Communal nursing in wild house mice is not a by-product of group living: females choose

Naturwissenschaften. 2014 Jan;101(1):73-6. doi: 10.1007/s00114-013-1130-6. Epub 2014 Jan 4.


Communal nursing, the provision of milk to non-offspring, has been argued to be a non-adaptive by-product of group living. We used 2 years of field data from a wild house mouse population to investigate this question. Communal nursing never occurred among females that previously lacked overlap in nest box use. Females nursed communally in only 33% of cases in which there was a communal nursing partner available from the same social group. Solitarily nursing females were not socially isolated in their group; nevertheless, high spatial associations prior to reproduction predict which potential female partner was chosen for communal nursing. An increase in partner availability increased the probability of communal nursing, but population density itself had a negative effect, which may reflect increased female reproductive competition during summer. These results argue that females are selective in their choice of nursing partners and provide further support that communal nursing with the right partner is adaptive.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Female
  • Mice
  • Nesting Behavior / physiology*
  • Population Density
  • Seasons