Magazine article Science News

Voles Appreciate the Value of Good Grooming

Magazine article Science News

Voles Appreciate the Value of Good Grooming

Article excerpt

Grooming can serve important purposes beyond cleanliness. The man who pulls out his comb and slicks back his hair when a good-looking woman strolls by and the woman who files her perfect nails while pretending to ignore a hunk are sending a clear message. Meadow voles, small polygamous rodents, may play the same game, a series of new experiments suggests. They groom to maintain their coats, of course, but the behavior also appears to help males and females communicate with each other, assert Michael H. Ferkin of the University of Memphis (Tenn.) and his colleagues.

A meadow vole produces different odors from various parts of its body. In the dim, winding tunnels they call home, the animals rely on these smells for numerous tasks, such as discerning family members from newcomers or identifying mates. Earlier studies hinted that self-grooming may play a part in this silent communication system. The monogamous prairie vole, for example, grooms more around his mate than around other females.

Ferkin and his colleagues examined how meadow voles respond to a whiff of the opposite sex. The researchers moved bedding from other voles' cages into their subjects' cages. In response to the material, which smelled like the original user, all of the test animals groomed for a few seconds. Males, however, when exposed to females' bedding, continued grooming for about 23 seconds, the researchers report in the April Animal Behaviour. During grooming, a vole rubs areas of its body that produce odors, so the males may be trying to enhance or amplify their smell to attract the attention of females, the authors speculate. …

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