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Mice Can Vocally Mimic One Another

When two male mice of different lineages were kept together, the animals gradually learned to match the pitch of their songs. Gretchen Cuda Kroen reports

Obviously, birds sing. But mice?

[Mice song sound.] That’s a mouse song.

Researchers have known about these high-pitched squeaky songs for years. But they only recently discovered that mice can learn the songs of other mice. Such vocal learning is a rarity among animals. We know of only three kinds of birds—parrots, hummingbirds and songbirds—and some mammals—like humans, whales, dolphins, sea lions, bats and elephants—that have demonstrated the ability to learn the vocal patterns of other animals. That is, until now.

Scientists at Duke University observed that when two male mice of different lineages were kept together, the animals gradually learned to match the pitch of their songs to one another. And when the researchers examined the mice, they found that the rodents can also form the correct brain-to-vocal-cord connections to control the sounds they make. The research is published in the journal PLoS ONE. [Gustavo Arriaga, Eric P. Zhou and Erich D. Jarvis, Of Mice, Birds, and Men: The Mouse Ultrasonic Song System Has Some Features Similar to Humans and Song-Learning Birds]

The mouse songs are admittedly primitive. But the findings left scientists on a high note.

—Gretchen Cuda Kroen

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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