Real-life Pokémon

By John Gallagher

There are almost 900 magical creatures in the Pokémon universe. You might know them from card games. Or you may have seen them n video games, TV shows, or movies—battling each other in special tournaments across an imaginary land. But did you know that many Pokémon are inspired by animals and plants that exist in the real world? Let’s meet a few of these real-life “pocket monsters”!

Tap image for a closer look.


Type: Electric 
Inspired by: Pika

Pikachu is a mouse-like Pokémon known for lightning-fast moves and an electric tail. The tail of a real-life pika (PYE-kuh) isn’t electric—and it’s completely hidden by fur. But this little rabbit relative is as tough as it is cute. It lives on high-up, rocky mountainsides in North America, Asia, and Eastern Europe. While Pikachu can often defeat flying-type Pokémon, pikas are sometimes caught by hungry birds of prey. But here’s one cool power pikas DO have: staying safe from fires. Scientists found the little animals can survive raging wildfires by hiding out in gaps between the rocks.


Type: Water
Inspired by: Sea Slug

This brightly colored, super-sticky Pokémon is based on the ocean animals known as sea slugs. There are many different kinds of sea slugs, but Shellos may look themost like the one shown here. Both the real animal and the Pokémon have heads topped with earlike rhinophores (RYE-nuh-forz). The sea slug uses its rhinophores to “sniff” the water.


Type: Psychic
Inspired by: Malayan Tapir

Drowzee senses dreams with its trunk-like nose. A Malayan tapir (TAY-pur) can’t sense your dreams as Drowzee does. But the tapir has a lot in common with the Pokémon, starting with its super-sized nose. The real-life mammal uses its longish, bendy snout to pick up food or as a snorkel to breathe when swimming. Drowzee’s look also seems to have been inspired by the tapir’s two-color fur coat.

Tap image for a closer look.


Type: Ground
Inspired by: Pangolin

Sandslash is an expert fighter. But Sandslash’s real-world lookalike, the pangolin, would rather roll up than fight. Pangolins are scale-covered mammals found in parts of Asia and Africa. Their tough scales are made of keratin (KAIR-uh-tin), the same stuff that your hair and fingernails are made of. While Sandslash can shred opponents with its claws, most pangolins use their powerful front claws to tear open the nests of ants and termites to eat the insects inside. Another fantastic feature of a pangolin is its tail, which allows it to hang from a tree branch while it strips away bark in search of insects. The long tail also helps the pangolin to balance and walk on just its back legs, if necessary.


Type: Grass/Poison
Inspired by: Pitcher Plant

Victreebel is often called the “flycatcher Pokémon,” and it’s based on the meat-eating pitcher plant. Like a pitcher plant, Victreebel can lure unsuspec ting prey into its “mouth” with a sweet scent. And, once the prey is caught, the Pokémon digests the animal and turns it into food—just as a pitcher plant does. Both Victreebel and real-world pitcher plants live in tropical areas. But while Victreebel eats other Pokémon, pitcher plants stick to ants, flies, and other small critters.


Type: Flying
Inspired by: Yellow-Collared Lovebird

It has a music note for a head and a metronome (rhythm device) for a tail. But the rest of Chatot is all bird. And Chatot can mimic human speech as well as other sounds. Sound familiar? Yep —it’s a lot like a parrot! With its hooked beak and many-colored feathers, this Pokémon looks most like one particular member of the parrot family: a yellow-collared lovebird. But unlike some other parrots (and Chatot), lovebirds can’t imitate human speech


Type: Water
Inspired by: Platypus

Don’t let the name fool you—Psyduck isn’t actually a duck. It wasn’t inspired by one, either. A platypus was the inspiration for Psyduck’s funny, duck-billed appearance. Psyduck’s psychic powers (which always come with a terrible headache) make it one of the oddest Pokémon. But the real-life animal is even stranger. Australia’s platypus is one of only two kinds of mammals that lay eggs! And unlike almost every other mammal on Earth, the platypus is venomous. Males make venom in glands that are connected to sharp, hollow spurs on their hind legs. They use those spurs to protect themselves and to battle other males during mating season. Ouch!

Tap image for a closer look.


Type: Bug

Inspired by: Caterpillar

Caterpie is a caterpillar in both name and appearance, so it’s no surprise that it was based on the eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar. Both the Pokémon and the insect have markings that look like large, staring eyes. And Caterpie and the caterpillar each have an antennae-like osmeterium (oz-muh-TEER-ee-um). The special organ puts out a stinky smell that scares off predators. The similarities don’t end there! Eventually, the real-life caterpillar will form a chrysalis (KRIS-uhliss) and become a butterfly. Caterpie evolves into a chrysalis-like creature called Metapod. And later, Metapod may turn into a winged Pokémon called Butterfree!


Type: Fire
Inspired by: Fennec Fox

Fennec foxes live in Africa’s Sahara Desert, and that region’s dry climate may have inspired Fennekin’s fire-based abilities. Both Fennekin and the fennec fox have very large ears. The real-world fox uses its big ears to draw warm blood away from its body to keep cool. It can also hear prey moving underground. But Fennekin uses its jumbo ears to puff scalding hot air at enemies


Type: Ground/Dark
Inspired by: Gharial

A glance at those powerful jaws will tell you that Krookodile has a lot in common with the toothy reptiles known as crocodilians. This Pokémon was inspired by a strange-looking crocodile cousin called the gharial (GAIR-ee-uhl). Like Krookodile, a gharial has a snout that’s much narrower than a gator’s or a croc’s. The gharial spends more time in water than other members of the crocodile family and heads to land only to warm itself in the sun or lay eggs on the sand. Krookodile does have a few abilities that a gharial does not. For example, it has excellent eyesight and can stand on two legs!


Type: Water
Inspired by: Axolotl

Mudkip looks so strange, you might think it came straight from someone’s imagination. But Mudkip is based on the very real—yet equally strange—axolotl (ax-uh-LOT-uhl). An axolotl is a type of salamander that keeps its gills and stays in water its entire life. (Many salamanders start their lives in the water, then move onto land as adults.) In the wild, axolotls are found only in one small part of Mexico. They’ve lost nearly all the wild waters where they used to live, and they are in danger of disappearing altogether. While Mudkip’s powers include speedy swimming and super strength, the best power an axolotl could have is survival.

The next time you see a Pokémon in a game or show, ask yourself: Where did it come from? Is it based on an animal, a plant—or something else?

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