The mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss famously sang “We will fix it” and now it appears the idea wasn’t quite so far-fetched.
Scientists have discovered that male mice sing to attract females at ultrasonic levels that humans cannot hear. The study demonstrated for the first time that their song changes depending on their situation and particular types of tunes are used when there is a female nearby.
The male’s vocal ability is thought to be a natural rather than a learned behaviour.
Erich Jarvis, of Duke University in North Carolina where the research was carried out, told The Guardian: “It is clear that the mouse’s ability to vocalise is a lot more limited than a songbird’s or human’s, and yet it’s remarkable that we can find these differences in song complexity.”
If the mice’s song is lowered to a frequency that can be heard by humans, it sounds “somewhere between birdsong and the noise of clean glass being scrubbed”, The Guardian said.
The songs apparently become louder and more complicated when the male can smell a female but cannot see her. They become longer and simpler when she is in sight.
“It’s like they make more effort to bring the female nearby. Once she’s within reach, the game is already won and they focus more on mating behaviours,” Jonathan Chabout, a neuroscientist at Duke University, added.