Male Mice Have “Singing Voices”

Think twice the next time you call someone as quiet as a mouse—the rodents are actually sophisticated singers, a new study says.

For the first time, scientists caught wild male house mice and used digital audio software to examine the durations, pitches, and frequencies of their sounds.

The results revealed that the males’ songs are more complex than mere squeaks, and that each male has a different singing “voice.”

Scientists already knew that these melodious males sing when they smell a female, and that females are in turn attracted to their tunes. But the new research suggests it may be more complicated than that.

A house mouse nesting in a can. Photograph by David & Hayes Norris/Science Photo Library

For instance, when slowed down, the males’ sounds sound strikingly like those of birds. In some bird species, the males with the most complex sounds are most alluring—which means it’s possible male mice also use these so-called “sexy syllables” to snag mates, according to a statement.

The research also showed that brothers’ sounds are similar to each other when compared with songs of unrelated males—possibly a strategy for females to discern males and avoid inbreeding, according to the study, published recently in the journals Physiology & Behavior and the Journal of Ethology.

“It seems as though house mice might provide a new model organism for the study of song in animals,” study author Dustin Penn, of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, said in a statement. “Who would have thought that?”

Sadly for us, mice songs aren’t music to our ears—their sounds are ultrasonic and out of range of human hearing. But there are plenty of critters that are loud enough to make up for it.

In July National Geographic News published a gallery of the world’s loudest animals, including the howler monkey, the loudest land animal; the blue whale, the loudest mammal; and the snapping shrimp, possibly the loudest noise by anything alive. Of course, my favorite is a water insect whose musical instrument of choice is its penis.

Writes Rachel Kaufman:

“Although not the loudest animal in terms of sheer decibels, the 0.07-inch (2-millimeter) water boatman species Micronecta scholtzi, … does make the loudest sounds relative to its body size. …

Remarkably, the boatman creates his songs by rubbing his penis against his belly, in a process similar to how crickets chirp. Sound-producing genitalia are relatively rare within the animal kingdom, but animals have evolved hundreds of other ways to boost their hoots, howls, and snaps.”

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Meet the Author
Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.