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New Species of Pika Discovered in Sikkim
Oct 05, 2016

A new species from the Pika family, a mammal belonging to the hare family has been discovered in the higher altitudes of the Himalayas in Sikkim. To identify the species, Pika pellets were collected to get its DNA. On comparing the DNA sequences from the pellets with that of all known Pika species in the world, it was found that these were quite different.

To prove that this is indeed a new species, the Sikkim Pika was compared to its close relatives. It took two years for collaborations with researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Zoological Museum of Moscow and Stanford University to get detailed data on these possible sister species.

Key Features of New Species of Pika

  • Scientists have identified it as 'Ochotona sikimaria', it was discovered by the study based on genetic data and skull measurements.
  • They resemble tailless rats.
  • They have been in news in North America for their sensitivity to impacts of climate change, like increasing temperature, which has caused several of the populations in Pika series go extinct.
  • Unlike other mammalian species inhabiting such harsh environments, Pikas do not hibernate. They prepare for winter by collecting and storing hay piles for their winter food.
  • The National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) team searched for Sikkim Pika in other Himalayan regions including Arunachal Pradesh, Central Nepal (Annapurna and Langtang), Ladakh and Spiti without success.
  • Apart from genetic data, the study also included morphological and ecological data of this species. With its sisters as earlier, this Pika was also thought to be a subspecies of the Moupin Pika.

The new NCBS research reveals that while it looks similar, it is actually very distinct from the Moupin Pika from genetic and ecological perspective. Such discordance between genetics and morphology has never been reported in Pikas.

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