Are Elephants Afraid of Any Other Animals?

Despite what you may have seen in cartoons, elephants aren't afraid of mice. However, researchers have discovered that there's an even smaller enemy that can make pachyderms run for cover: bees.

African elephants have a distinctive alarm call to alert others to the presence of bees.
African elephants have a distinctive alarm call to alert others to the presence of bees.

African elephants apparently find bees so terrifying that they have developed a unique warning sound to alert others about the threat. It took some extensive work for Oxford University researchers to uncover this fact, since elephants are capable of making a wide range of sounds for different reasons, such as the arrival of a new calf.

The researchers copied a specific sound that African elephants sometimes make -- known among the team as a "bee rumble" -- and played it to 10 families of elephants. Most of them fled in terror upon hearing the sound, despite not having seen a single bee.

"It not only provides the first demonstration that elephants use alarm calls but also shows that these may have very specific meanings," said Karen McComb, a behavioral ecologist at England's University of Sussex.

While the threat from bees is clear -- they can sting elephants around the eyes and inside their trunks -- the researchers are also interested in whether elephants make similar sounds to warn of other potential dangers.

Extra elephant facts:

  • The rock hyrax, a small, furry mammal found in Africa and the Middle East, is the elephant's nearest living relative; it's also known as the rock rabbit.

  • While not as scary as bees, ants also bother elephants. They sometimes avoid eating plants that harbor ants in order to prevent the insects from getting into their sensitive trunks.

  • The African elephant has the largest brain of any land animal, weighing up to 12 pounds (5.4 kg).

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