Not only can mice sing, they also may be able to learn vocalizations from hearing other mice. Only humans, songbirds, parrots and hummingbirds have so far been thought capable of vocal learning but a new PLOS One study suggests that “mice have limited versions of the brain and behavior traits for vocal learning that are found in humans for learning speech and in birds for learning song,” as Duke University neurobiologist Erich Jarvis says in Science Daily.
The PLOS One study looked at the ultrasonic sounds that male mice make when they are wooing a female and found that the mice’s vocalizations contain some features similar to those of birds who are able to learn songs. While it has been assumed that mice lack the brain structures for learning to change the sounds they make and that they produce the sounds innately, Jarvis and his colleagues found that a certain region of a mouse’s brain (the motor cortex region) become active when they sing. This region indeed “projects directly to brainstem vocal motor neurons and is necessary for keeping song more stereotyped and on pitch.”
Moreover, the scientists found that male mice actually rely on “auditory feedback” to make their songs and that, in contradiction to earlier studies, mice sing in pitch (and you thought all they could do was squeak).
Here are four other animals besides birds and us humans who sing.
2. Toadfish sing (or, to our ears, hum) for the same reasons male mice do, to attract females. While these sounds are “not as complex as what you hear mammals and birds doing,” fish are not silent denizens of the waters, Andrew H. Bass, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University, notes to MSNBC.
3. Male Mexican free-tailed bats also sing for supersonic songs to court females, researchers from Texas A & M University found. Towards other males, the bats‘ songs are not welcoming, but of a “stay away” nature.
4. Not every animal that sings does so for, well, sex. Harris’ antelope squirrel trills to communicate for safety reasons. The squirrels live in desert environments in the southwestern U.S. in burrows at the entrances of which they are known to pause, stamp their forefeet and vocalize before entering. The small rodents have to constantly be alert as coyotes, hawks, snakes and bobcats prey on them.
5. I still remember excitedly pulling the little plastic recording of humpback whale songs from an issue of National Geographic to listen to. The sounds were nothing I had ever heard and the fact that they came from a creature who lived deep in the ocean made them even more intriguing. Other whales who sing are killer whales or orcas, who use ultrasonic vocalizations and have dialects, and beluga whales, who have a whole repertoire of “chirps, squeaks and clips” and are rightly dubbed “sea canaries.”
There’s a lot to hear out there in the natural world. All the more reason to keep up the fight against noise pollution and listen for the sounds we haven’t yet heard.
Photo by jans canon