Male mice socially distance from sick females, research shows

A mouse will naturally socially distance itself from sick mice, research shows.

Males can smell illness in females and tend to avoid mating with them, scientists said.

The study, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and published in the journal Nature, also identified the brain circuit responsible for the distancing behaviour.

The paper stated: “Mice avoid a potentially sick partner.”

It added: “We show that the odour bouquet of a sick female is sufficient to activate the COApm (cortical amygdala) and inhibit male mating behaviours, suggesting odorants associated with the ‘sickness state’ of the females can be smelled by males.”

Gloria Choi, an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT, said: “As a community, it’s very important for animals to be able to socially distance themselves from sick individuals.

“Especially in species like mice, where mating is instinctively driven, it’s imperative to be able to have a mechanism that can shut it down when the risk is high.”