National Geographic News
A house mouse in a pipe.

A house mouse peeks out of a pipe.

Photograph from Juniors Bildarchiv GmbH/Alamy

Sasha Ingber

National Geographic News

Published October 17, 2012

Not only can male mice sing, they can learn to change the notes they produce in their songs.

That's the finding of a new study by Duke University neurobiologist Erich Jarvis and his colleagues Gustavo Arriaga and Eric Zhou.

The fact that mice sing was documented in a 2005 study by assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy Timothy E. Holy and programmer Zhongsheng Guo.

To study the mice's vocalizations, which are too high for humans to hear, the researchers recorded the sounds and then slowed them down. They found that mice sing songs with melodies and repeated phrases to court female mice.

(Also see "Mouse Tears Are Aphrodisiacs.")

More than just a squeak above the limit of human hearing, the songs contain a variety of syllables and have recurring themes.

Hear Mice Sing

Jarvis and his colleagues went a step further. Their research, published October 10 in the journal PLoS ONE, reveals that mice can be taught to vocalize different notes—just like humans, dolphins, whales, and a few other species.

"The Voice" for Mice

In a study that bears a slight—and coincidental—resemblance to the vocal battles between two singers on NBC's "The Voice," the scientists put a pair of adult mice with different genetic strains with a single female.

Over the course of eight weeks, the two male mice in each pair would change their songs, each imitating the higher or lower notes of the other's song.

The discovery means that researchers can now study mice to learn more about speech and speech disorders.

Mice are, after all, a lot easier to breed and study in captivity than dolphins and whales. They are also good candidates for studies that require genetic manipulation.

Meanwhile, the mice songs might not just be about winning a female's favor.

(Also see blog post: "Male Mice Have 'Singing Voices.'")

Jarvis suggests that a mouse might also sing to communicate aggression and other emotions.

"From our findings, we believe that mice are not as primitive as most people have long assumed," Jarvis said.

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