Mice Sing Like Songbirds to Woo Their Mates (VIDEO)

First Posted: Apr 02, 2015 12:38 PM EDT

Most people think of mice squeaking--not singing. But that's exactly what certain male mice do in order to woo potential mates. Scientists have discovered that mice sing ultrasonic vocalizations beyond human hearing to seduce females.

For more than 50 years, scientists have known that mice sing; they emit what's called "ultrasonic vocalizations," or USVs. These sounds are so high-pitched that humans can't hear them. They often occur in the wild when a mouse pup calls for its mother, and these vocalizations only grow more complex as mice reach adulthood. However, researchers are still trying to decode the songs and determine how they vary across different social situations.

Now, researchers have decoded at least some of these vocalizations. The researchers exposed adult male mice to different social contexts. Then, they developed a new computation approach for analyzing mouse songs; they studied the dynamics between the various syllables in a given mouse song, defined as a series of utterances or syllables strung together, sometimes with a tempo.

In the end, the researchers found that males sing louder and more complex songs when they smell a female's urine but don't see her. In contrast, the songs are longer and simpler when the males sing directly to the female while in her presence.

"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," said Erich Jarvis, one of the researchers, in a news release.

That's not all the researchers found. It seems that the songs specifically mean certain things. They found that the mice produce specific patterns rather than random strings of syllables within a given song. In addition, females preferred spending time near speakers playing more complex tunes rather than simpler ones.

The scientists have actually uploaded their recordings to "MouseTube," a growing repository built by scientists that is expected to contain USVs from around the world.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Want to see the mice singing for yourself? Check out the video below, courtesy of YouTube.

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