Singing Mouseketeers

Mousey in conversations? You’re not alone!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Some conversations just flow naturally. Others…not so much! Imagine small talk with the in-laws! Ugh! You have to tiptoe around sensitive topics, AND coordinate a hundred different mouth muscles! How does your brain manage this juggling act?

Steven Phelps and his team from the University of Texas Austin eavesdropped on singing mice from the Cloud Forests of Costa Rica. These mice quickly exchange songs back and forth with potential mates. It’s like they’re having conversations!

The team found that singing mice rely on the motor cortex, just like humans do. This brain part precisely sets pacing, and controls when to start and stop talking. That level of control allows humans, and these mice, to have rapid-fire banter – worthy of an Aaron Sorkin TV show!

This is good news for researchers that work with mammals. Regular mice don’t talk to each other. But having chatty mice in the lab could be very helpful to brain researchers – not to mention entertaining!

But can they help me get through Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws?