Are elephants afraid of mice?

May 21, 2017 | Author: | Posted in Zoology

That elephants are particularly afraid of mice is a widespread belief. In The Lamentable Tragedy of Locrine, a play written about 1595 and formerly often ascribed to Shakespeare, we find:

Have you not seen a mighty elephant
Slain by the biting of a silly mouse?

But the notion that elephants are afraid of mice does not seem to be borne out by observation and experiment. The director of the National Zoological Park advises the author that elephants in the Washington zoo pay no attention whatever to the numerous mice running about the barns.

The late Raymond L. Ditmars, curator of mammals at the New York Zoological Park for many years, gave similar testimony. “I am inclined to think that elephants, generally, are not afraid of mice,” he wrote to the author in 1928. “I have often noted both rats and mice in the hay in circuses and animal shows, and the elephants apparently pay no attention whatever to them.” When mice were tossed to an elephant in the zoo at Columbus, Ohio, in 1942, the great animal merely sniffed at them and resumed his interest in peanuts.

Nor is there any evidence that elephants in the wild state exhibit any particular fear of mice. Of course, it is quite possible that individual elephants may have such a fear. A writer who had had many years of experience with wild elephants in India states that their two greatest fears are dogs and human beings.

Still the belief that elephants have an especial fear of mice is very persistent, and many attempts are made by popular writers to explain what seems to be an imaginary phenomenon. For instance, it is often said that the elephant has poor eyesight and is unable to protect every part of its large body with its trunk. Accordingly, elephants become nervous when they see mice because they fear the mice will gnaw their feet or get into their trunks or ears.

A decade or two ago a popular writer asserted that elephants are afraid of mice because small mouselike animals found in their wild haunts sometimes crawl up the trunks of the huge beasts when they are feeding and dig their claws into the flesh. The elephant becomes frantic and blows violently but is unable to dislodge the tiny creature, which, it is said, not only produces great pain but in some cases actually causes the death of the victim.

This story is probably pure fiction. Carl E. Akeley, the noted American naturalist, animal sculptor and author, once said that if a mouse ever ran up the trunk of an elephant it would be promptly “blown into the next county.”

 

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