Are elephants afraid of mice?

Why would the biggest terrestrial animal on the planet be afraid of one of the smallest?

This rumour has been flying around since 77 CE when it was written by a Roman philosopher. Astonishingly, it’s partly true. Elephants are startled by sudden movements and even run away from mice, but the element of surprise is what scares them. Elephant eyesight is fairly poor and behaviourists say that any animal making a sudden movement is enough to scare an elephant.

Elephants are grazers, and first began to emerge 60 million years ago. The first primitive elephant was a small herbivore the size of a pig. During this evolutionary journey the elephant’s ancestors were hunted by carnivores such as early wolves and big cats. Over the millennia the flight instinct was instilled into their DNA, and modern elephants have this same instinct. This is what causes an elephant to show a fearful response to a scurrying mouse, and the same reaction would be caused by any animal that caught an elephant by surprise.


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