The Midwestern rodent known as the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) is known in the animal kingdom for its preference to stay monogamous when it comes to choosing a mate, but according to new research, this may not always be true for male members of the species.

In a study featured in the journal Science, a team of scientists from the University of Texas at Austin discovered that at least one in every three male prairie vole contains a hormone in its brain that causes the animal to mate with different females.

The researchers observed that male prairie voles with this certain trait even invaded nests that were already occupied by fellow males. This often resulted in the two males engaging in a fight for dominance in the habitat.

As some of the promiscuous male voles briefly left their nests to look for other potential mates, other disloyal males invaded the nests and went on to impregnate their mates.

This strange cycle among the Midwestern rodents causes them to raise the offspring of other male prairie voles unknowingly.

The findings also suggest that some voles are genetically predisposed to engage in unfaithful behavior.

"Just as people can be introverted or extroverted, prairie voles can be more or less prone to sexual fidelity because of these genetic differences," the researchers wrote.

The UTexas scientists did not identify any potential connections between the promiscuous behavior of male voles and that of other animal species including humans.

Regarding human behavior, they wrote that "similar forces have been proposed to explain differences in personality, resilience and psychiatric risk."

The research team also pointed out that since sociology plays an important role in helping understand human behavior, they did not expect science to not have the same level of understanding for species of animals.

Steven Phelps, an integrative biology professor at UTexas and lead author of the study, said that their findings could point to a common occurrence in social behavior, such as differences in personalities, in a number of species.

Despite the results of their study, the researchers were not able to develop moral conclusions regarding the fidelity or infidelity of male prairie voles.

Phelps said that both types of behavior are important in the survival of the species.

Photo: Andy Reago and Chrissy McClarren | Flickr 

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