Published June 20, 2017 | Version v1
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Data from: Grasshopper mice employ distinct vocal production mechanisms in different social contexts

  • 1. Northern Arizona University
  • 2. Ritsumeikan University
  • 3. Midwestern University


Functional changes in vocal organ morphology and motor control facilitate the evolution of acoustic signal diversity. Although many rodents produce vocalizations in a variety of social contexts, few studies have explored the underlying production mechanisms. Here, we describe mechanisms of audible and ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) produced by grasshopper mice (genus Onychomys). Grasshopper mice are predatory rodents of the desert that produce both loud, long-distance advertisement calls and USVs in close-distance mating contexts. Using live-animal recording in normal air and heliox, laryngeal and vocal tract morphological investigations, and biomechanical modelling, we found that grasshopper mice employ two distinct vocal production mechanisms. In heliox, changes in higher-harmonic amplitudes of long-distance calls indicate an airflow-induced tissue vibration mechanism, whereas changes in fundamental frequency of USVs support a whistle mechanism. Vocal membranes and a thin lamina propria aid in the production of long-distance calls by increasing glottal efficiency and permitting high frequencies, respectively. In addition, tuning of fundamental frequency to the second resonance of a bell-shaped vocal tract increases call amplitude. Our findings indicate that grasshopper mice can dynamically adjust motor control to suit the social context and have novel morphological adaptations that facilitate long-distance communication.



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10.1098/rspb.2017.1158 (DOI)