Cat's entertainment? Musical male mice learn to sing to impress females


Rob Williams@bobjwilliams
Thursday 11 October 2012 13:20

'Cheese Release Me' or 'Mouse of The Rising Sun' maybe?

US researchers say they have discovered that mice share brain features used by humans to learn songs based on the sounds they hear.

Scientists say male mice, who use high-pitched 'singing' to woo females, are able to change their tune in order to compete with fellow suitors.

The findings, which are published in the Journal, Plos One, appear to demonstrate that mice share some of the brain mechanisms that humans and songbirds use when learning songs.

Past studies have suggested this ability, which is known as local learning, had been limited to humans, sea lions, seals, birds, dolphins, whales, bats and elephants.

While it was already known that male mice sing or whistle complex songs, when trying to woo females, it was not known that males in a cage together would adjust their songs to match those of a competitor.

The sound of the mice singing is ultrasonic occurring at between 50 and 100KHz and way beyond the hearing range of humans.

Researchers from Tulane University in New Orleans noticed that when two male mice were placed in a cage together they began to slowly match the pitch of their songs.

When scientists subsequently damaged the area in the motor cortex, which they suspected was controlling the singing, the mice lost their ability to maintain the same pitch and sound.

Whilst some scientists remain sceptical about the discovery Dr Erich Jarvis, who oversaw the study, told the BBC that the discovery had changed his understanding of the way mice make sound.

"In mice we find that the pathways that are at least modulating these vocalisations are in the forebrain, in places where you actually find them in humans,"

"We think mice are intermediate in this ability between a chicken and a song bird or even a non human primate and a human," he said."

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