult:

General pika information:
  • Fine, long, soft and dense coat with fur that covers the feet including the under surface. (B147, B285.w5g)
  • Most pikas are lighter ventrally than dorsally. (B285.w5g)
  • Most species have two moults per year with a brighter summer coat - often a yellowish red - and a greyer winter coat. (B147)
Specific Ochotona curzoniae information
  • Dorsally: Sandy-brown
  • Ventrally: dirty yellowish-white.
  • Markings: rust coloured patch behind the ears; blackish tip on the nose and "the same color extends to the lips as a ring of variable distinctiveness".
  • Winter coat: resembles that of Ochotona nubrica - Nubra pika

(B605.3.w3)

Adult Colour variations:--

Newborn/Juvenile:

General pika information

  • Newborn pikas are hairless (B147, B287) or slightly furred. (B287)

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Detailed Anatomy Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

Notes

Ochotona spp. general information:
  • Mammary glands:
    • Females have four or six mammary glands. (B147)
  • Female reproductive tract:
    • The uterus is duplex. The placenta is discoid, deciduate and hemochorial,with a mesometrial, superficial implantation. (B287)
  • Male reproductive tract:
    • Testes:
      • The testes are intra-abdominal outside the breeding season. (B147, B287)
      • During the breeding season they are found in folds of skin at the base of the penis. (B147)
    • Penis:
  • Scent glands: Pikas have scent glands, as do all lagomorphs. (B285.w5a)

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Life Stages / Natural Diet / Physiology

Life Stages

Notes

Notes:

  • There is very little reported data on this specific species so most of the details below are taken from general pika information. 
  • This species is a burrowing pika rather than a rock dwelling pika. (B605.3.w3)
  • This species has a high reproductive rate. (B605.3.w3)

BREEDING SEASON:

General pika information 

  • In general, pikas breed twice a year in the spring and summer, and many species will have 2 or more litters per year. (B147)

Specific Ochotona curzoniae information

  • In Qinghai, this species breeding season starts in April and may continue through until August. (B605.3.w3) 

OESTRUS/OVULATION:

General pika information

GESTATION/PREGNANCY:

General pika information

  • Pikas have a short gestation period. (B285.w5a)
    • Burrowing pikas, such as this species, have a gestation period of approximately 3 weeks. (B147)
    • This species has been reported to have an average gestation period of 22.5 days (range of 21 to 24 days; sample number of 17). (B287)
  • Embryo resorption may occur if the pika encounters adverse conditions. (B285.w5a)

PARTURITION/BIRTH: 

Specific Ochotona curzoniae information

  • The "birth season" for this species has been estimated as May - August in Nepal. (B287)

NEONATAL / DEVELOPMENT: --

LITTER SIZE:

General pika information

  • In general, burrowing pikas, such as this species, have litters which are twice as large as those of rock-dwelling pikas. (B285.w5g, B605.3.w3)
  • Burrowing pikas, such as this species, have been reported to have a litter size from one to thirteen. (B285.w5g)

Specific Ochotona curzoniae information

  • In this species, the litter size (recorded as number of young at weaning) has been reported to range from two to eight. The litter size often increases over the breeding season. (B605.3.w3)
  • This species is reported to have from two to five young in a litter. Another study reported a mean average of 4.8 young in a litter (with a range of one to eight in a litter; 17 litters studied). (B287)

TIME BETWEEN LITTERS / LITTERS PER YEAR: 

  • Some species of burrowing pikas, such as this species, are known to have five litters a year. (B285.w5g)
  • This species: "Three to five litters may be produced at three week intervals". (B605.3.w3)

LACTATION / MILK PRODUCTION: --

SEXUAL MATURITY:

General pika information

  • Three months (B285.w5a)
  • Burrowing pikas, such as this species, may mature and breed in their summer of birth. (B605.3.w3)

MALE SEASONAL VARIATION:

LONGEVITY / MORTALITY:

General pika information

  • High mortality due to the fact that pikas are prey for many mammals and birds. (B285.w5a)
  • Burrowing pikas, such as this species, may live up to three years of age, but usually only one year.(B285.w5g)
  • Burrowing pikas have a high annual mortality with few animals living more than two years. (B605.3.w3)

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Natural Diet

Notes

NATURAL DIET:

  • Pikas are herbivorous - they eat grasses, flowering stalks, and leaves. Pikas have a preference for those plants highest in protein or other chemicals important to them. (B285.w5g)

  • Pikas eat a range of vegetable matter: "in the summer and early autumn the animals gather grasses, sedges, weeds, and many of the large flowering and woody plants, sometimes climbing a few meters up in trees and out on limbs to cut twigs. The material is sometimes place in exposed locations for curing by the sun"; many populations create haystacks to store food for winter. (B147)

QUANTITY EATEN: --

STUDY METHODS: --

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Hibernation / Aestivation

Notes

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Haematology / Biochemistry

Notes

HAEMATOLOGY: --

BIOCHEMISTRY: --

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Detailed Physiology Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in WILDPro)

Notes

METABOLISM (TEMPERATURE): 

  • General pika information: Pikas have a high body temperature. (B285.w5g)

RESPIRATORY SYSTEM (RESPIRATION):

CIRCULATORY SYSTEM (PULSE/HEART RATE):

GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM (FAECES AND GUT MOTILITY):

General pika information

  • Jaw motion: Pikas have a vertical or transverse jaw motion. (B147); pikas use a side-to-side jaw motion. (B285.w5g)
  • Coprophagy: Pikas produce two types of faeces, hard faeces like pepper seeds - small green spherical pellets - which are passed during the day; and soft faeces, sticky and dark green/black, passed at night. Faeces of the latter type have high a energy value and B vitamin levels, and are re-ingested. This behaviour, known as coprophagy, may have a similar function to the ruminant behaviour of chewing the cud. (B147, B285.w5a)
  • This species has been observed to use coprophagy: soft, mucous-covered caecal pellets were regularly produced during the night, passed directly to the mouth and ingested, while the normal hard faecal pellets were not eaten. (N37.2.w1)

URINARY SYSTEM (URINE):

CHROMOSOMES:

  • The diploid chromosome number of this species is 46. (B605.3.w3)

MUSCULO-SKELETAL SYSTEM:

SPECIAL SENSES AND VOCALISATIONS:

General pika information

  • Pikas are known to be more vocal than other lagomorphs (Lagomorpha). (B285.w5a)
  • Burrowing pikas, such as this species, have a vast range of calls:

    • Rapidly repeated soft short predator alarm call;

    • Long calls used by adult males;

    • Whines and trills;

    • Muffle and transition calls used by young pikas, which are thought to promote cohesion among siblings.

    (B285.w5g)

Specific Ochotona curzoniae information

  • The Plateau pika has a rich vocal repertoire and the majority of these distinctive calls are used in a social context. (B605.3.w3)

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Behaviour

Feeding Behaviour

Notes

General pika information
  • Pikas are unable to grasp plants with their forepaws; they eat with a side-to-side jaw motion and carry vegetation in their mouths. (B285.w5g)
Haying and foraging 

General pika information

  • In spring, summer and/or autumn (fall) (depending on species/location) many pika species spend much time "haying" - harvesting mouthfuls of vegetation which are carried back to the den for storage. They build up these stores, resembling piles of hay, and use them for consumption during periods of sparse vegetation, often over-harvesting so that it is a rare occurrence for them to run out of food. (B285.w5g, B605.3.w3) 
  • Pika species living in areas where winter snow is common may also make tunnels in the snow to reach and harvest any nearby vegetation. (B285.w5g)
  • Some species continue to forage throughout winter rather than haying, because snows are uncommon. (B285.w5g)
  • Even at a fairly low population density of ten to twelve pikas per hectare, vegetation storage by pikas may be up to 30 kg per hectare. (B605.3.w3)

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Parental Behaviour

Notes

General pika information
  • In the burrowing pikas, the young may form a line behind an adult, usually their father, and follow. (B285.w5g)

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Social Behaviour / Territoriality / Predation / Learning

Notes

Note: This species is a burrowing pika rather than a rock dweller.

Social behaviour

  • The Plateau pika is a highly social species. (B147; B605.3.w3)
    • Nearly 10% of the time that these pikas spend being active on the surface during the summer mating season, is spent in a social context. The expression of the majority of these behaviours seems to be independent of sex or age. Most of the Plateau pika's behaviours are affiliative and are expressed amongst members of a family burrow system. Aggressive behaviours normally occur between pikas of different family burrow systems. (B605.3.w3)
  • The Plateau pika has a rich vocal repertoire and the majority of these distinctive calls are used in a social context. (B605.3.w3)
  • These pikas live in burrow systems that are family controlled. (B605.3.w3)
  • Usually there is a monogamous relationship where a burrow system is inhabited by a paired adult male and adult female and their offspring including several half-grown juveniles along with several younger animals. (B147; B605.3.w3)
  • However, polygyny or polyandry can also occur. (B605.3.w3)
    • Some males may control access to two females. (B147)
  • Young from sequential litters inhabit the family burrow system with the parents for up to one year. "Dispersal during this time is infrequent. Most dispersal is by males and occurs just prior to the breeding season; most males move only one burrow system away from their natal site". (B605.3.w3)
  • During the breeding season males mate-guard their females. Cuckoldry is not common and occurs mainly to polygynous males that are attempting to guard two or more females. If an adult male dies, a neighbouring male will takeover his mate(s). In this situation, the behaviour of the new male toward the juveniles in his new burrow system is not distinguishable from that of their father. (B605.3.w3)
  • Individual home ranges of this species averages 1113 sq. metres. (B147)

Population density

  • Spring: low due to high mortality over the winter. Winters with heavy snowfall may result in catastrophic mortality. (B605.3.w3)
  • Following the breeding season: density may be close to 380 pikas per hectare. (B605.3.w3)

Predation

This species of pika is considered an important prey base for carnivores throughout its range. The pikas are widely sympatric with Mustela eversmanni, the steppe-polecat which apparently specialises on pikas. Ursus arctos pruinosus (Ursus arctos - Brown bear (Species)) from Tibet also feeds on pikas and in one study, 25 pikas were found in the stomach of one bear. This species of bear has also been known as Ursus lagomyiarius or "bear - pika eater". Wolves, Canis lupus, are also known to prey on this pika.

(B605.3.w3)

General pika information

  • Population densities of burrowing steppe dwellers are often much higher than that of the rock dwellers but they are also prone to fluctuate more widely. (B147)
  • The burrowing pikas are very friendly, sociable mammals that live within family groups where they may play-box, sit in contact, nose rub and spend time socially grooming. Communal dens house family groups which includes siblings of different ages. The young may follow behind an adult, usually their father, in a line. However, there may be aggression between members of different family groups, in particular, long chases of adult males occur. (B285.w5g)
  • The population density of burrowing pikas may be greater than 750 per acre towards the end of the breeding season but this may fluctuate greatly both annually and seasonally. (B285.w5g, B605.3.w3)
  • Pikas have scent glands, as do all lagomorphs. (B285.w5a)

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Sexual Behaviour

Notes

Note: There is little reported data on this topic specific to this species so the details below are from general pika information. This species is a burrowing pika rather than a rock dweller.
  • In general, it appears that pikas are monogamous. (B285.w5g, B605.3.w3)
  • Burrowing pikas: The mating system may be flexible: polygynous, polygynous, complex (several male and female), and polyandrous adult associations have been observed side by side. This last relationship is rare in mammals, but in the pika two males from the same burrow may be seen alternately mating with the resident female and then sitting side by side or grooming one another, even while the female is in estrus - apparently an adaptation to maximize reproductive rates in face of harsh environmental conditions. (B285.w5g)

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Activity Patterns, Self-grooming and Navigation

Notes

Note: This species is a burrowing pika rather than a rock dweller.

ACTIVITY PATTERNS: 

  • General pika information: Pikas are agile and lively (B285.w5g)

SELF-GROOMING: --

CIRCADIAN RHYTHM:

General pika information

  • Mainly active by day. Pikas are well-adapted to the cold and sensitive to even moderately warm conditions, therefore they tend to be active only during the cooler parts of the day. (B285.w5g)
  • Pikas may be active at all hours, in particular, early morning and evenings. It seems that they are less active on sunny days compared with cloudy days. (B147)
  • Pikas which live at high altitudes may be active all day, whereas pikas at warmer, lower altitudes emerge only in the morning and evening. (B285.w5g)

Specific Ochotona curzoniae information

  • Active throughout the day but at their most active during the following times:
    • 08.00 to 10.00
    • 17.00 to 19.00 
  • This is unlike shrub-dwelling pikas, e.g. Ochotona cansus - Gansu pika, which seldom enter their burrows during the daytime activity period, even if it is raining or windy. The time spent in surface activity is half that of the Gansu pika. 

(B605.3.w3)

SPEED OF MOVEMENT: --

NAVIGATION: --

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Habitat and Range

General Habitat Type

Notes

Specific Ochotona curzoniae information
  • "High alpine desert, steppe and meadows". (B605.3.w3)

General pika information

  • In general, most species of pikas live in remote high mountains and wild country and are well adapted to the cold. Pikas have become well adapted to living in rocky steppe and alpine habitats. (B285.w5g, B605.3.w3)

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Nests / Burrows / Shelters

Notes

General pika information
  • The species is a burrowing pika. (B605.3.w3)
  • In general, burrowing pikas dig burrows in open alpine meadow, semi desert or steppe environments. (B285.w5g)
  • It is common for burrows to be shared with birds or small mammals. (B605.3.w3)

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Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Notes

Specific Ochotona curzoniae information

  • India: Sikkim

  • Nepal (eastern)

  • China: Xizang; adjacent Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan (and southern Xinjiang (B605.3.w3))

(B285.w5i; B605.3.w3; B607.w20)

Sympatric with:

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Conservation

Species variation

Notes

  • Ochotona curzoniae includes the form Ochotona curzoniae melanostoma as a synonym. (B605.3.w3; B607.w20)
    • "The form melanostoma (Buchner 1890) apparently was described originally without knowledge of O. curzoniae (it is compared only with the Daurian pika). Most authors treat melanostoma as a synonym of O. curzoniae". (B607.w20)

Formerly included as a subspecies of:

The following forms were previously included as subspecies of this pika:

  • Ochotona ladacensis - Ladak pika: "The original description of this monotypic species was based on specimens originally assigned to the black-lipped pika". (B605.3.w3)
  • The form seiana is found in the Iran-Afghanistan border region and has previously been included in this species after being reported to possess "General characters very like those of true curzoniae." However, after examinations of the holotype, it has been concluded that seiana is a synonym of Ochotona rufescens - Afghan pika. (B605.3.w3; B607.w20)

Sister species: 

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Conservation Status

Notes

WILD POPULATION - IMPORTANCE:

General pika information: pikas are important for the following reasons:

  1. They act as prey for many birds and mammals. (B605.3.w3)
  2. By recycling soil, burrowing pikas have a positive contribution to ecosystem-level dynamics. (B605.3.w3)
  3. Haypiles created by pikas may provide winter food for domestic cows and horses and also native species such as ungulates or smaller herbivores. (B605.3.w3)
  4. This pika is considered by some to be a keystone species for the biodiversity on the Tibetan plateau - its burrows serve as primary homes for many birds and lizards, and also apparently contribute to increased plant diversity; its the principal prey for several predators; and by recycling nutrients and minimising erosion, this pika plays an important role in the ecosystem-level dynamics. (B285.w5g)

GENERAL LEGISLATION:

  • "Currently no species or forms of Ochotona are treated on any national list of endangered or threatened wildlife." (B605.3.w3)

CITES LISTING:

  • There are currently no Ochotona species CITES-listed. (W354.April08.w1)

RED-DATA LIST STATUS:

  • IUCN - Lower risk/least concern. (W2.Apr08.w41)

THREATS:

Specific Ochotona curzoniae information

  • This species is intensively poisoned in parts of central Asia and China due to their potential competition with livestock on the open rangeland. (B147)
    • "this species is the focus of widespread control efforts throughout its range, and has been eliminated locally". (B607.w20)
    • "Millions of hectares have been defaunated in an effort to eliminate these animals so as to increase vegetation available for domestic livestock (yaks, horses, sheep)". (B605.3.w3)
    • This pika has been poisoned across 200000 square kilometres in Qinghai province of China alone - this is an area equivalent to half the size of California. (B285.w5g)
General pika information
  • In general, the status of many species of pika is hard to assess because they inhabit such remote areas. (B285.w5g)
  • Many species of pika inhabit very restricted ranges and so may be threatened by human environmental disruption. (B147)

PEST STATUS / PEST POPULATIONS:

Specific Ochotona curzoniae information 

General pika information

  • Some burrowing pikas have high population densities which may lead to rangeland degradation. (B285.w5g)
  • However, it has been suggested that erosion in some places is more likely to be due to vegetation overgrazing by livestock rather than burrowing pikas. (B605.3.w3)
    • Foraging at low and moderate population densities is selective and hardly overlaps with the diet of the domestic grazing animals; thus these pikas may play a significant role in stabilising the alpine meadow vegetational community. (B605.3.w3)
    • However, when the pika population density is very high after the breeding season and the availability of the food resources is declining after the summer growth period, their diet may overlap extensively with the diet of the domestic animals. (B605.3.w3)
    • "Shi (1983) determined that the black-lipped pika is found at higher densities when the degree of cover and height of vegetation is low (presumably due to the grazing of livestock), and that under these conditions the pikas may further destroy the rangeland". (B605.3.w3)
    • The numerous burrows that are constructed by pikas are also thought to be contributing to the destruction of the alpine grassland. (B605.3.w3)
    • The Plateau pika has been labelled as a pest species in China because of its dietary overlap with domestic animals and also its burrow construction. However, apparently there has been little consideration to the possibility that the degradation of the range land is due to ov

CAPTIVE POPULATIONS: --

TRADE AND USE: --

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