Are you afraid of mice? It’s OK if you are. Many people are afraid of mice. The fear of mice is a specific phobia that goes by three different names: musophobia, murophobia or suriphobia.

If you watch old cartoons, you know that the appearance of a mouse often leads to people standing on top of chairs in fear. Perhaps they’re worried a mouse will crawl up their pants leg!

There’s even a longstanding belief that elephants are afraid of mice. Elephants? Those big creatures that could crush a tiny mouse with one step? Why would they be afraid of mice? Is there any truth to this belief?

No one is sure where this old, commonly-held folk belief — sometimes called an urban legend — about elephants being afraid of mice came from. One thing is for sure, though, it’s been popularized in cartoons, movies, books and other media for many years. In fact, the first written reference to this belief may date back over 600 years!

Some people believe this urban legend may have something to do with the elephant’s trunk. According to some, elephants are afraid of mice, because they fear that mice will crawl up their trunks.

This could cause irritation and blockage, making it hard for elephants to breathe. However, elephant experts say there’s no support for this belief. If an elephant wanted to, it could simply blow the mouse out of its trunk with a puff of air.

To date, no one has been able definitively to prove or disprove this old urban legend. The popular television show Mythbusters tested the belief on an episode. Their findings suggest that elephants may indeed be afraid of mice. Scientists who have viewed the episode, though, believe that it’s just as likely that the elephant in the episode was merely surprised by the mouse — not afraid of it.

Evidence from zoos suggests that elephants can get along with mice. Elephants in zoos often eat hay. Mice can often be found in and around the elephants’ hay, and zookeepers have reported that elephants usually don’t pay them any attention. In fact, some elephants don’t even seem to mind mice crawling on their faces and trunks.

Elephant experts will tell you that elephants have no reason to be afraid of mice. In fact, they’ll tell you that healthy elephants don’t fear any other animals, because of their size and lack of natural predators.

So despite the old urban legend that elephants are afraid of mice, it seems that elephants aren’t all that concerned with the small creatures. Any reaction they have may have more to do with surprise than fear. Perhaps the old belief developed from how funny it would be if elephants really were afraid of mice.

24 Join the Discussion

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  1. Sorry I wasn’t here yesterday. I was super busy. Anyway, I liked today’s wonder. I personally believe that elephants could just ignore the mice. I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about the history of humans and how they made so many inventions! =)

    <3, Emily

    • We’re glad to have you back and WONDERing with us, Emily! We hope you’ve been having a SUPER summer filled with lots of fun WONDERing! We love your ideas about how elephants and mice interact– we think it’s great that they have learned to live together! We cannot wait to find out what tomorrow’s inventive Wonder will be! :)

  2. Love this wonder! I once read a book when a elephant got stuck in a bathtub and some other animals tried getting him out of the tub. They tried pulling him out and putting butter around the tub, but none of them worked. At the end of the book, the elephant got out of the tub when one of the animals showed him a mouse and ran away from it. :-)

    • That book sounds like a very humorous animal tale, Julie! We are so glad you made us smile by sharing the story! We love all kinds of stories, especially about animals! We’re glad you enjoyed our Wonder today– we will see you soon for more WONDERing! :)

  3. I had no time to reply to yesterday’s WONDER. Today’s WONDER is WONDERful! I think a cat could be a friend of an elephant because it can scare away mice. I think the next WONDER will be about an ancient invention- light bulbs, computer, telephones or something related to our daily lives!

    • You are quite the busy bee, Sophie! We are glad you stopped by to Wonder about elephants and mice with us! Adding a cat into the mix sounds like a very smart idea, especially if the elephant doesn’t care for mice to be hanging around! We think you had a great guess about tomorrow’s Wonder– we hope you enjoy it! :)

  4. Hi! In the Matsya Purana (Vedic Scripture), the Elephant-headed God, Ganesha, has a mouse as his mount (vahana). In many sculptures of Ganesha, he is depicted with this mouse (Mushika) at his feet. It is said that far from being afraid of the mouse, rather he was afraid he might stomp on his mouse! … just a theory for you :)

    • What a WONDERful connection to our Wonder of the Day®, Jamie! Sometimes you must think about things from another’s perspective– perhaps the elephant was fearful of harming the mouse! Speaking of other stories that teach a lesson, check out our past Wonder about fables:

      Wonder #627– What’s Your Favorite Fable? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/whats-your-favorite-fable/

      Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

    • We love to learn about different animals, even if they sometimes frighten us, Emmy. We are so HAPPY to Wonder with you! Thank you for your comment! :)

  5. Elephants are my FAVORITE animal in the whole world. So I have a question if the elephants are related to the mammoth so are elephants extinct?

    • We are so glad to have another animal lover here at Wonderopolis, Savannah! What fun! The mammoth and the elephant are related– we are glad you shared what you learned on your own! While the wooly mammoth is extinct due to climate change and humans, there are two types of elephants, Asian and African. These animals still roam the Earth today! :)

    • We hope you’ll check out the Wonder article for more information, Nathan! We think you’ll be surprised by the answer! :)

  6. I never knew there were three different phobia names for being afraid of a mouse such as suriphobia. That’s very interesting! It doesn’t surprise me though that myth busters had an episode that tested that. I will look to see if I can find that video. Do you have suriphobia? I don’t, but I think my mom does. Thanks for the wonder, it was great!

    • Hi Team Clark #26! Thanks for WONDERing with us! We might have it! We can’t say that we really enjoy mice! Keep WONDERing with us! :)

  7. I never knew that ELEPHANTS can be scared of little tiny mice. For sure I am. I actually am not scared but I really don’t think they are clean, and the squeaky noises they make,makes be uncomfortable. I have never heard of Urban legends till today.
    Who really found out about elephants being scared of mice?

    Team Clark #3

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Are elephants really afraid of mice?
  • What is an urban legend?
  • What is the fear of mice called?

Wonder Gallery

elephants in Africian savannah at sunset shutterstock_47112058Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Are you afraid of mice? As a human being, you might also be afraid of elephants! We’re all afraid of things from time to time. The things you might be afraid of when you’re young might not scare you at all as an adult.

Many of the fears we have are irrational. This means that there’s really no reason we should be afraid of certain things. Think about the things that you’re afraid of. Do they seem irrational to you? Or do you think there’s a good reason to be afraid of them?

Talk with your friends and family members about your fears. What fears do you have in common with them? You never know when you might be able to tackle your fears together. Or a friend might have once been afraid of something but isn’t now. He or she might be able to help you get over your fears!

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ Dugongs and Elephants – Cousins? lesson, children focus on the relationship between dugongs and elephants.

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