New study suggests mice are ‘eavesdropping’ on their predators
According to a recent study conducted by Current Biology mice are able alerted by the pheromones found in the tears of rats.
If you’re not already aware, the animal kingdom relies heavily on smell for the vast majority of their communication. Smells can signpost for danger and mating, two of the most important considerations for the reproduction and survival of almost every animal in the animal kingdom.
However, this new study claims that a scent can relate to both (sex and danger) at the same time.
Mice are ‘eavesdropping’ on rats
The study conducted by Current Biology highlights that mice are able to sense, or ‘eavesdrop’ on pheromones in the tears of rats that are trying to lure or attract a mate. This means that mice are able to alert smaller animals (or prey) that a predator is nearby. The study also claims that this is the first time a report has claimed that prey is able to eavesdrop on a predator’s pheromones.
The researchers began examining male rats tear fluid to discover if there were any interesting biological compounds within them. The study eventually found a compound in the rat’s tear fluid which they dubbed cystatin-related protein 1 (CRP1). The protein is quickly sensed by female rats, which causes them to stop moving and assume a crouching position – which is identified as typical sexual behaviour.
Are mice becoming more intelligent?
The fact that mice have learnt this intricate skill isn’t just something that’s fun and interesting for us to read about. Instead, this is a huge advancement in the survival of mice. Now, instead of the tears setting off a sexual response, the pheromones activate a defensive circuit in the mice’s brains, which causes their heart rates to slow and their temperature to drop. While previous studies have found that evidence of rats sniffing out their prey’s pheromones, this study has identified that the prey (mice) have evolved so much that they’re learnt to activate defensive strategies whenever they detect a predator.
Asking the expert
Kazushige Touhara is a professor at the University of Tokyo and he issued this statement:
“It has been known that in some combinations of predator and prey, such as between birds and insects, snakes and lizards, or weasels and voles, predators eavesdrop on the odorants of their prey so that predators can find and eat them.”
“But our study is the first to report that prey eavesdrops on pheromones utilised in their predators, so that they can get alarm information before they get into trouble.”
What does this mean for the animal kingdom?
The discovery might mean that more animals (specifically rodents, for now) may be able to begin detecting pheromones that will alert them to nearby prey and therefore, avoid capture! The study also revealed a new way of thinking about the relationship between predator and prey. Additionally, researchers plan to study this relationship further, specifically focusing on the ways rats, mice and eventually other rodents identify other species’ body signals.
This is not necessarily a big shake-up for predators, as they’ve been playing this ‘game’ with their prey (and vice versa) since the beginning. It’s simply a case of prey – for the time being – having a one-up on predators.
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