Are Elephants Really Scared of Mice?

Article art by Fancied Facts

ice! Oh, those annoying little rodents! No matter how cute you may find Jerry the cartoon mouse, of Tom & Jerry fame, it’s undeniable that seeing a live mouse gives lots of people the sudden fright.

Well, now if a little mouse does that to an intelligent human, imagine how scared an elephant would be when it sees a mouse. But wait, aren’t elephants supposed to be scared of mice? Isn’t that what’s been believed for centuries?

If that’s what you thought, it’s time to debunk some of the ideas in this myth. Yes, elephants being perpetually scared of mice is a myth. And we’re going to take a deeper look at this notion.

Fancied Facts episode: Is an Elephant scared of a tiny mouse

How Did the Myth Originate?

Although it’s hard to pinpoint the exact origin of this myth, a theory revolves around a belief that made its rounds in the 17th century. Back then, when discoveries about elephants weren’t so exhaustive, animal doctors believed elephants had no epiglottis.

What’s an epiglottis? It’s that little flap that puts a lid on your windpipe when you eat, so that food goes down your food pipe and down to your lungs. Yes, you’re thinking correctly. It’s when this little flap malfunctions, you choke!

So, now, the elephants presumably thought that a mouse could easily climb up its trunk and choke it because, well, there’s no epiglottis. And that’s why they were believed to be afraid of mice.

Fast forward to several centuries, elephants were studied more extensively, and it turned out that well, elephants do have an epiglottis, just like you and me. Myth busted!

A Little Help from the Media

So, even when the scientists found out that there was no evidence that a mouse could block an elephant’s trunk and cause it to suffocate, why do people continue to believe in this myth? Enter media.

An image showing an elephant so huge bolting quickly at the sight of a tiny mouse is extremely hilarious. And media continued to ride on this notion.

Several cartoons, newspaper clippings for children, and other comedy-oriented movies/stories on elephants gathered a large audience by riding on the myth of an elephant getting scared of a tiny mouse.

As media filled their pockets, the audience got a hearty dose of laughter. And who doesn’t love a light-hearted movie about an elephant and a mouse, right? So, what if it’s a myth? It’s fun to watch, just like the movie “Dumbo”.

Are Elephants Ever Scared of Mice?

The real question is, is there any circumstance in which elephants are scared of mice? Well, yes and no. You see, elephants are, after all, mammals. And mammals get startled easily when they notice something moving swiftly nearby.

This is no different than you or me getting scared by an unknown movement when we’re walking along the road. The reason elephants get taken aback more with such movements is that their vision is not that great.

In a forest, when they’re walking, if a mouse abruptly brushes past them, they may not see it very well. And that’s when the “fear of the unknown” rears its ugly head.

The poor mouse gets a bad rap for scaring the elephants when in reality, it could be any other small animal. The unexpectedness of the movement is what scares the elephants and not the tiny animal itself.

Which Animals are they Afraid of?

By the logic that elephants can get scared of mice because of the abruptness of the movement, they can get equally scared by any tiny animal. Whether it’s a snake or a hare or any other small animal that scurries about swiftly, it’s enough to startle an elephant if it doesn’t know what’s passing by.

If the same tiny animals are held up close to the elephants for them to have a good look, they’d never give a startled or a fearful reaction.

Elephants are scarcely afraid of anything in the forest because they don’t have any natural predators, thanks to their size. And once they know what tiny animal has surprised them, it won’t take a minute for them to squish that animal down with one of their heavy feet.

That being said, elephants are afraid of something — bees! Swarming bees, especially of African origin, can hurt the elephant’s most sensitive areas, the trunk, eyes, and mouth. And no, the elephant doesn’t find it amusing even when it can see that they’re just tiny bees.

Fact Vs Fiction

So, there you have it. Regardless of what the movies or the animated TV shows or children’s comic books tell you, elephants are not afraid of mice. At least not in the way that it’s portrayed.

Elephants are as afraid of mice as you and me, which springs from the fear of something tiny brushing past quickly.

That brings us to some introspection. The next time you watch or read something that seems amusing but illogical, take a step back and think.

Find out whether there’s any truth behind the belief that’s being circulated. When you start questioning accepted “facts”, soon you may come across more such myths that are just waiting to be busted.

Meanwhile, go and enjoy that cute little show where elephants run away from mice, laugh your heart out, and then forget about it. It’s just another fantasy!

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