10 Pokémon characters inspired by real wild animals | BBC Wildlife
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The Pokémon universe is made up of over 900 different weird and wonderful creatures. These are often based on plants, animals, and even mythological creatures from our own world.
The connection between the game and the natural world started early. Pokémon was the brainchild of Satoshi Tajiri, who was an avid insect collector as a child – this is cited as inspiration for the “gotta catch ’em all” concept of the game. He was keen to ensure that children could experience the same joy in taxonomy, even in a virtual environment.
Themes of ecological vulnerability, extinction, and climate change have also been woven into the game, as well as an emphasis on the wonder of the natural world. Here are some of our favourite Pokémon-real animal pairings, as well as fascinating facts about the animals themselves.
10 Pokémon characters inspired by real wild animals
1. Dragalge/leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques)
This aquatic character is based on a leafy seadragon (Phycodurus eques), a species of marine fish that is found off the coast of Australia. Although the resemblance is close, unlike the Pokémon, which sprays an impressively corrosive poison, sea dragons are entirely harmless and sedate. They instead avoid predation through their elaborate camouflage which allows them to blend in with floating seaweed.
2. Drowzee/Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus)
With its short flexible trunk and barrel-shaped body, this Pokémon closely resembles a tapir. Tapirs are not just one species, but a whole family, currently made up of four different species from different geographical locations.
Drowzee is perhaps most similar to the Malayan kind (Tapirus indicus) as it also has a body made of two contrasting colours, although not quite as vibrant! These large mammals stand at about 1m high and are herbivorous, using their prehensile trunks to rip fruit and vegetation off branches.
3. Krookodile/gharial (Gavialis gangeticus)
Although Krookodile is based (unsurprisingly) on crocodilians in general, with its long and narrow snout that widens at the tip, it perhaps looks most like a gharial (Gavialis gangeticus).
4. Dewgong/dugong (Dugong dugon)
Despite the name, they bear no close relationship to cows, and are close cousins of manatees. The animal and the Pokémon character are really not very much alike, however, as Dewgong instead prefers lower temperatures, living on icebergs in frigid oceans.
5. Mankey/Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus)
Like Mankey, New World monkeys have prehensile tails, differentiating them from their African and Asian relatives. They use these tails like an extra hand, grasping branches and vines, and even supporting their full body weight. Mankey also has only three fingers on each hand, however, unlike any primate, who almost all have five… He is hard to classify!
6. Psyduck/platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)
There’s no doubting the inspiration for this Pokémon. After all, what other creature has both hair and a duck-like bill? Like the platypus, this character is also semi-aquatic, being found in freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers.
Given their singularity and bizarre combination of characteristics, when a platypus specimen was first examined by scientists they actually suspected it to be a fake, a chimera of different animals sewn together. This is perhaps not surprising for an egg-laying mammal with a bill and toxic spurs, and maybe why it inspired a wacky psychic creature that also heavily resembles a rubber duck!
7. Caterpie/Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio glaucus)
The animal that this Pokémon is based on is particularly fascinating. This is because it displays some striking examples of mimicry. On its thorax it has two coloured spots that very closely resemble eyes. These have evolved to deter any potential predators, who will see these and think they spy a snake! It pairs this with an organ called an osmeterium which flips out when it is threatened, looking like a flickering serpentine tongue and completing the illusion.
8. Poliwag/translucent tadpoles
In both its looks and habitat, this Pokémon is close indeed to a translucent tadpole (the tadpoles you’re much more likely to see are pictured below). Such see-through tadpoles are not of a particular species of frog or toad, but are in fact albino, or else missing some particular skin pigments.
This gives them a slightly ghostly look and allows you to see their organs at work inside – and this is what the spiral on Poliwag’s underside actually represents, a neatly coiled intestine! Unfortunately, due to their conspicuousness to predators, such tadpoles often do not survive long.
9. Wooper/axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum)
This is in contrast to other salamander species who in most cases lose their gills when they become mature. Unfortunately these incredible amphibians are becoming vanishingly rare in the wild, due to fishing, pollution and habitat loss.
10. Shellos/Loch’s chromodoris (Chromodoris lochi)
The inspiration for this particularly outlandish looking Pokémon is a similarly bizarre animal – a brightly coloured and patterned sea slug called Loch’s chromodoris (Chromodoris lochi).
Sea slugs, or nudibranchs, are a fascinating collection of animals, being found in an extraordinary variety of colours and forms, from hot pink with a mop of papillae (Okenia rosacea) to bright orange with black spots (Thecacera pacifica). In a fun twist, this last species is sometimes called the Pikachu sea slug due to its resemblance to the beloved Pokémon!