With over 700 different types of Pokémon around, it should come as no surprise that they draw inspiration from a variety of sources. Some are based off geological formations or plants or mythological creatures. For the second part of this series, though, we will be looking at more Pokémon whose origins are grounded in the animal world.
1. Nincada/Ninjask/Shedinja = Cicada
The cicada insect starts its life as a larva that lives underground for many, many years, burrowing through the soil and sucking fluids from plant roots. These immature, flightless cicadas are known as nymphs, and it is this stage of the cicada life cycle that Nincada, a third-generation Bug-type, is based on. The insect’s subterranean nature is reflected in the Pokémon’s secondary Ground-type.
Eventually, the cicada abandons its easy living, heads to the surface, sheds its skin and turns into a winged adult, ready to breed. The mature cicada is what Nincada’s evolved form, Ninjask, is based on: it loses its secondary Ground typing and gains the Flying type instead.
But there’s a third, secret member of the Nincada family. If Nincada evolves when there is an extra space in the player’s party (and an extra PokéBall in the bag), it turns into Ninjask AND Shedinja, a highly unusual Bug/Ghost-type Pokémon that only has 1 HP but which can only be damaged by ‘super-effective’ moves.
Shedinja is based on the discarded, hollow, lifeless skin left behind by the cicada nymph as it molts into an adult. This shed skin even remains clinging to the plant and can be mistaken for the real thing.
2. Lileep = Crinoid
We’ve been reviving supposedly extinct Pokémon since Red and Blue. Back then, players could either obtain an Omanyte fossil (based on the prehistoric ammonite) or a Kabuto fossil (based on the prehistoric trilobite). But in Generation III (the second generation was somewhat lacking in the fossilized Pokémon department), we were introduced to yet more extinct Pokémon, one of which was called Lileep.
But what on earth is Lileep? It looks like a plant with pink tentacles protruding from an opening on the top of its head. Is it perhaps the Pokémon version of a fossilized plant? The fact that it can be resurrected from a Root Fossil, and its typing – half Rock, half Grass – certainly supports this idea.
But no: Lileep is based on an animal called a crinoid. Crinoids – also called sea lilies – are relatives of the starfish that have mouths surrounded by feeding arms, which ensnare passing plankton. Sea lilies were once known only from the fossil record until a few modern-day species were discovered still living in the sea. In this case at least, the real life counterpart of the so-called ‘extinct’ Pokémon is also still with us.
3. Skrelp/Dragalge = Seadragon
The most recent Pokémon on this list, Skrelp and its evolved form, Dragalge, were recently introduced to the ever-expanding list of Pocket Monsters in X and Y. Both look like strange seahorses and, according to the PokéDex, are camouflaged to blend in with floating kelp.
In this instance, the Pokémon games have borrowed almost perfectly from nature. The animal that Skrelp is based on, the weedy seadragon, is indeed a cousin of the seahorse, and has small leaf-like appendages coming from its body, which enable it to remain camouflaged within strands of seaweed. Dragalge, which possesses yet more of these strange growths, is based on the leafy seadragon, a relative that as you can see from the picture below has taken seaweed mimicry to a whole new level…
4. Burmy = Bagworm
From as early as the second generation, some Pokémon gained branching evolutionary trees, evolving into different forms if different criteria were met. This is usually accomplished through the use of different items, but in a few unusual cases the evolutions are gender-dependent.
Take Burmy, for example. This strange Bug-type Pokémon, which covers itself in a cloak made of twigs and leaves, evolves into Wormadam if it is female, or Mothim if it is male. To understand why this occurs, we must delve into Burmy’s origins. It is based on a moth caterpillar called the bagworm. The caterpillar constructs a case, or bag, made out of silk and environmental materials such as soil, lichen and plant material, which explains why Burmy makes a protective cloak for itself.
When a female bagworm matures, it hardly changes shape. It remains as a maggot-like insect, simply lounging around within its protective bag, as seen above. The male, however, does all the hard work in this arrangement; he metamorphoses into a moth and goes off in search of his largely immobile mate. The all-female Wormadam (its name is a mixture of ‘worm’ and ‘madam’) looks much like its pre-evolved form, complete with a cocoon made from its surroundings. Mothim, as its name suggests, is an all-male, moth-like Pokémon, mirroring its real-life counterpart’s intricate lifecycle.
5. Psyduck = Platypus
I know what you are thinking. Psyduck, a Water-type that gains amazing mental abilities whenever it develops a headache, is quite obviously, unmistakably, unavoidably, based on an animal: it’s a psychic duck. Right?
Well, during the earliest prototypes for Pokémon Red and Blue (or Red and Green, as it was known in Japan), the Flying-type was known as the Bird-type and it was assigned to all bird-based Pokémon, even those that couldn’t fly such as Doduo and Dodrio. And, would you know, Psyduck never received the Bird-type or the Flying-type. That’s because it isn’t – and never was – a bird to begin with.
If you look at Psyduck more closely, you’ll see that it has four webbed feet (not wings), a mammalian tail and even hairs (albeit only three of them). This all adds up to one thing: Psyduck is not a bird, but a mammal – a duck-billed platypus to be exact. The platypus may be a highly unusual animal – it’s one of the very few egg-laying mammals in the world – but it doesn’t, to my knowledge, possess latent psychic abilities or even chronic headaches.