DeepSqueak decodes rodent speak


January 22, 2019

We know that mice and rats socialize and vocalize, but what are they really saying?

A software program called DeepSqueak has been developed to explore that very question. Russell Marx is a technician in the Neumaier Lab of the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in Seattle, which investigates complex behaviors relating to stress and addiction. He created the program with Dr. Kevin Coffey, whose specialty at the Neumaier Lab is studying the psychological aspects of drugs. Their program is highlighted in a recent paper published in Neuropsychopharmacology, and was presented at Neurosciences 2018.

DeepSqueak takes an audio signal and transforms it into an image, or sonogram. By reframing an audio problem as a visual one, other researchers can take advantage of state-of-the-art machine vision algorithms developed for self-driving cars.

The program was designed with drug addiction research in mind, but so far the findings could be interesting to the pest control industry, too. Dr. Coffey notes in a press release that the animals “have a rich repertoire of calls, around 20 kinds.”

The rodents seem happiest when they are anticipating reward, such as sugar, or are playing with their peers, he explains.

When two male mice are together, Dr. Coffey says, they make the same calls over and over. However, when they sense a female mouse nearby, their vocalizations are more complex, as if they are singing a courtship song.

This effect is even more dramatic when the male mouse can smell, but not see the female mouse, according to the University of Washington’s press release. The observation suggests that male mice have distinct songs for different stages of courtship.

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