Ambience: Mouse song slowed down
Does this sound put you in the mood for love? Well, it might-if you were a mouse. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Dr. Timothy Holy is a professor of neurobiology at Washington University in St. Louis. He was studying the behavior of mice, when he happened upon these ultrasonic sounds, which have been slowed down so that we can hear them.
“We were interested in understanding what is it that has a male mouse recognize a female mouse. And so, it had been reported that they make these sounds when they smell a female mouse, as well as when they encounter her directly. And so we started recording their sounds and it was just an irresistible temptation, at a certain point, to actually take a careful look at those sounds.”
After analyzing their songs, Dr. Holy discovered that the male mice were all singing slight variations of the same tune.
“So we found that certain mice prefer certain syllables; it’s not just their voices are different, it’s almost, like a phenomenon you may be familiar with individual people have certain words they use over and over again. And certain mice tend to use one syllable more than another syllable. It also turns out that some mice have a greater tendency to repeat themselves than other mice do. And so in that way, individual mice are actually distinct in the songs they sing.”
We asked if the mice were just repeating their version of “Ooh, baby, baby.” Dr. Holy was unwilling to hazard a guess, but he did offer this.
“My guess is that the songs are used for courtship. Certainly in birds, male birds sing in order to attract females. And there’s a little bit of evidence to suggest, at least, that female mice will try to be near a singing male mouse. I think the sort of ultimate test is to find out whether that actually improves the male’s mating success and that’s something really just hasn’t been looked yet.”
Whatever these male mice are singing about, it looks like their songs might be helpful to us humans. We’ll find out how in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.