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Vocalisations are increasingly being recognised as an important aspect of normal rodent behaviour yet little is known of how they interact with other spontaneous behaviours such as sleep and torpor, particularly in a social setting. We obtained chronic recordings of the vocal behaviour of adult male and female Djungarian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) housed under short photoperiod (8 h light, 16 h dark, square wave transitions), in different social contexts. The animals were kept in isolation or in same-sex sibling pairs, separated by a grid which allowed non-physical social interaction. On approximately 20% of days hamsters spontaneously entered torpor, a state of metabolic depression that coincides with the rest phase of many small mammal species in response to actual or predicted energy shortages. Animals produced ultrasonic vocalisations (USVs) with a peak frequency of 57 kHz in both social and asocial conditions and there was a high degree of variability in vocalisation rate between subjects. Vocalisation rate was correlated with locomotor activity across the 24-h light cycle, occurring more frequently during the dark period when the hamsters were more active and peaking around light transitions. Solitary-housed animals did not vocalise whilst torpid and animals remained in torpor despite overlapping with vocalisations in social-housing. Besides a minor decrease in peak USV frequency when isolated hamsters were re-paired with their siblings, changing social contexts did not influence vocalisation behaviour or structure. In rare instances, temporally overlapping USVs occurred when animals were socially-housed and were grouped in such a way that could indicate coordination. We did not observe broadband calls (BBCs) contemporaneous with USVs in this paradigm, corroborating their correlation with physical aggression which was absent from our experiment. Overall, we find little evidence to suggest a direct social function of hamster USVs. We conclude that understanding the effects of vocalisations on spontaneous behaviours, such as sleep and torpor, will inform experimental design of future studies, especially where the role of social interactions is investigated.

Original publication




Journal article


J Comp Physiol B

Publication Date



Activity rhythms, Torpor, Ultrasonic vocalisations