David vs Goliath: Are Elephants Really Afraid of Mice?

It’s the classic Saturday morning cartoon scene… An elephant sees a mouse running around on the ground and freaks out. This couldn’t possibly be real though could it? According to an experiment performed by the Mythbusters, it could have some merit to it.

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The Mythbusters tested how elephants would react to a mouse in their natural habitat. They disguised the mice inside a dome of elephant dung, then pulled back the dung, exposing the mouse as the elephant approached. The first test came back surprising, the elephant stopped in its tracks and carefully went around the mouse. The Mythbusters wanted to make sure that the elephants were reacting to the mouse and not the movement of the dung so they tested it again, this time with no mouse only a moving ball of elephant poop. The elephants simply waked right by the ball and didn’t falter for a second. The Mythbusters were shocked by the results, so they ran the first trial a few more times. The same thing happened, the elephants would stop, change course, and cautiously go around the tiny little mice.

Yellow-necked Mouse (Apodemus flavicollis) juvenile

Yellow-necked Mouse (Apodemus flavicollis) juvenile

An elephant behaviorist by the name of Josh Plotnik says that in the wild, elephants are spooked by generally anything small moving around near its feet. Why could this be? An elephant is so large; why does it bother with anything so small as a mouse.  An Irish physician from the 1600’s figured that it must be because elephants do not have an epiglottis, the flap that blocks off your windpipe to prevent anything harmful from entering, the elephants could be afraid of the mice crawling up their trunk and entering their lungs, suffocating them.

I believe that the Mythbusters experiment was slightly flawed. I do not think they did a good job eliminating confounding variables. They did not test a wide array of mice and elephants. They should have tested several other small critters to make sure the case is not what Polnik might suggest and the elephants are simply afraid of anything small moving around them.

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1 thought on “David vs Goliath: Are Elephants Really Afraid of Mice?

  1. Patrick Ryan

    That’s a really creative idea to post about. I’ve actually never heard of mice scaring elephants, so I guess this was good for me to read. I like how you commented on the myth busters experiment and how it seemed flawed because they only tested the mice. I was curious to see if this happens with any other animals and I guess horses hate snakes…this article explains it well…http://stablemanagement.com/article/snakes-and-horses-a-bad-combination

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