For nearly 20 years, the Pokémon franchise has been one of Nintendo’s most popular creations.
In Japanese, the name Pokémon comes from phrase “pocket monsters,” and the colorful, fantastic designs of the Pokémon are a big part of the series’ allure. However, many of the creatures have real-life counterparts—and in some cases, Pokémon clearly took an existing creature and simply renamed it for the video games.
Caterpie isn’t the most powerful dueling Pokémon, but it might be the cutest. This Shield Dust expert is also one of the most obviously realistic in the whole Pokéverse. Because, you know, it’s obviously a caterpillar.
But what kind of caterpillar provided the inspiration for this entry-level catch? As far as we can tell, Caterpie is the cartoon version of the swallowtail caterpillar, more commonly known as the parsley worm.
Parsley worms (yes, they do like to eat parsley) have a pattern of spots that we also find on Caterpie. Even more tellingly, they have red antennae sticking out of their snouts, just like the Pokémon version of the bug. Cute, huh?
This flower-headed Pokémon has two types: poison and grass. Despite its disarming smile, the little bugger is a powerful fighter, thanks to its powerful spore attack. Surprisingly, Vileplume isn’t the product of some deranged cartoonist’s imagination; it’s actually based on a real-life flower.
And what a flower! Rafflesia arnoldii, sometimes called the “corpse flower,” is a rainforest plant that produces the largest single flower in the world.
It grows in Sumatra and Borneo, and people call it the corpse flower because, well, it smells like rotting flesh. How’s that for a spore attack?
Sure, this third-generation Pokémon looks quite a bit like a raccoon, but stay with us for a second.
The Zigzagoon is a curious creature with a zig-zag pattern on its fur (hence the name) and a black mask around its eyes.
While it looks somewhat like a raccoon, it’s not quite a match—and the zig-zag fur is a giveaway that Pokémon writers took inspiration from a slightly different source.
This is the raccoon dog, indigenous to East Asia. It looks a bit like a raccoon, to be sure, but its coloration can be closer to that of its fictional counterpart. Interestingly, it’s treated as a potentially invasive species in some countries, which might explain why there are so many Zigzagoon all over the world of Pokémon.
One of the first water Pokémon, the Poliwag has hypnotic swirls on its chest—swirls that, according to the Pokémon encyclopedia, are actually its “internal organs showing through its semi-transparent skin.” Yes, apparently Pokémon have internal organs. We’d never thought about it before.
In any case, the Poliwag was inspired by a real-life tadpole, pictured below. The tadpole’s coil is, indeed, made up of its organs, so the Pokémon creators clearly got that detail correct.
However, instead of evolving into Poliwhirl, the real-life tadpole “evolves” into a frog. Yeah, it’s a bit disappointing.
Poor Emolga. This electric-type Pokémon only has one form. It cannot evolve. Maybe that’s fine, actually, because the Emolga is one of the cutest fantasy animals ever to show up in a video game…or video games. Emolga makes a surprise appearance in the Wii U version of Super Smash Brothers.
It makes sense that Emolga is painfully adorable, because the Pokémon is based on a real-life rodent that makes everyone dissolve into uncontrollable awww’s. We’re talking, of course, about the flying squirrel. There are actually 44 species of squirrels of the real-life flying type, and Emolga seems to draw from all of their cutest features.
Before you ask, no, they don’t really fly, but they do glide pretty crazy distances—up to 295 feet at a time, in some cases.
The Sandslash is a “tall, yellow, mammalian creature with brown spikes/quills on its back,” according to the Pokemon Wiki. One of its most notable features is its massive claws, which it uses to dig and to battle. It’s also capable of curling up into a ball to protect itself.
While the Sandslash looks pretty awesome, its real-life counterpart is less…impressive. It’s the pangolin, mammals of the order Pholidota with big claws—used for digging and fighting, by the way—and hard scales made of keratin.
Wild pangolin populations are threatened by hunting, sadly, and they’re critically endangered. Their name comes from the Malay words for “one who rolls up,” and like the Sandslash, the pangolin can curl into a tight ball when threatened.
“Easy,” you’re probably saying while clutching your Pikachu pillow, “the Krookodile was inspired by the crocodile. Everyone knows that.”
And you’re partially right, since the name clearly indicates that the Krookodile is some type of reptilian creature (and also, possibly, a crook).
Well, we hate to disappoint you, but while the Krookodile does look a bit like a standard crocodile, it’s probably inspired by a slightly different crocodilian creature.
We’re talking about the gharial, an Indian fish-eating crocodile with a long, slender snout.
At one time, gharial could be found throughout India, but unfortunately, their populations have been depleted by hunting and deforestation. They’re currently listed as critically endangered.
This unfortunately named Pokémon is one of the originals. Drowzee showed up in the very beginning, as one of the first 100 Pokémon ever devised, and he remains a favorite. Come on, the dude evolves into Hypno. What’s not to love?
Drowzee kind of looks like an anteater, but he’s actually based on a rarer long-nosed animal called a Malaysian tapir. Tapirs don’t see very well, but they have incredible senses of smell and hearing. That might have been the trait that inspired Drowzee’s psychic power.
Also, Malaysian tapirs just look like Pokémon, don’t they? After seeing a picture of this pig-like creature, it’s hard to imagine Pokémon not being invented.
There’s a lot we admittedly don’t get about the Gorbyss. For one, what’s with those shells? We thought those were only for mermaids. Secondly, its most powerful attack is hard to square with those cute, lashed eyes. It can stab an opponent with its snout and suck out the life-giving fluids. Ech.
When you see the animal that inspired the Gorbyss, though, you’ll understand why it has a disturbing edge. This Pokémon was based on an ocean animal known as the long-nosed chimaera. It’s one of those deep-sea creatures that seems purposefully designed to scare the pants off of humans.
Interesting and terrifying fact about the long-nosed chimaera, by the way—their eyes are typically black and empty, but if you pull them out of the water, the eyeballs change color. They become an eerie, fluorescent green.
There’s no word on whether Gorbyss share this unsettling ability, but that’s probably because Pokémon hunters love their companions and would never go “fishing” for them.
Look, Miltank was inspired by a cow. This one’s completely obvious. It looks like a cow, it has udders; it’s basically just a normal cow.
In fact, Miltank is one of the least creative Pokémon of all time. Its name isn’t really a pun, and we’re forever haunted by that episode where a Miltank fed a Cyndaquil.
We don’t have much to add to that.