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Physiol Behav. 1999 Mar;66(1):33-40.

Comparison of the parental behavior of pair-bonded female and male prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster).

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Center for Neuroendocrine Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst 01003, USA.


The behavior of primiparous lactating prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) and their mates individually interacting with pups was continuously assessed for 45 min after a 2-h parent-litter separation on days 3-4 and 10-11 postpartum. Both sexes were highly parental after reunion with the young, and their general pattern of behavior consisted of bouts of quiescence interspersed with bursts of heightened activity. Lactating females spent more time than males in contact with pups, and more time being quiescent, most often in the kyphotic (upright crouched) nursing posture. Even in the absence of nipples upon which the pups could suckle, males also displayed kyphosis, although for shorter durations than females. Males spent more time, however, huddled over the litter in a hunched position than their mates. In accordance with their decreased quiescence, male voles licked and carried pups more and were more exploratory than females. Compared with the first week postpartum, bouts of kyphosis were shorter during the second week postpartum for both sexes, while laying prone on the pups increased. Males spent less time licking and more time carrying older pups than younger ones, and were more exploratory during the second week postpartum. Sex differences in the parental behavior of prairie voles may reflect differences in the somatosensory stimulation that females and males receive from pups. Furthermore, the display of kyphosis by male voles indicates that the sensorimotor organization of this posture in voles differs from that of lactating rats, which require suckling stimulation for its regulation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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