Black-lipped pikas are found in the Alpine meadows and steppes of the Tibetan plateau in the Chang Taung region of the People’s Republic of China.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native )
Black-lipped pikas are small, chunky, and lack a conspicuous tail. They have characteristic black lips and thick fur which is brown to reddish tan on the dorsal side and light gray on the ventral side. There is no sexual dimorphism in size or coloration and it is difficult to determine males from females by the external genitalia.
Range mass: 0.1 to 0.2 kg.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike
Ochotona curzoniae prefers to make burrows in flat to gently sloping terrain and silty to sandy-soiled meadow lands with few rocks and good drainage at elevations up to 5300 meters.
Range elevation: 5300 (high) m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; mountains
Habitat and Ecology
O. curzoniae is a keystone species of the Tibetan plateau. It is speculated that O. curzoniae contributes to the overall health of alpine meadows by aerating the soil via their burrowing activities (Smith and Foggin 1999). A recent study demonstrated that greater plant species diversity is associated with small-burrowing mammals (O. curzoniae and Alticola stoliczkanus) of the Trans-Himalayan plateau (Bagchi et al. 2006). It is also an important component of the prey base for many carnivores within their geographic range (Lai and Smith 2003). Burrows constructed by O. curzoniae serve as homes for lizards and small birds on the Tibetan plateau (Smith and Foggin 1999).
Black-lipped pikas spend the majority of their time foraging for food. Those that live in meadows can store large amounts of forage in hay piles, for later consumption. Desert dwelling O. curzoniae cannot easily create hay stores because high winds blow it away, and less cohesive social structures make it more difficult to protect caches.
Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts; flowers
Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Granivore )
Black-lipped pikas feed on seeds, and they disperse those seeds to some extent. However, since they have a limited home range, the seeds are not dispersed far from where they were collected. They are reservoirs for parasitic species such as fleas. Poisoning of Ochotona curzoniae by local people to reduce the destruction created by burrows has lead to the death of several bird species, for example Montifringilla and Pyrgilauda as well as Pseudopodoces humilis>. These birds are known to nest in black-lipped pika burrows and are harmed by the poison used to cull the pika population.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; parasite
- Fleas (Siphonaptera)
Ochotona curzoniae are preyed upon by birds of prey, including common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), black kites (Milvus lineatus), upland buzzards (Buteo hemilasius), and weasels and polecats (Mustela). They avoid predation primarily through their vigilance, cryptic coloration, and tendency to remain under cover of foliage or rocks when active.
- upland buzzards (Buteo hemilasius)
- black kites (Milvus lineatus)
- common kestrels (Falco tinnunculus)
- other birds of prey (Falconiformes)
- weasels and polecats (Mustela)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
Black-lipped pikas communicate with family members by grooming, boxing and other contact to maintain social bonds. There is also frequent vocal communication informing the family of potential threats.
Communication Channels: tactile ; acoustic
Perception Channels: tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
The life expectancy of O. curzoniae is short because this species faces harsh winters and high parasitosis. Few members of each family group survive to the next spring. About 15.7% survive to breed during first year after birth, and only 1.5% survive to breed during their second year.
Status: wild: 957 (high) days.
Status: wild: 119.9 days.
Status: wild: 119.9 days.
Black-lipped pikas employ several mating systems. Most commonly, black-lipped pikas live in monogamous family groups made up of and adult male and female, juveniles, and younger animals. Both polygamy and polyandry have been recorded among O. curzoniae; this most commonly happens when an adult black-lipped pika dies and its mate joins another family group. Promiscuity has also been observed, though it is not common.
Mating System: monogamous ; polyandrous ; polygynous
Female black-lipped pikas breed and produce litters every three weeks during summer months. As the summer continues, more food becomes available and each successive litter becomes larger throughout the summer. During the mating season, there is intense male-male competition for females. Once family groups are formed, intergroup aggression keeps families together. Also, social interaction via grooming, boxing, communication and other contact helps to maintain social relationships. Communication reaches its peak during the weaning period of a new litter so that juveniles maintain strong social bonds with each other and their parents. Female O. curzoniae can, and often do, breed within the same summer of their own birth.
It was once thought that black-lipped pikas practiced a great deal of inbreeding to maintain family ties. However, it has since been discovered that roughly 97% of males leave their family range during the spring just before mating season. These males usually move to neighboring family groups. Some females also disperse from their natal family groups to join neighboring ones. This behavior helps to reduce the negative effects of inbreeding; however, the most successful matings usually occur between family members.
Breeding interval: Breeding can occur every three weeks during the summer months.
Breeding season: The female is in estrous for one day during the week that copulation occurs.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 8.
Average number of offspring: 4.8.
Range gestation period: 21 to 24 days.
Average weaning age: 21 days.
Average time to independence: 3 weeks.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous
One unusual feature about O. curzoniae is that males invest heavily in offspring. Their behaviors consist of vigilance and awareness of the surroundings. They look out for potential predators as well as help maintain home range boundaries. The majority of juvenile-adult interactions occur with adult males rather than the females.
Females have limited interactions with offspring outside of nursing. A mother spends the majority of her time foraging so that she can provide enough energy to feed her young and prepare for the next litter, which quickly follows.
After three weeks, the offspring are weaned and go through a period of learning, generally with an adult male. The litters usually remain with their family for the first winter and disperse in spring before the reproductive season.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male); pre-independence (Protecting: Male); post-independence association with parents; extended period of juvenile learning
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Ochotona curzoniae
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ochotona curzoniae
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
Pastoralists have used zinc phosphate to poison black-lipped pikas in hopes of reducing competition with livestock for vegetation. These pikas are not currently threatened, but further persecution and habitat changes may threaten populations in the future.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Black-lipped pikas have been blamed for soil erosion caused by burrowing and also for eating the vegetation normally fed upon by livestock. Generally, soil erosion is present before burrows have been created. At high densities, O. curzoniae populations do compete with livestock for vegetation.
Ochotona curzoniae in low densities eat the foods untouched by livestock, and their excrement fertilizes the plants that livestock do eat.
Positive Impacts: produces fertilizer
The plateau pika (Ochotona curzoniae), also known as the black-lipped pika, is a small diurnal and non-hibernating mammal weighing about 140g when full grown. Their main habitat is at elevations of 3200 to 5300 meters above sea level in the meadows of the Tibetan Plateau, an area that contains harsh climates which are cold and dry with temperatures that go as low as -14 degrees Celsius. They are also found in Pakistan, India, and in Nepal in high alpine deserts, steppes and meadows. Plateau pikas are considered to be a keystone species as they play a role in recycling nutrients in soil, providing food to predators such as; foxes, weasels, falcons, Asia pole cat, upland buzzard, and owls. They also provide microhabitats by increasing plant richness and their burrows provides nests for small birds and reptiles.
Mating and population
Plateau pikas have mating systems such as monogamous and polygynandrous groups, which contain about 3 males and 3 to 4 females per family along with their offspring. Females can produce 2 to 5 litters of about 2 to 7 offspring with a 3 week interval in between each litter which is why this group of lagomorphs are known to have the fastest growth rates of their order. Their breeding season lasts from April to August and the young do not disperse in the year of birth. Males form hierarchies and females are usually philopatric forming reproductive alliances, helping each other in the care of their offspring, males also contribute in parental care when deterring a predator by emitting an alarm call. Males and females both contribute in protecting their family groups from intruders displaying aggressive behaviors towards others who are not part of their family.
Since plateau pikas live in such extremely cold environments and are a non-hibernating species, they have acquired physiological adaptations to better assist with their survival. These adaptations include their high resting metabolic rate and non- shivering thermogenesis along with the production of leptin which is a thermogenesis regulatory hormone.
Conservation and management
The plateau pika as well as being considered to be a keystone species is also considered to as a pest because of the degradation is causes to crops which causes a competition in foraging with the livestock of farmers such as yaks, sheep, horses, etc., which in turn affects their livelihood. The plateau pika is an herbivore that eats plants such as; bog sedge/krobesia, grasses, perennial, turf, etc. Farmers believed that a good method to manage pikas and stop them from foraging in their land was to start poisoning programs which began to cause secondary poisoning which was believed to lead to loss of biodiversity. However the attempts in poisoning the pikas did not have a long term affect as they would repopulate within the next breeding season and would return to the same population size. A second form of management is fencing, which also did not prove to be very successful in preventing foraging by the plateau pika. It is generally agreed that a solution will need to include improving livestock management and pest control, biologist believe that a way to accomplish this would be to gain a better understanding of how populations of pikas respond to control programs so that they can change the patterns of livestock grazing. Therefore because of their rapid growth pikas are considered to be an animal of least concern.
Jiapeng, Qu (2012). "Original Investigation: Life History Of The Plateau Pika (Ochotona Curzoniae) In Alpine Meadows Of The Tibetan Plateau.". Mammalian Biology 78: 68–72. doi:10.1016/j.mambio.2012.09.005.
Zhao, Xin Quan (2011). "Functional Evolution Of Leptin Of Ochotona Curzoniae In Adaptive Thermogenesis Driven By Cold Environmental Stress". Plos ONE 6.6: 1–11.
Zhang, Yanming. Mammalian Biology 74.
Zhang, Yanming. "Original Investigation: Male Reproductive Success In Plateau Pikas (Ochotona Curzoniae): A Microsatellite Analysis". Mammalian Biology 74: 344–350.