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Male Mice Sing Sexy Songs to Woo Females

New research shows that mice can change their mating songs according to context

(Darwin Wiggett/First Light/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Ah, love. If it makes you want to burst into song, you’re not alone—new research shows that male mice not only sing songs to woo the ladies, but can modulate those mating songs according to social context.

In a recent study, researchers from Duke University looked at the ways in which the “ultrasonic vocalizations” of male mice change from context to context. Scientists have known for a while that mice not only sing songs, but have a repertoire of multiple tunes. But they haven’t understood how they modify their songs for different contexts—until now.

To better understand the ways of singing male mice, the research team used ultrasound microphones to catch the sounds mice made when interacting with females directly and when smelling their urine. They found that male mice who could smell, but not see, a female mouse sang a “louder, longer, and higher pitch” song—perhaps intended to awaken and call out the missing mates. In the presence of an awake female mouse, however, the male mice sang songs that were longer and softer.

“We think this has something to do with the complex song being like a calling song, and then when he sees the female, he switches to a simpler song in order to save energy to chase and try to court her at the same time,” co-author Erich Jarvis told Discovery News. The team suspects that mice modify their songs to signify their social rank and, of course, get their girl. And it seems to work—experimental results show that female mice seem to like the more complex songs.

Researchers hope to use their findings to investigate how the songs link up to brain areas and even individual genes, which could make it easier to understand how people with autism spectrum disorders interpret communication. But if that doesn’t convince you of the power of a song, this might—studies now show that music can influence the way you taste wine. We’ll toast to love…mouse style.

(H/t io9)

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