The mothers of mouse pups emit ultrasonic vocalisations which lead to their male partners administering care to the offspring, reports a study in Nature Communications this week. The findings provide new insights into the social interactions between rodents.
Parental care in many mammal species has long been assumed to be the responsibility of the mother. In rodents such as mice, rats and hamsters, which are not monogamous, males do not naturally display parental behaviour; however, if male and female mice are housed together under laboratory conditions, they will both provide protection and warmth to the pups. Haruhiro Higashida and colleagues provide further insight into the conditions required for the induction of parental behaviour in paternal mice by studying mouse pup retrieval behaviour. They find that when the paternal mice are separated from pups, they are able to receive ultrasonic sound cues as well as odour cues from the maternal mice which result in them providing parental care when they are subsequently returned to the offspring.
Although these studies were carried out in a specific strain of mice, the authors hope that further studies in other species will be provide conclusive evidence as to whether this behaviour is species-wide.