Size of the Vomeronasal Organ in Wild Microtus with Different Mating Strategies


Most studies on mammalian vomeronasal organ (VNO) have been on laboratory-bred animals. Our present study examines the VNO in wild-caught meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus; n=16) and prairie voles (M. ochrogaster; n=15). These species vary in their mating strategies and degree of parental care by males. M. ochrogaster exhibits pair bonding and more paternal care compared to M. pennsylvanicus, a promiscuous species. We hypothesize that sexual dimorphism will occur in the promiscuous species based on previous studies which suggest that those who exhibit more aggressive or masculine behavior have larger VNOs. Our results support our original finding that VNOs are not different in size in wild Microtus spp. that vary in male parental tendencies. However, the present study also indicates that M. pennsylvanicus, the species exhibiting more disparate parental tendencies, exhibited larger VNOs in females than males. This is the reverse of previous findings on rats, and we hypothesize that this difference may be due to mate selectivity and/or maternal aggression.


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This study was funded by a grant from the State System of Higher Education of Pennsylvania. We are grateful to S. J. C. Gaulin for his loan of live traps and S. B. McLaren for help in selecting trapping sites. We would also like to thank Dana L. Roslinski for her work in sectioning and staining tissues. Our gratitude also extends to Kong Tan for his input and assistance during editing.

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Correspondence to Lisette M. Maico.

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A preliminary report of this work was presented at the Chemical Signals in Vertebrates 9 (see [7])

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Maico, L.M., Burrows, A.M., Mooney, M.P. et al. Size of the Vomeronasal Organ in Wild Microtus with Different Mating Strategies. BIOLOGIA FUTURA 54, 263–273 (2003).

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  • Mate selectivity
  • vomeronasal neuroepithelium
  • chemosensory