David Versus Goliath? Are elephants afraid of mice?

In An Early Encyclopedia published in A.D. 77 called Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder, he proclaims that the elephant hates the mouse above all other creatures. This has led to the folk legend that Elephants have a fear of mice.  His however has yet to be substantiated with any real academic research, considering the lack of academic literature about elephants and their behavior toward other animals. It is postulated that elephants fear little creatures crawl inside their trunks, irritating or blocking them.

Mythbusters, a television show which aims to investigate urban myths and legends conducted an experiment to find out if the African Elephant, Loxodonta africana are truly afraid of mice. You may view a video of the experiment here.

As seen in the video, the elephant did have some sort of reaction toward the mice, but is it appropriate to say that the elephant fears the mouse? Was that an act of fear or just avoidance of danger? Was the reaction a direct response to the mice or just towards the sound made by the mouse? Could the elephant have just responded to “danger” and not the mice specifically? In support of this avoidance behavior in elephants there is evidence of elephants avoiding ants (Goheen & Palmer, 2010) and even land mines (watch‘Elephants “Learn” to Avoid Land Mines in War-Torn Angola’ ) which prove to be a source of danger.

There also have been reports which disprove this theory, with elephants giving no response toward the presence of mice even on their trunks, such as in the video here.

So in this battle of David versus Goliath, who wins or rather who fears? From current research we cannot be sure, and extensive research is necessary to have any sort of conclusion.


“Mythbusters: Are elephants afraid of mice? ” by maroon5ver , 3 December 2007. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpTSA_25wGE (accessed on 10 July 2013)

“Elephants Vs. Mice” by JohnStosselMyths , 14 September 2008. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqaxF-CKt0M (accessed on 10 July 2013)

Goheen, J. R., & Palmer, T. M. (2010). Defensive plant-ants stabilize megaherbivore-driven landscape change in an African savanna. Current Biology, 20(19), 1768-1772.

Elephants “Learn” to Avoid Land Mines in War-Torn Angola’ by Leon Marshall. National Geographic News, 16 July 2007. URL: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/07/070716-elephants-mines.html(accessed on 10 April 2013)