Critter's name sounds just like its call

We know you fine people at Since You Asked Central are good at solving family squabbles. In fact, you've solved one for us already and did exceptionally well by siding with me against my stubborn hubby. Now's your chance to double-down. We both read your past stories about pika studies and Crater Lake National Park, and it sparked a debate over how to pronounce the little guys' name. I say PEE-ka. He says PIE-ca. Can you call the whole thing off?

— Joanne, via email

Ahhh, Joanne. We're well aware that Ochotona princeps, aka the American pika, can cause spirited debates at dining-room tables and wine bars over how this little high-mountain hare likes its name pronounced.

The pika is no Joe Thiesmann, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback who, while at Notre Dame, changed his name's pronunciation in 1970 from his family's normal THEEZ-man to THIGHZ-man to rhyme with the Heisman Trophy. (It didn't work, right Stanford's Jim Plunkett?)

This question wouldn't even raise its furry little face if Since You Asked Central had a sing-along component to the print and online version, but not for lack of trying. The FCC cited public decency rules in banning certain SYA Central staffers from attempting to carry a tune.

We ink-stained wretches are more than willing to side with you on the pronunciation of PI-ca, thanks largely to picas of that pronunciation being used as units of measure in the newspaper realm.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says with no hesitation that it's PEEE-ka, an imitation of their calls.

For those of you not otherwise schooled in the ways of the pika, this little bugger is about 6 inches long and weighs up to 6 ounces, with a tawny-gray coat, no visible tail and long whiskers.

They live in rocky, high-mountain areas along the Cascades, including the southwest Cascades now inhabited by wandering wolf OR-7, a species known to feast on pikas as toe-food between main courses.

Pikas themselves eat leafy grasses, but never when out and about on a date night. Pikas clip the grasses, collect them in bundles and carry them back to their rocky dens, where they are eaten, sans TV trays.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

Share This Story