The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 13, 2012

Singing mice go for baroque

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Mice and I have never really gotten along.

I had just gone to bed one winter night in my childhood when I heard my mother yell.

I jumped from my bed and ran toward the sound, only to see my mother pointing frantically at the kitchen cabinets.

A piece of paper dangled from the lower corner of one of the cabinets, and as I watched as it jerked upward.

“It’s a mouse,” my mother said, her voice rising nervously.

The wee beastie was apparently attempting to build a nest in our cabinet and had snatched a bit of paper out of the trash basket sitting across the kitchen floor. When Mom spotted him, he was toting his prize to his new DIY project.

I was trying to process all this information when Dad came in. He watched the paper dance up and down as the determined mouse attempted to pull it into the cabinet, all the while listening to Mom’s explanation of the situation.

Dad, being a take-charge kind of guy, walked right over and opened the cabinet door. Mousie, caught in the act, dropped the paper and made a break for it, scampering across the kitchen floor.

Mom yelled. I yelled. Dad took a couple of steps and went airborne.

Now, I should pause in my narrative to point out my father was a rather rotund man who would certainly remind no one of the great Nureyev, but he sailed across the kitchen with surprising grace.

Being a law-abiding citizen, Dad soon succumbed to the pull of gravity and landed heavily, his wing tips contacting the linoleum — right on top of the hapless mouse.

In deference to those of you who are still enjoying your Froot Loops, I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say, the poor, beleaguered mouse found himself spread a little thin, if you get my drift.

Over the years, I have had my own run-ins with mice. I have set my share of mouse traps and removed and disposed of rodent earthly remains after sending their souls to rodent heaven.

It’s nothing personal, and as long as the mice stay outside and don’t bother me, I promise to stay inside and not bother them.

But it never works out that way. As the weather gets colder, the mice get bolder, though it was a hot summer day years ago when we caught a mouse eating out of our cats’ food dish.

I have found it easy to think of mice as pestilence, vermin, a scourge, a vexation, an irritation, a nuisance and a veritable vexation.

So imagine my chagrin recently when I found out mice could sing, and not just the three visually challenged ones featured in the old children’s song, or their cartoon brethren, Mickey or Mighty.

No, I have not been hearing tiny mousie choruses belting out the “Hallelujah Chorus,” or anything. A group of American researchers recently reported that mice learn songs in a similar fashion to human beings and birds.

The scientists from Duke University found out that when male mice were housed together, they learned to match the pitch of their songs to each other.

And when a lady mouse comes into the picture, the songs sung by the male mice become complex.

Mice, the Duke researchers found, have both the brain circuits and the behavioral attributes that allows them to achieve vocal learning. Besides humans and mice, other species capable of vocal learning include parrots, songbirds, whales, dolphins, sea lions, bats and elephants.

Now, don’t go out and try to put together a Mousie Tabernacle Choir. The songs sung by mice range between 50 and 100,000 hertz, far above the hearing range of human beings. When mouse song is recorded and the pitch lowered, the sounds reportedly resemble a series of plaintive whistles.

Oh, great, plaintive whistles. Now I really feel terrible.

I wondered what kinds of songs mice would sing. Do they know the “Mickey Mouse Club” theme? Or do they favor songs by the indie rock band Modest Mouse or singer-songwriter Danger Mouse?

One would doubt they are fans of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Our House,” which contains the lyric, “and two cats in the yard,” though I suppose the yard is where the mice would much prefer the cats to be, as long as they themselves are safely inside the house.

And when they are trying to woo and win the affection of a fetching female mouse, do they favor the tried and love songs like “When a Man Loves A Woman,”  “All You Need is Love,” “Unchained Melody” or “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” or do they choose more modern fare like “Why Do You Believe Me When I Tell You That I Love You When You Know I’ve Been A Liar All My Life?”

When the little critters succumb to temptation and nibble the cheese and the arm snaps down, I wonder if they instantly channel Elvis and warble “I’m caught in a trap, I can’t walk out ...”

And what was that little mouse crooning as he raced across our long-ago kitchen floor and he saw my father’s foot descending inexorably toward him? Perhaps it was some version of the classic “You Done Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat.”

Mice can sing? Rats.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.