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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

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 (though that's probably a bit hypocritical coming from humans who fears all sorts of much smaller animals, including bugs).

There is, however, some 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 and herbivore-oriented eyes (since they don't need to chase prey, their eyes are on the sides of their heads so they have a better chance of spotting predators); 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 poisonous snake. However, if they could see the other presence clearly, they likely won't get startled.

This trope is often 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 Resourceful Rodent and Cruel Elephant, or Honorable Elephant and You Dirty Rat!). War Elephants may or may not be affected, depending on the situation in question; more serious works are unlikely to even bring this trope up, but more comedic ones may very well feature the strategic use of mice to send herds of armored war elephants stampeding away.

See also Dogs Hate Squirrels for the similar interactions between rodents and larger mammals. Not to be confused with the feud in Florida between the Republican Party and the Disney company.


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    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In the Don Rosa story The Treasure of the Ten Avatars, the Ducks rides a elephant who is scared of mice and tries to kill them by beating them with the nearest object (such as a pole, a tiger, the villain of the story, and Donald) whenever he sees them.

    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. Wonderfully subverted with Dumbo himself, who befriends Timothy for being the first creature to be nice to him.
    • 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.
    • Brother Bear: During "On My Way", a family of mice grab onto a mammoth's tail. The mammoth trumpets in shock, and looks back with a worried expression.
  • Journey Back to Oz has the returned Dorothy scaring off Witch Mombi's elephant army with a herd of magical white mice. It also inadvertently brings an end to Mombi as the witch, who had been disguised as a rose rooted to the ground, ends up being trampled underfoot by the stampeding pachyderms.

    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.
  • Tom & Jerry (2021): The elephants at the wedding, predictably, freak out once they see Jerry, leading to the catastrophe at the wedding.

  • The King With Six Friends: The second person whom the king protagonist rescues is a man who can change into an elephant and is found in that form being scared by a mouse. But as he puts it, "When I am a man, I am just as frightened of mice as when I am an elephant."
  • Franny K. Stein: Lampshaded and averted in The Fran That Time Forgot, where Franny tries to free herself from the grip of one of the five-eyed elephant monsters created by her evil teenage future self by getting a fistful of cheese from her voice-activated cheese cannon. Teen Franny comes to the conclusion that her younger self intends to use the cheese to summon some mice to scare the elephant monster away and mockingly points out that elephants being afraid of mice and mice liking cheese are not accurate facts. The younger Franny responds that her actual plan was to get the elephant monster to let go of her by shoving the cheese up the creature's trunk.
  • The Way Things Work has this as a running gag: not with elephants, but with woolly mammoths, which appear throughout the book.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Amazing Animals: Two of the recurring cartoon animal characters are an elephant and a mouse, the former of course being scared of the latter.
  • 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 the elephant not wanting to get mouse goo on its foot.)

    Myths & Religion 
  • Hindu Mythology: Averted. 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.

  • 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.
      Tweety: That mouse sure knows how to get a rise out of that elephant, doesn't he?
  • 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.
  • Parodied in one chapter of Prawn to Be Wild, where Insanity Prawn Boy must disguise himself as a mouse to scare off an elephant. It works, but only because the sight of a talking prawn in a crappy mouse costume makes the elephant think he's having an acid flashback.
  • In Putt-Putt Saves The Zoo, Putt-Putt finds Jambo the baby elephant 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 & Al's Incredible Toons: When Eunice Elephant sees Sid E. Mouse, she freaks out and turns the other way.
  • Simon the Sorcerer references this; after Simon wins a Shapeshifter Showdown against a witch, the witch has one final move to make and transforms into a dragon. If Simon attempts to counter this with a mouse transformation, the witch declares "How can you hope to defeat me with a mouse? I'm not an elephant, you know!"
  • In Sly 2: Band of Thieves during a mission in Episode 2, Sly has to get two prized elephants out of their hut. Upon crawling into a nearby entrance, he comes across a few mice that scurry up into the elephants' room, frightening and causing them to burst out of the hut.
  • Zanydy in Toonstruck 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).

    Web Animation 
  • Happy Tree Friends: In the episode 'Junk in the Trunk", Lumpty's elephant gets scared when Lifty held Cuddles' mouse up to his face, causing him to back up and knock Shifty out of the windshield of Lifty and Shifty's van.
  • Musophobia: The main character is an anthropomorphic elephant who's deadly afraid of small rodents, as indicted by the fact they have loads of mousetraps surrounding their bed and they end up having an surreal nightmare relating to those rodents which ends up horrifying them, such as when a mouse-like being vomits dozens of rodents onto them and all they can do is cower in fear.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • Class of 3000: In an early episode, when a stampede of elephants marches through the school as a result of a performance gone wrong, some students get together and dress up as mice to scare them off.
  • The Country Mouse And City Mouse Adventures: Defied in "World's Fair Mice". Alexander tries to get an elephant's attention by attempting to scare it, but the elephant just takes one glance and ignores him. Emily reminds him that this trope is just a myth.
  • 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.
    • There are a few times when DM can summon a herd of elephants with a Tarzan call and they give him a lift with no fear.
  • 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.
  • In The Flintstones episode "The Flintstone Canaries", the Slate Rock and Gravel Comapny has a noon whistle that operates by startling an elephant with a mouse.
  • 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. This gag is later recycled in "Sahara Hare", when Bugs does the same thing to Yosemite Sam while he uses an elephant to break into a fort the former is hiding in.
    • 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!
  • In Mickey Mouse (2013), in "Safari So Good" while Mickey and Minnie are exploring the African Savannah, they come across a mother elephant who upon seeing them shrieks "AAH, MOUSE!" before jumping away; Mickey unfazed just replies, "My friends call me Mickey!"
  • 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.
  • Oh Yeah! Cartoons: The short "Tutu the Superina" shows an elephant being frightened by a toy wind-up mouse among the animals the Vile Woman has imprisoned and tormented.
  • There is a PBS Kids bumper that begins with a shot of an elephant from a distance as a child voiceover says, "Small." We then zoom in on the elephant and hear kids saying, "Big!" Then, a figure shows up that appears to be, "Bigger!", which scares the elephant away. We then zoom out to see that the thing that scared the elephant was, in fact, a mouse. We hear the word "Small." again, along with the PBS Kids jingle.
  • 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 (1998): 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.
  • Rolling with the Ronks!: In "Hold Back the Night", Flash provides the Ronk village with electric lights and gets the generator running by using a mouse to frighten a mammoth into running in a wheel.
  • Rugrats: Discussed in "The Old Country". When Tommy overhears Stu saying that Boris and Minka's cabin isn't fit to keep out the elements, he misinterprets "elements" as "elephants" and thinks that elephants are coming to knock the cabin down. When he and Chuckie try to come up with a plan to keep the elephants away, Tommy tells Chuckie about his Muffy the Mouse book, and in it, how the titular mouse scared an elephant away before he could step on Mouse Town. This gives him the idea to find a mouse to keep the elephants away, but Chuckie isn't keen on finding a real mouse, so Tommy decides to draw a mouse on the cabin with his crayons instead. Unfortunately for them, Didi and Minka wash it off.
  • 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: ZigZagged at Apu's wedding in "The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons". When a mouse runs out in the elephant's path, the elephant recoils in terror for a moment... and then proceeds to deliberately step on it.
  • In Spunky's Circus Adventure (part of a direct-to-video Christian trilogy about the titular puppy), after the monkeys have released all the other circus animals from their cages, an angry mouse asks a couple of elephants what all the racket is. The elephants are so scared that one jumps into the other's "arms".
  • 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.
    • Subverted in "Jerry and Jumbo," where Jerry paints a baby elephant (and later its mother) to look like a giant mouse to troll Tom.
  • 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.
  • In the VeggieTales episode "Lord of the Beans", the phrase "it quakes before the smallest pest" is part of a riddle where the answer is "an elephant".
  • 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 mousenote , research has provided a possible reason for elephants' supposed 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, sensitive hearing, and acute sense of smell, 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. Their verdict: 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 crazy and could put an elephant's life at risk indirectly from the injury/pain). Zookeepers have also reported for decades that elephants generally show little reaction to rats or mice in their enclosures.
    • Studies of empathetic behavior in non-human animals strongly suggest that elephants are capable of compassion. It may be that they avoid close contact with delicate creatures such as mice simply because they know tiny animals are far more fragile than themselves, and they're reluctant to hurt them.
  • 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 in the ears, in the mouth, around the eyes, and in 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.
    • Not actually true. While Timur did use camels against the war elephants of Sultan Mahmud Khan in the Battle of Delhi, it wasn't as cavalry, but as a terror weapon. He had the camels loaded with straw and oil, and then set fire to it all and had the camels driven into the elephants. The elephants, quite predictably, panicked at seeing a firestorm run into them.


Video Example(s):


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

How well does it match the trope?

5 (23 votes)

Example of:

Main / ElephantsAreScaredOfMice

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