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Elephants Are Scared of Mice

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They hate the mouse worst of living creatures, and if they see one merely touch the fodder placed in their stall they refuse it with disgust.
Pliny the Elder, Natural History
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It is a common belief that elephants, the largest land-dwelling mammals on Earth, are terrified of mice, some of the very smallest. This often takes the form of elephant characters sharing a chronic phobia of small rodents, flying into panic at the mere sight of them. This also tends to be treated as something comical and absurd, as the elephants' phobia is seen as ridiculous and senseless.

There is however a real-life basis for this trope. Elephants are not extremely agile animals, and are not flexible enough to see what's going between their feet with their poor vision; they may be aware of another presence in the area but struggle to keep track of what's actually there, how it's moving or what it is doing. Thus, if they feel another creature moving around between their legs, they tend to panic out of an abundance of caution in case the "mouse" is actually a more dangerous threat such as a snake. However, if they could see the other presence clearly they likely won't get startled.

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This trope is often unbuilt or parodied, explicitly mocking the tough, powerful creature's senseless fear of something so tiny. It's also very commonly exploited, with non-elephant characters producing mice in order to scare off or distract antagonistic elephants. This tends to be Played for Laughs if both the mice and elephants are decent animals meeting each other.

Subtrope of Eek, a Mouse!! See also Absurd Phobia and Animal Jingoism. In cases where the mouse or rat can actually harm the elephant, this will likely overlap with David Versus Goliath (usually Nice Mice and Cruel Elephant, or Honorable Elephant and You Dirty Rat!). War Elephants, however, are completely immune to this trope, and in this case, rodents who spot them will back away and run off instead.

See also Dogs Hate Squirrels for the similar interactions between rodents and larger mammals.

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Examples

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    Films — Animation 
  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • Dumbo: Timothy Q. Mouse uses this to his advantage against the cruel female elephants. Sure, those "over-stuffed hay-bags" can be mean to a little elephant with super-huge ears, but when facing Timothy they're scared to near-stampeding.
    • The Sword in the Stone: Pictured above. During their Wizard Duel, Madam Mim turns into an elephant to try to defeat Merlin. He deals with this by turning into a mouse, scaring her into changing forms.
  • Journey Back to Oz has the returned Dorothy scaring off Witch Mombi's elephant army with a herd of magical white mice.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: The Grand Turk uses War Elephants to propel his war machines. The Baron gets them to back off by shooting mice at them, which sends the whole herd into a panicked stampede through the Turkish camp.
  • Bedknobs and Broomsticks: During the animal soccer game on the Island of Naboombu, an alligator uses a mouse to scare the elephant goalkeeper of the opposing team.

    Live-Action TV 
  • MythBusters: This myth is tested in one episode, and to the Myth Busters' surprise the elephant actually stopped dead in its tracks at the sight of the mouse and gave it a wide berth when walking around it, resulting in the myth being considered plausible. It bears noting that they used domestic white mice, which the elephants had never seen before. (There's also the possibility, which the show did not consider, that it's less the elephant being afraid of the mouse than it the elephant not wanting to get mouse goo on its foot.)

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Averted in Hindu Mythology, in which the elephant-headed God Ganesha uses a giant rat as his vehicle with no fear towards them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dou Shou Qi — usually translated as Jungle — is a board game popular in China and Southeast Asia played with a number of animal tokens ranked in strength; each piece can capture only animals with equal or lower strength than themselves. The exception to this is the Mouse or Rat, the weakest piece in the game, which has the unique ability of being able to capture the Elephant, which is otherwise the strongest. A common rules variant extends this to making the Elephant unable to itself capture the Rat.
  • Franks Zoo: The players take turns playing cards with animals, and they must play either a larger group of the same animal, or an animal that beats the previous one. For instance, fox beats hedgehog; or seal beats carp. The top ranking land animal is the elephant, and nothing beats elephants... except the mouse card.

    Toys 
  • LEGO Minifigures Series 18 has Elephant Costume Girl, a minifigure dressed as an elephant, with a little mouse as an accessory. So naturally, the reversible second face on her head depicts her screaming in fear, in reference to this trope.

    Video Games 
  • Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!: Ellie the elephant will rapidly run away from any Sneeks (large rats) that she sees. One level requires the player to either dispatch the Sneeks from a distance or in the dark (apparently, she doesn't mind if she can only barely see them), and another features her running madly away from a trio of Sneeks, with the player only able to control her jumping until she settles down.
  • The Impossible Quiz: One question gives you the prompt "elephants don't like mice!" and you have to get three elephants into a mousehole. To win it, you have to move your mouse cursor off the game window, and three elephants will walk in.
  • In The LEGO Movie Videogame, one puzzle in the mission "Cloud Cuckoo Land" requires building a mouse car to scare an elephant head to reach an instruction page.
    Emmet: Wow. I never knew cartoons were educational.
  • Looney Tunes games:
    • Bugs Bunny & Taz: Time Busters: Taz has to save a druid trapped under an elephant by getting a mouse to scare the elephant. It gets into Black Comedy territory as while the druid does give a prize gear after the elephant is sent flying upward upon being scared by the mouse, the elephant returns from the sky seconds later to crush him again, seemingly killing him this time!
    • Taz: Wanted: The elephant in Zooney Tunes gets scared by a mouse, leaping onto a ball it was playing with like a circus elephant. The ending for the level has the elephant using Taz like a club on the mouse, only to end up bashing some crates that release more mice, causing it to bounce high into the air from the ball while still holding onto Taz.
  • MediEvil: In the level "Asylum Grounds", solving Jack of the Green's third riddle involves finding a topiary sculpture of an elephant and scaring it with a mouse (careful to avoid the cats roaming around). This also opens up the path to solving the fourth riddle, the spooked sculpture knocking out the wall behind it.
    Face like a tree,
    Skin like the sea,
    A great beast I be,
    Yet vermin frighten me!
  • Neighbours From Hell: In the level "Above the Clouds" from the second game, Rottweiler's routine involves tormenting a captive elephant. Woody decides to sabotage him by erasing the white line on the ground and drawing another one in closer proximity to the elephant. He uses a mouse to scare the elephant until he puts the plan into action.
  • Putt-Putt: In Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo, when Putt-Putt finds Jambo the baby elephant, Jambo is cowering in fear from a mouse that lives in a nearby tree. To get the mouse to move, Putt-Putt has to give him cheese squigglies.
  • Sid And Als Incredible Toons: When Eunice Elephant sees Sid E. Mouse, she freaks out and turns the other way.
    Tweety: That mouse sure knows how to get a rise out of that elephant, doesn't he?
  • Toonstruck: Zanydu is connected to the mainland by a shuttle powered by a precariously perched pachyderm, who can be scared into running to Zanydu by showing it a conscious mouse (or lured into running to Cutopia by showing it a peanut).

    Western Animation 
  • Amazing Animals: Two of the recurring cartoon animal characters are an elephant and a mouse, the former of course being scared of the latter.
  • Animal Crackers: Eugene the elephant can push every other animal in Freeborn around, but he'll run away at the sight of a mouse.
  • Chico Bon Bon: Monkey with a Tool Belt: Inverted. Clark the elephant is afraid of almost everything except his friend Tiny, who's a mouse.
  • Danger Mouse: In "The Great Bone Idol", Count Duckula steals the idol and awakens a herd of elephants in the underground cavern in which Danger Mouse and Penfold had traversed to locate the idol. On seeing DM, the elephants naturally freak out.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: In "Dial M For Monkey: Huntor", Snorkdro, an alien elephant, is scared when a mouse is thrown in front of him and knocks the Villain of the Week off his back.
  • Goliath II: In this Disney short, the mouse is a bully who takes full advantage of the elephants' fear of him, scaring their herd senseless for his own amusement. The only elephant who isn't scared of him is the eponymous miniature baby elephant, despite only being the same size as the mouse.
  • Little Lulu: One short has Lulu releasing a mouse at the circus. Naturally, the elephants flee when they see it.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Bugs Bunny: In Acrobatty Bunny, Nero the lion tries using an elephant to break down the iron bars keeping him from eating Bugs. Bugs retaliates by unleashing a wind-up toy mouse, which gets the elephant so scared that it starts using Nero as a club on the fake rodent.
    • Dime to Retire: Daffy gets an elephant out of Porky's room by scaring it away with a mouse.
    • Merrie Melodies: Played straight and inverted in "Unnatural History". First, a mouse scares an elephant; later, a micro elephant scares the selfsame mouse.
    • In "Tweet Zoo," Sylvester uses a wind-up mouse to get "Jumbo" to vacate the hole under which he saw Tweety go. Unfortunately for Sylvester, the elephant lands on top of him!
  • The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Heff Heffalumpnote  is afraid of mice. In "The Great Honey Pot Robbery", his and Stan Woozle's plan to steal honey is foiled by Roo the baby kangaroo, whom Heff thinks is a giant mouse.
  • The Penguins of Madagascar: Burt the elephant is afraid of mice. Savio knows this and uses it as a way to remove the enemy when he sends him a mouse so he'll freak panic.
  • Phineas and Ferb: During the song "O.W.C.A.'s Going Down" in "Phineas and Ferb Save Summer", a L.O.V.E.M.U.F.F.I.N. villain captures O.W.C.A.'s elephant agent by scaring it with a wind-up mouse.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: Taken to ridiculous lengths in an episode where a rivaling villain reanimates a mammoth (which appears as comically large as any city-destroying monster) to cause destruction in Townsville. To stop it, Mojo Jojo instructs the girls to leave a large hunk of cheese to attract the town's mice and scare the mammoth off. It works.
  • Sidney the Elephant: "The Littlest Bully" has Sidney terrorized by a mouse. The short even lampshades the trope.
    Sidney: I can't help it, Stanley. All elephants are afraid of mice.
    Stanley: Humbug! Just an old superstition!
  • The Simpsons: Subverted at Apu's wedding in "The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons". When a mouse runs out in the elephant's path, the elephant recoils for a moment... and then proceeds to deliberately step on it.
  • Teen Titans: In "The End, Part Three", Beast Boy is forced to fight his inner demon. When his evil side transforms into an elephant, he counters by morphing into a mouse, triggering the villain's instincts and causing him to regress to human form.
  • Timon & Pumbaa: Utilized and subverted in one episode where Zazu tries to move a stubborn elephant blocking a stream by disguising himself as a mouse. Unfortunately, it doesn't work because the elephant knows from cartoons that whenever a mouse shows up, there's also a cat that chases it. Sure enough, Zazu ends up getting chased by a cat.
  • Tom and Jerry:
    • Played straight and then subverted in an episode where, during the usual chase, Jerry stumbles on a circus elephant weeping from a tack stuck under its foot. Jerry removes the tack and the elephant panics, afraid of Jerry, and desperately tries to hit him with Tom (who happened to be trying to catch Jerry at that moment). Jerry shows the elephant the tack and, in Androcles' Lion fashion, she hugs Jerry in appreciation. From then on, she treats Jerry like her own child, protecting him from a persistent Tom in addition to giving the cat a good beating.
    • The Gene Deitch short "Sorry Safari" has the elephant that's carrying Tom and his master getting frightened of Jerry when Tom sticks him in his trunk.
  • Toot & Puddle: In I'll Be Home for Christmas, the boarding of Toot's train home is delayed by an elephant who doesn't want to be left alone in jumbo class. He's afraid that a mouse might sneak in. When Toot expresses disbelief that a big guy like him would be terrified by a small mouse, the elephant responds "What can I say? It's genetic." Toot agrees to ride with him to watch for mice.
  • T.U.F.F. Puppy: In "Share-A-Lair", Agent Jumbo, one of T.U.F.F.'s elephant agents, is afraid of mice and will freak out when she sees one, especially Agent Rodentski, T.U.F.F.'s newest field agent. Near the end of the episode, it is revealed that the Chameleon disguised himself as Agent Rodentski, as well as D.O.O.M.'s newest field agent, Agent Weaselman and a real estate agent as part of his plan to get revenge on T.U.F.F. for putting him in jail and D.O.O.M. for never inviting him to their weekly ice cream socials. As part of his plan to defeat the Chameleon, Dudley tricks him into disguising himself as Agent Rodentski to scare Agent Jumbo so she will freak out and jump on top of him.
  • Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa: When a circus arrives in town, Mayor Bulloney tries to use a mouse to scare an elephant to use the resulting distraction to allow Saddlesore and Boothill to steal a diamond.

    Real Life 
  • The Roman writer Pliny the Elder wrote, in his Natural History, that elephants cannot stand the presence of mice and rats. He is the first known writer to claim such a thing, and likely where the Western variants of the myth had their origin.
  • While elephants don't typically leap onto small objects at the sight of a mouse,note  research has provided a possible reason for the elephant's fear of mice: an elephant's eyes are located on its head in approximately the same position as a human's ears — add this to the elephant's large body, (relatively) poor eyesight, and sensitive hearing, and what the elephant sees turns from a small, furry rodent into a small, barely-visible, blurry and mostly-unidentifiable squeaking blob somewhere near its feet. It was tested by the Mythbusters. Myth Plausible. If a mouse is brought close and shown to an elephant, however, it's generally not alarmed in the slightest, and may even lift the rodent in its trunk for a better view. The reality may be that elephants are wary of any small moving critter on the ground, just in case it turns out to be something a lot nastier than a mouse (e.g. a scorpion or coiled-up cobra — neither of which can directly kill an elephant but probably hurt like the dickens and could put an elephant's life at risk indirectly from the injury/pain). Zookeepers have for decades also reported that elephants generally show little reaction to rats or mice in their enclosures.
  • There's at least one incident of an elephant and her calf getting spooked by a squirrel.
  • Elephants are actually not scared of mice as they are of bees. Whereas an elephant can handle a mouse when the rodent is held up close to it, the very sound of a bee's buzzing will send it fleeing. Understandable, as bees can sting the sensitive parts of an elephant, such as the trunk. In fact, farmers are now setting up beehives to scare away elephants that may come to eat their crops.
  • In the Mongol campaigns against the Arab world in the 1200's, Genghis Khan came up against armies that fielded elephants as weapons of war. He solved the danger to his armies by countering them with camel cavalry. The elephants proved to be so fearful of camels that they broke and ran - causing more damage to their own side in panicked flight than they could have done to the Mongol army.


 
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Video Example(s):

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Timothy stands up for Dumbo

With the elephants of the circus gossiping over Jumbo being locked up, and continuing to mistreat her son Dumbo, Timothy gets back at Dumbo's bullies by scaring the crap out of them

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Main / ElephantsAreScaredOfMice

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