There is a common Western folk belief that elephants are afraid of mice. Numerous zoos and zoologists have shown that elephants can be conditioned not to react. The popular science entertainment tv show Mythbusters, performed an experiment, (see video below), in which, indeed, an elephant did attempt to avoid a mouse, showing there may be some basis for this belief. Regardless, the myth of elephantine murophobia remains the basis of various jokes and metaphors.
Way back in A.D. 77, Pliny the Elder started the impressively persistent rumor that "the elephant hates the mouse above all other creatures." For millennia, people have taken the Roman philosopher's word for it, but MythBusters' Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman figured it was just too far-fetched for an enormous mammal to be frightened by a minuscule mouse. Fully expecting to bust Pliny's myth wide open, the MythBusters traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, to set a few mice loose around wild elephants and see what happened.
To slip the mice into elephant territory, Jamie and Adam placed the rodents in mouse-sized holes in the ground and covered them with balls of elephant dung. When a pachyderm approached, they yanked away the dung to reveal the mice.
Much to their surprise, the mice stopped the elephants dead in their tracks. Once the lumbering giants noticed a potential critter confrontation, they backed away and plodded off in the other direction. Thinking it might've been the dung-ball disturbance that explained the nervous reaction, the MythBusters tried to scare the elephants by moving the dung without any mice around. But only the presence of mice could sufficiently startle them.
So, while the rodents didn't incite any stampedes, the elephants' cautious behavior was enough evidence for Jamie and Adam to declare Pliny's proposition plausible - appearing worth of belief.
Points to note:
- Elephants in captivity have been exposed to mice because they are frequently found in and around the elephants' feed (hay). Many caretakers have observed mice crawling on the trunks and faces of (awake) elephants and observed that the elephants take absolutely no notice of the mice, much less express fear or anxiety in their presence.
- In the video, it could be argued that the elephant wasn't 'afraid' of the mouse but rather 'cautious' and merely moved aside as to avoid stepping on it.
- They should have experimented with other small animals of different colours or even a remote controlled toy - to see if the elephant would have reacted in the same way.
Based on observations of interactions between elephants and mice, and the apparent peaceful coexistence, it would be safe to conclude that NO, elephants are not afraid of mice. Want more proof? Watch this other video below!
Source(s): discovery.com, wikipedia, extremescience.com