Mice that make the sound of music

By William Thomas

High up in the mountains of Central America, scientists have discovered singing mice. These little rascals sing so well, they made it to the finals of Central America’s Got Talent. Apparently they were performing at a club called Cheesy’s on Brie when a record producer from Hollywood walked in and …

No, actually a scientist named Alston tracing some unusual high-pitched sounds discovered these small brown vocalizing rodents on the forest floor. Just like humans, their brains send out musical signals and the muscles in their mouths and throats comply.

By comparison, normal house mice merely produce ultrasonic squeaks. Put another way, you singing in the shower sounds like a house mouse. An Alston mouse singing in the shower sounds like Pavarotti. In either case, the response from the room next door is always “Shut the hell up!”

“They’re kind of divas,” says Dr. Michael Long, a neuroscientist at N.Y. U. Medical School. So impressed is Dr. Long with the singing mice he plans to study their brains in a lab. Not much of a music lover, Dr. Long’s attitude seems to be that if you can’t dance to their tunes then you might as well decapitate the buggers and figure out what makes them tick.

No doubt the first thing Dr. Long will do is snip the little guys’ bean bags off to see if they can hit a high C note. As the Alston mice like to sing: “Who needs puddy tats when we have neuroscientists with knives.”

In a recent article in “Science” magazine researchers concluded that mammals other than primates also use the brain cortex to control their sounds. Scientists believe this could lead to the discovery of how man first mastered language. Sadly, recent tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump may have set this plan back by several thousands of years.

All this is possibly a good thing for the history of human language but not so good for Rap The Rodent, a singing mouse from Panama who has three million followers on  twitter.

The amazing thing is that the singing mice carefully take turns delivering their song lines instead of stepping on each other’s lines like say, The Beegees. Alston’s mice sound like they’re having a musical conversation something along the lines of Leonard Cohen doing a duet with Van Morrison. Scary, but respectful.

In one experiment researchers cooled down certain patches of a mouse’s brain, slowing the neurons and causing the rodent to sing extended songs and even adding extra notes. Scientists were astonished by this creativity until somebody remembered that’s exactly how Brian Wilson wrote “Da Doo Ron Ron” while spending three years in bed in the early ‘70s.

They also injected nerve-blocking drugs into the same brain which caused the drugged male to fail to sing back to his partner and take long periods of time to start up his own song. To my mind this explains everything you needed to know about Keith Richards. (You know he once fell out of a coconut tree and knocked himself silly?)

There is inherent danger in all this business about singing mice because quite often a male will squeak out a tune in order to court a female mouse. We’ve already seen this train wreck. It began with the Captain on the piano and ended up with Toni Tennille in his lap. May we never repeat a horror of musical history like “Muskrat Love.” And worse, a TV show that was based on the same music!

And not to stick a pin in Dr. Long’s bubble but when your singing mice can belt out lyrics like: “Christmas, Christmas time is near. Time for toys and time for cheer. We’ve been good but we can’t last. Hurry Christmas, hurry fast.”

That’s right. Somebody needs to break the bad news to the singing mice of Central America – we’ve been listening to the songs of Alvin and the Chipmunks for more than 60 years. Oh, and Dr. Long… in the movie of the same name, the Chipmunks also drive cars!