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 play and the natural world started early. Pokémon is the brainchild of Satoshi Tajiri, who was an avid insect collector as a child – this is cited as the inspiration for the game’s “Gotta catch ’em all” concept. children can experience the same joy in taxonomy, even in a virtual environment.
Themes of ecological vulnerability, extinction, and climate change were also incorporated into the game, along with a focus on the wonders of the natural world. Here are some of our favorite Pokémon-real animal pairings, plus some 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 found off the coast of Australia. Although the resemblance is close, unlike the Pokémon, which spray an incredibly corrosive poison, sea dragons are completely harmless and calm. They instead avoid predation with their elaborate camouflage that allows them to blend in with the floating seaweed.
2. Drowzee/Malaysian tapir (Tapirus indicus)
With its short, flexible trunk and barrel-shaped body, this Pokémon looks a lot like a tapir. Tapirs are not a single species, but a whole family, currently consisting of four different species from different geographical locations.
Drowzee is perhaps the most similar to the Malay genus (Tapirus indicus) because it also has a body made up of two contrasting colors, but not as vibrant! These large mammals stand around 1m tall and are herbivorous, using their prehensile trunks to pluck fruit and vegetation from branches.
3. Krookodile/gharial (Gavialis gangeticus)
Although Krookodile is (unsurprisingly) based on crocodilians in general, with its long, narrow snout widening at the end, it may look more like a gharial (Gavialis gangeticus).
4. Dewgong/dugong (Dugong dugon)
Despite their name, they have no close connection to cows and are close cousins of manatees. However, the animal and Pokémon character don’t look much alike, as Dewgong prefers lower temperatures instead, living on icebergs in freezing oceans.
5. Mankey/Barbary Macaque (sylvan macaca)
Like Mankey, New World monkeys have prehensile tails, which differentiates them from their African and Asian relatives. They use these tails as an extra hand, grabbing branches and vines, and even supporting their entire body weight. Mankey also only has three fingers on each hand, unlike all primates who almost all have five… He is difficult to classify!
6. Psyduck/platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)
The inspiration of this Pokémon is beyond doubt. After all, what other creature has both hair and a duckbill? Like the platypus, this character is also semi-aquatic, found in freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers.
Given their uniqueness and strange combination of characteristics, when a platypus specimen was first examined by scientists, they actually suspected it was a fake, a chimera of different animals sewn together. Perhaps unsurprising for an egg-laying mammal with a poisonous beak and spurs, and perhaps why it inspired a wacky psychic creature that so strongly resembles a rubber duck!
7. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpie/Caterpillar (Papilio glaucus)
The animal on which this Pokémon is based is particularly fascinating. This is because it displays vivid examples of mimicry. On its thorax, it has two colored spots that look a lot like eyes. These have evolved to deter any potential predators, who will see them and think they are spying on a snake! He associates this with an organ called the osmeterium that turns around when threatened, resembling a flickering serpentine tongue and completing the illusion.
8. Poliwag/translucent tadpoles
In appearance and habitat, this Pokemon is indeed close to a translucent tadpole (the tadpoles you’re much more likely to see are pictured below). These transparent tadpoles are not of any particular species of frog or toad, but are actually albino, or lack certain particular skin pigments.
This gives them a slightly ghostly appearance and lets you see their organs at work inside – and that’s what the spiral on Poliwag’s underside actually represents, a neatly coiled intestine! Unfortunately, due to their visibility to predators, these tadpoles often do not survive for long.
9. Wooper/Axolotl (mexican ambystoma)
This contrasts with other salamander species which in most cases lose their gills when they become mature. Unfortunately, these incredible amphibians are becoming extremely rare in the wild, due to fishing, pollution and habitat loss.
10. Chromodoris of Shellos/Loch (Chromodoris Lochi)
The inspiration for this particularly outlandish-looking Pokémon is an equally bizarre animal – a brightly colored and patterned sea slug called Loch chromodoris (Chromodoris Lochi).
Sea slugs, or nudibranchs, are a fascinating collection of animals, coming in an extraordinary variety of colors and shapes, from bright pink with a mop of taste buds (Okenia rosacea) to bright orange with black spots (Thecacera pacifica). In a fun twist, the latter species is sometimes referred to as the Pikachu sea slug due to its resemblance to the beloved Pokemon!