You are likely quite familiar with the sound of birds singing. You might have also heard the sounds of frogs singing a chorus around a pond or lake. But did you know that some mice sing too? What is the reason behind this unusual behavior?
Bret Pasch, a doctoral student at the University of Florida, is researching that question. He and his colleagues study a rodent called the Alston’s singing mouse (Scotinomys teguina). This insectivorous mouse is native to montane cloud forests that are found throughout Central America.
Pasch’s research indicates that males are primarily the singers in this mouse species. Not unlike birds and frogs, he thinks that these mice sing in order to attract mates and repel potential rivals. Hormones play an important role in a males ability to sing. In one experiment, a set of males were neutered. One group received synthetic hormones, while the control group did not. The males that did not receive the hormones were found to be poor singers–their songs had slower trill rates and were limited to a small range of frequencies.
A second experiment tested females interest in different songs. When female Alston’s singing mice were presented with two songs, one of which was played at normal speed, and one of which was enhanced to play at a higher speed, and thus a faster trill, the females overwhelmingly preferred the enhanced song. Researchers believe that a more complex song indicates to the female that the male is a better-quality mate. According to Pasch, males that are better singers have better control over their nervous, neuromuscular, and cardiac systems, which would serve as an excellent indication of their overall good health.
The results of Pasch’s research were published in the June 2011 edition of the journal Animal Behaviour. Other scientists who contributed to the research included Andreas S. George, Polly Campbell, and Steven M. Phelps.
More to Explore
Androgen-Dependent Male Vocal Performance Influences Female Preference in Neotropical Singing Mice [pdf]
Squeaking Up A Storm: Yes, That Mouse Is Singing
The Mystery of the Singing Mice
Deer Mouse Singing (audio/video)
Male Alston’s singing mouse (S. teguina) (video)
Female Alston’s singing mouse (S. teguina) listening to male song (video)
UF Study: When Singing Mice Choose A Mate, A Skillful Song Gets the Gal
While the BioZine is on summer vacation, please enjoy this article from the archives. It was originally published February 29, 2012.