The History Behind Elephants "Fearing" Mice

Posted by Crystal Long
Elephant meets little mouse.

Elephants are the world's largest land animal and the mouse is one of the world's smallest, so why ARE elephants afraid of mice... or so we think.

If there is one thing we learned at an early age about elephants, it's that they are afraid of mice. It's not surprising that's often the first thing we think of when we think of an elephant: from the Disney classic movie "Dumbo" to Saturday morning cartoons, the image of an elephant cowering at the mere sight of a mouse is pretty much ingrained in us from a young age.

But let's just take a minute and dig a little deeper into why we think the ginormous elephant is scared of a tiny mouse. Turns out, the elephant's fear of mice has more to do with the element of surprise than the actual critter itself.

What's Behind the Idea of Elephants "Fearing" Mice?

The theory is this: elephants are afraid of mice because the tiny creatures nibble on their feet or can climb up into the trunks of these big creatures. (Yes, you heard that right -- INTO the trunk!)

Actually, this old "mouse-in-the-trunk" myth can be traced back centuries to the Ancient Greeks, who reportedly told fables of a mouse who climbed into an elephant's trunk and drove him crazy! Others said this myth started with "Pliny the Elder" in 77 A.D., according to the tv show 'Mythbusters'.

However, experts are quick to shut the theory down:

"I think the myth arose by the idea of the mouse crawling up the elephant's trunk and nostrils -- but that is absurd because the elephant could easily simply blow and eject the mouse," said elephant expert, Richard Lair. "And that's in the very unlikely case that the mouse could make it up the elephant's nostrils anyway."

However, this is still a common perception, as misguided as it might be. Even ABC News tried to test out this theory when one of their reporters tried to show a white mouse to a circus elephant only to find him look "bored by it all".

So, Are Elephants Really Afraid of Mice?

If there's anything we can take away from this, it is that no: elephants are not really afraid of mice. It's more likely that these large mammals, who have fairly poor eyesight, simply get startled by the sudden movements of tiny, small animals, like mice, that dart by.

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READ MORE: How Long is an Elephant Pregnant?

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The History Behind Elephants "Fearing" Mice