Mice - The New Singing Sensations?
You know that squeak you hear from your pet mouse or the pest rodent that is raiding your pantry? Turns out it is not really a squeak, but a sweet melody sung by male mice to attract females. This is the conclusion reached by evolutionary biologist Dustin Penn and his team at the Veterinary University of Vienna in Austria.
The scientists who have been conducting a series of studies on house mice for a number of years, began by recording the high-pitched sounds male mice make the moment they sense a female mouse around. What they discovered when they played them back to females was that the ladies could differentiate between those made by their brothers and the ones made by unrelated males. Just like human siblings, they tended to ignore the ones emanating from the brothers.
The researchers then took the experiment one step further and analyzed the squeaks - oops melodies - by audio parameters like duration, pitch and frequency. To their astonishment they discovered that while the squeaks sounded similar, they each had a distinct 'tune' and were quite complex, similar to bird songs. Even more interesting was the fact that songs sung by siblings were similar to one another.
The biggest surprise of all was that the mice could even learn melodies from each other- The scientists tested this by placing two mice species that had completely unique singing ranges next to each other and in the same cage with females. Within eight weeks the males all seemed to be singing the same tune!
This ability that is known as local learning, is particularly important since it puts mice in the same superior category as humans and some birds, dolphins and whales. While the mice do not have it at the advanced level that the other animals do, it is not completely missing either, as had been previously assumed.
However, not all scientists agree with this finding - Some like Kurt Hammerschmidt, a senior scientist at the German Primate Center in Gottingen believe that the test sample was too small to make such a groundbreaking conclusion that groups the mice in with the 'intelligent' animals.
The researchers next plan to test if the females care about the quality of the 'song' - In some bird species, males that can sing the most complex tunes seem to get the most attention. Whether female mice care or not, is yet to be seen.
So why do we care whether mice can sing or not? Apparently, since they are constantly being used as laboratory testers, it will help us make advances in human speech disorders like the ones found in people suffering from autism.
Resources: Msnbc.com, livescience.com,inquister.com