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Adaptive functions of ultrasonic vocalizations in male mice

Adaptive functions of ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) of male house mice During courtship and mating male house mice (Mus musculus) emit ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs), which are surprisingly complex and contain features of bird song (i.e., strings of syllables, often different types, uttered in succession to form a recognizable sequence over time). The discovery that male mice produce ‘silent songs’ has spurred much interest in this behavior, and USVs are rapidly becoming an important model for vocalization research and a common behavioral phenotype for a wide variety of studies using mouse models. The adaptive functions of the USVs of house mice are still unclear, however, as most studies have only investigated domesticated laboratory strains. We conducted the first studies on the USVs of wild house mouse, and we found that females are attracted to male USVs and they prefer the calls of non-siblings versus siblings. We conducted spectral analyses and found that males’ USVs are individually distinctive and show more differences between non-siblings than siblings. Thus, female mice potentially use male USVs for individual recognition and for assessing kinship of potential mates. Our general aim is to determine the adaptive functions of male USVs, and more specifically, we will test whether and how USVs affect males’ reproductive success through mate choice, male-male competition, or both. Our results will have implications for sexual selection and animal communication, and applied efforts to determine whether vocalizations provide a non- invasive trait for diagnosing disease, genetic speech defects, and animal welfare.
Statistik Austria, science classification
106012         Evolutionary research
106051         Behavioural biology
305102         DNA analysis (Forensic medicine)
Akustische Kommunikation
Mus musculus
Sexuelle Selektion
Ultraschallgesänge bei Mäusen
Project leader
Penn Dustin
Type of Research
Basic research
Zala S., Project team member
Marconi M., Project team member
Nicolakis D., Project team member
Vetmed Research Units
Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology
Projekt partner
Contact: Peter Balazs, Anton Noll
Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien, Austria
Funded by
FWF - Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung, Sensengasse 1, 1090 Wien, Austria

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13 Publications

Penn, DJ; Számadó, S (2019): The Handicap Principle: How an erroneous idea became a scientific principle. 95--ASAB Konstanz Summer Conference; AUG 26-28, 2019; Konstanz, Germany.

Penn, DJ; Számadó, S (2019): The Handicap Principle: how an erroneous hypothesis became a scientific principle. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2019;
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Dumfart, Sophie (2019): Do ultrasonic vocalizations of male wild house mice attract females? (Mus musculus musculus). Diplomarbeit, Univ. Wien, pp. 55.

Thonhauser, KE; Raffetzeder, A; Penn, DJ (2019): Sexual experience has no effect on male mating or reproductive success in house mice. Sci Rep. 2019; 9(1):12145
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Gliga, Diana Suzana (2019): Priming effects on wild-derived male house mice during socio-sexual interactions with females. Diplomarbeit, Vet. Med. Univ. Wien, pp. 50.

Thonhauser, KE; Tscheppe, G; Gantenbein, F; Rülicke, T; Penn, DJ (2018): Does strategic sperm production depend upon male quality? 69-69.-European Conference on Behavioural Biology (ECBB) 2018; AUG 9-12, 2018; Liverpool, United Kingdom.

Penn, DJ; Számado, S (2018): The trade-offs of honest signals. 53-53.-European Conference on Behavioural Biology; AUG 9-12, 2018; Liverpool, United Kingdom.

Zala, SM; Reitschmidt, D; Marconi, MA; Penn, DJ (2018): Sexual priming enhances emission of ultrasonic vocalizations of male mice. 128-128.-European Conference on Behavioural Biology (ECBB) 2018; AUG 9-12, 2018; Liverpool, United Kingdom.

Reitschmidt, D; Marconi, MA; Zala, SM; Penn, DJ (2018): Do ultrasonic vocalizations during courtship predict reproductive success in house mice? 117-117.-European Conference on Behavioural Biology (ECBB) 2018; AUG 9-12, 2018; Liverpool, United Kingdom.

Marconi, MA; Reitschmidt, D; Abbasi, R; Penn, DJ; Zala, SM (2018): Do ultrasonic vocalizations of wild house mice contain individual signatures? 102-102.-European Conference on Behavioural Biology (ECBB) 2018; AUG 9-12, 2018; Liverpool, United Kingdom.

Zala, SM; Reitschmidt, D; Noll, A; Balazs, P; Penn, DJ (2017): Sex-dependent modulation of ultrasonic vocalizations in house mice (Mus musculus musculus). PLoS One. 2017; 12(12):e0188647
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Zala, SM; Reitschmidt, D; Noll, A; Balazs, P; Penn, DJ (2017): Automatic mouse ultrasound detector (A-MUD): A new tool for processing rodent vocalizations. PLoS One. 2017; 12(7):e0181200
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Musolf, K; Meindl, S; Larsen, AL; Kalcounis-Rueppell, MC; Penn, DJ (2015): Ultrasonic Vocalizations of Male Mice Differ among Species and Females Show Assortative Preferences for Male Calls. PLoS One. 2015; 10(8):e0134123
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