Meet the Singing Mice of the Cloud Forests (Videos)

CC BY 2.0. Brett Pasch

When two male Alston's singing mice meet, they sing an operatic duet that researchers say offers clues about our own speech.

Today I started reading research from New York University and The University of Texas at Austin about the songs of mice from the cloud forests of Costa Rica. The scientists identified a brain circuit that might allow for the quick back and forth of human conversation, an insight that could help us better understand the causes of human speech disorders and point the way to new treatments.

Which is interesting, to be sure. But here's the thing: They had me at "the songs of mice from the cloud forests of Costa Rica."

As described by UT Austin, "When two male Alston's singing mice meet – one on his home turf and the other from outside – they sing a kind of duet like two opera performers staking their claim on territory or vying for the attention of a maiden. But the outsider, called a recruit, starts singing only when the resident male has finished his song and then immediately stops if the resident starts up again."

"The recruit is asserting that he's there, and he's going to be competing with the resident," said Steven Phelps, study co-author, professor of integrative biology and director of the Center for Brain, Behavior and Evolution at UT Austin. "The resident says I'm already here and I plan to stay."

Known as "vocal turn-taking," the rodent repartee is comparable to two humans having a chat, notes the study. Which of course meant I had to go down the singing mouse rabbit hole and hear for myself. After which, I thought I would invite all of you into that special place as well. So without further ado, meet the singing mice of the cloud forests.