Is that squeaking sound that mice make a song they learn? A University of Washington neurobiologist says no.
Could singing mice knock songbirds off their perch when it comes to neurobiology research?
Birds are a great model for human learning, but their brains lack the higher structures common to mammals. So neuroscientists were excited in 2005 when a team in St. Louis reported that the ultrasonic squeaks emitted by male mice when they encounter females sound a lot like songs.
Most mammals are born knowing how to howl or growl or chatter. Only a handful, such as whales and dolphins, learn communication skills — and they’re not easy animals to study. Mice are. “If mice learn their vocalizations, then it could be a big advance for understanding how humans do it,” said David Perkel, a University of Washington neurobiologist.
But a new study by Perkel and his collaborators puts the lie to the mouse’s musical cred.
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Deaf birds produce lousy songs, proof that they learn from others and by listening to their own practice runs. Perkel and his colleagues raised deaf mice — and found they vocalize just as well as those with perfect hearing.
“It seems to be innate, not learned,” he said.
Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491