Imagine having the job of creating over 700 unique little monsters with just your imagination to rely on. It’s pretty unlikely that anybody would be able to do this without eventually running out of ideas. Luckily for Nintendo, our world is filled entirely with unusual things just waiting to be cartooned and turned into Pokémon.
Most of them are a bit obvious, such as Ekans being a snake, Mankey being a monkey, and Pineco being a…well…pine cone. But some are a bit less obvious, and a bit more interesting…
1. Sandshrew – Pangolin
I always believed that Sandshrew was derived from the armadillo, but it’s actually based on this strange creature. The pangolin, which is grouped under the same category as the armadillo, curls up into a ball when threatened, and protects itself with its armour-like plating, much like Sandshrew and its ‘Defence Curl’ attack.
Fun Fact: The pangolin’s scales are made up of keratin, the same substance that makes up human nails.
2. Poliwag – Translucent Tadpoles
This is a fascinating one. Poliwag doesn’t have a swirl on it’s stomach simply because the creators thought it would jazz him up a bit and make him look more interesting. It’s actually based on a real type of tadpole, with coiled up intestines that look like swirl patterns on their undersides.
Fun Fact: The tadpole’s intestines do not change direction when they evolve.
3. Drowzee – Tapir
I encountered a Drowzee long before I discovered what a tapir was, so you can imagine my confusion when I first saw one and realised it was a real thing. Some tapirs have this colour change halfway down their bodies, which may have also been the inspiration for Drowzee’s colour change too. Plus, you know. The nose thing.
Fun Fact: The Japanese term ‘baku’ refers to both the tapir and a supernatural being that eats dreams, hence Drowzee’s ‘Dream Eater’ attack.
Additional fun fact from Editor: My girlfriend once had a nightmare that a village of Drowzee’s were out to murder her because she apparently threatened their livelihood.
4. Victreebel – Pitcher Plants
As we know, not all Pokémon are animal-based. Victreebel and its family are based on a type of carnivorous plant group called pitcher plants, which trap their prey with a deep cavity filled with digestive fluid. The rim around the top of the plant is slippery, causing insects to fall inside and be unable to escape. I don’t know how James ever managed to survive being attacked by his Victreebel so often.
Fun Fact: Pitcher plants are often used as toilet bowls by tree shrews.
5. Vanillite – Ice Cream
Vanillite’s species in the Pokédex is actually “Fresh Snow”. But it’s definitely an ice cream cone. If you look at its final evolution, Vanilluxe, it has essentially just gone from a 99 Flake Ice Cream to a Double 99. Either way, although this probably didn’t require as much creativeness as most other Pokémon, it’s still based on something real.
Fun Fact: If you eat a Vanillite it will die.
6. Caterpie – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar
Remember this cute little thing, one of the first Pokémon you encountered in Viridian Forest, and the first Pokémon Ash caught? Well, it turns out it’s real! Caterpie is based on the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar, as you can see from the black and yellow stripes and the orange antenna.
Fun Fact: When these caterpillars first hatch their colours look like bird poop, which protects them from predators.
7. Klefki – A Bunch of Keys
Here’s another one you probably knew already. This steel and fairy type Pokémon, Klefki, is based on a bunch of keys. What a shocker eh?
Fun Fact: Klefki is based on the Pagan tradition of blaming fairies for the loss of small objects, like keys.
8. Zigzagoon – Raccoon
The name here gives it away really; Zigzagoon is based on the raccoon. I didn’t realise this at first, but now that I think about it it does make sense, as zigzag-oon is just a combination of the zigzag pattern on its body and ‘raccoon’. Not only that but they both have the black masks over their eyes.
Fun Fact: Baby raccoons are adorable. Trust me. Look it up.
9. Exeggcutor – Coconut Tree
It’s pretty obvious that Exeggcutor is based on a plant, and not an animal. This specific plant is the coconut tree, as they both have similar style leaves and the grouped coconuts at the base of the leaves. The only difference between the two is that the tree doesn’t have legs, nor does it have faces on its coconuts.
Fun Fact: Some coconut trees can grow to a height of 98 feet.
10. Starmie – Purple Sunstar
Here’s another relatively obvious one. Starmie is clearly some sort of starfish, and we can see a pretty big resemblance between it and the purple sunstar. You know, because they’re both purple and star-shaped.
Fun Fact: In English the names ‘Staryu’ and ‘Starmie’ appear to be a reference to the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘me’; this is not present in their Japanese names, as they roughly mean ‘starfish man’ and ‘star gem’ respectively.
11. Trapinch – Antlion Larvae
This one is a bit less obvious than some of the others, and a lot more specific. The desert Pokémon Trapinch is based on the antlion larvae, often called “doodlebug” because of the spiralling trails it leaves in the sand. The larvae form sandy cocoons around themselves in preparation for maturing into the adult antlion.
Fun Fact: Antlion larvae don’t have anuses.
12. Cranidos – Pachycephalosaurus
Anybody else a lover of the Jurassic Park Builder game? As you can see from the armoured head, Cranidos is based on the dinosaur Pachycephalosaurus, from the late Cretaceous Period. Unsurprisingly, Cranidos is classed under the species of “Head Butt Pokémon”.
Fun Fact: The name “Cranidos” is derived from the word “cranium”.
13. Spiritomb – Jibakurei
This one is a bit darker than the others. The “Forbidden Pokémon” Spiritomb is based on a Jibakurei; the Japanese word for an earthbound spirit. Remember the hollows in the anime Bleach? These are essentially what Spiritombs are. It is also based on a Buddhist New Year’s Eve tradition, in which a bell is rung 108 times to remove the 108 temptations in order to achieve Nirvana.
Fun Fact: Spiritomb is closely linked with the number ‘108’ in the Pokémon games: three of its Pokédex entries state that it is formed of 108 spirits, it is number 108 in the Sinnoh Pokédex, its weight (in kg), defence, and special defence are all 108, and it can be found on route 108 in the generation 3 remakes.
14. Seedot – Acorn
Believe it or not, Seedot is actually based on an acorn. How insane is that?
Fun Fact: An acorn does not evolve at level 14.
15. Shedinja – Excuviae
This 1HP Pokémon that is annoyingly difficult to damage is based on the remains of the exoskeleton left behind by cicadas when they evolve into adults. The word “excuviae” is a term used to describe these remains. This is where the beginning of the name “Shedinja” comes from; “shed” being a reference to the casting off of this outer skin.
Fun Fact: Shedinja possesses no internal organs.
16. Nosepass – Moai Statue
This is another one that I never noticed, despite playing Pokémon Ruby about a hundred times; the rock Pokémon Nosepass is based on the Moai statues of Easter Island. Now that you see it it becomes glaringly obvious, but it just never clicked.
Fun Fact: Ten Moai statues have been transported to other parts of the world, and can be seen in museums.
17. Trubbish – Rubbish
Need I say more?
Fun Fact: Trubbish is ridiculous.