It has been found that prairie voles show less anxiety when in each other’s company.
While a crowded situation may be stressful to many human beings, some prairie voles find great comfort in numbers. These prairie voles resemble hamsters and live out their lives in close distance to each other.
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They show less of a stress response when they are in the company of their own kind. But the moment you isolate them, they show signs of apprehension and fear.
The study of these curious creatures was published in the journal General and Comparative Endocrinology. It is part of a broader research on how segregating rodents and putting them in situations of close contact has an effect on their brain state and behavioral spectrum.
This sort of reaction has long-ranging consequences going all the way up to our own species. Prairie voles are small rat-like animals that are found in the Midwest and on Canadian soil.
They thrive in meadows and grassy regions. They are rare in the fact that they bond for life. Their mating behavior is thus unique and has attracted the attention of scientists.
Prairie voles were studied in an enclosed area in a field of haystacks. Adjustable gates allowed the researchers to separate or collectivize the prairie voles.
The trials took place in the summer and autumn seasons. 24 voles were released in a limited space and were allowed to roam about in it for almost a month’s duration.
Their density was 97 animals per acre. In the other setting the same number of voles were released into a wider locus where their density was about 32 creatures per acre.
Tags attached to each prairie vole allowed tracking it throughout the period in time. The droppings of the voles were also examined for a stress hormone (corticosterone).
The voles in the smaller enclosure encountered more jostling. When their density went up to three times the normal circumstances, the bumping also increased.
Strangely the stress levels decreased by almost 20%. The finding is the exact opposite of what is commonly found in animals. Normally, all creatures grow anxious upon being crowded.
Prairie voles instead calmed down and almost went into a euphoric state of bliss upon being introduced into the overcrowded conditions. The territorial imperative is commonly seen in competitive animals, but here there seems to be a cooperative drive at work.
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The populations of prairie voles undergo fluctuations. In isolated conditions, finding a mate is a difficult proposal. Also chances of being caught by a predator are more likely when the voles are alone. There is indeed strength in numbers.