Pika Boo!

Hemis National Park, Ladakh, October 2014. We survived the freezing conditions. We survived the crippling altitude. We survived the treacherous climbs up scree slopes that would challenge even the most fearless Blue Sheep. But we’ve been brought to our knees by Pika identification….. Can you help? Or do you know someone who can?

The facts
So far as I can tell …
1) Ladakh, at the very top of India, appears to be home to several species of Pika: the Large-eared, the Royle’s, the Nubra, the Ladakh are all occasionally features in Hemis reports. The first two are regularly reported on Hemis trip reports. Nubra occasionally and Ladakh very rarely. Some of the IDs in reports might be wrong.

2) Royle’s and Large-eared Pikas look quite similar. Nubra and Ladakh less so.

3) I have not found any particularly helpful resources to distinguish between the species. The only book I have seen that covered them all “The Birds and Mammals of Ladakh” had descriptions of each species that did not align all that well with the photos in the book.

The animals in question
When we were in Hemis National Park we saw Pikas very easily at a spot about 10 minutes above the lower campsite (a small boulder field next to the river). There were 1 or 2 species here and they appear to be one or both of Large-eared and Royle’s. The main difference I notice between these animals is ear size.

We saw another Pika very close to Rumbuk Village, among bushes near a dry stone wall a little higher up the valley. I am (almost) certain that this was a different species (very different colouration and different habitat). My best guess is Nubra Pika. Pictures below.

We would be very grateful for advice on the ID of the 2 or 3 species that I have grouped below. We have other pictures so if there is a diagnostic feature not shown just ask.

Over to you


Nubra Pika?
Ochotona nubrica 2

Ochotona nubrica 1


  • tomeslice

    See, to me the “small-eared” pika pictures seem like the same species as the large-eared pika, but just with its ears pulled back like my dog does.

    But again, I’m no pika expert so let’s see what others say.

  • mikehoit

    Pikas are a nightmare! We struggled in Hemis in 2012 – the first couple we assumed must be Large-eared, as we expected Royle’s to be darker and, well, that had pretty large ears! Then, however, we encountered an animal in the Tarbung Valley that was much more rangey, with a proportionately much bigger head and huge ears, even when they were held flattened. So we decided that the former (in the Husing and in the dry stone wall on the right side of the river ca.15 minutes towards Rumbak village from the old camp) must be Royle’s, and the latter Large-eared. For what it’s worth, these more-or-less match the IDs that Coke Smith made. Hopefully someone out there can provide some enlightenment.

    We certainly didn’t see anything that looked like the probable Nubra you guys saw!

  • Jon Hall

    Just for the record then this site has a set of features to help discriminate between O. roylei and macrotis and it has the ring of accuracy too …. http://wildpro.twycrosszoo.org/S/0MLagomorph/Ochotonidae/Ochotona/Ochotona_macrotis.htm

  • Jon Hall

    STOP PRESS. I’ve just exchanged several emails with a Russian academic – Andrey Lissovsky – who seems to be extremely knowledgeable on the Pikas (and rodents generally) of this region and was also very generous with his time. His opinion – after looking at a bunch of photos that Jason took – is that the larger and shorter eared animals (1) and (2) above are the same species and are all Large-eared (Ochotona macrotis), while the animal in the pictures (3) is indeed Nubra Pika. (O. nubrica).

    Other opinions very welcome of course but I have no reason whatsoever to doubt Andrey’s advice and expertise and am running with those IDs.


    • Hector Gomez de Silva

      But. But… according to information in the IUCN Red List and protectedplanet.com websites, Nubra (and Black-lipped) Pikas are not found in Hemis National Park [though they do occur just to the east in Changthang Sanctuary)…
      Héctor Gómez de Silva

      • Jon Hall

        Thanks Hector, I’m not sure of the accuracy of the range info for these species in IUCN but their range maps are quite often wrong. The IUCN maps don’t show Mountain Weasel in Hemis either for instance. So I wouldn’t read to much into this. cheers Jon

  • Hector Gomez de Silva

    Yes. The maps just show Ermine in Hemis (and Yellow-bellied Weasel in Changthang).
    No wonder I couldn’t identify a rodent I saw near Naini Tal a few years ago. It was much like a vole, Royle’s Mountain Vole being the best bet, but according to protectedplanet and IUCN and all other literature I could find, no Himalayan vole species is found at that low an elevation nor precisely at that locality. (we were a little below 2000 m elevation and Royle’s supposedly is always above 2600 m)

    • Jon Hall

      If you have a photo of the vole then put it on this forum and we can have a go at IDing it… but as you know without having them in the hand in can be tricky to say the least!

      • Hector Gomez de Silva

        I didn’t take a photo but my wife may have. I will check when I have the chance and if she did get one I’ll post it in the forum. I´ll also post my photos of unidentified Brazilian bats feeding at hummingbird feeders.
        Thank you,

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