Squids Odyssey is a role-playing game by French studio The Game Bakers. It is the latest entry in the Squids franchise, released in 2014 for Nintendo 3DS and WiiU, and more recently, in 2018 for PC and Nintendo Switch.
The fun fact about our Squids games is that we were actually all fascinated by octopuses and cephalopods in general long before we created the game. We even almost named our game studio “Happy Squids”… It was when we were working on the game mechanics and looking for some characters that could be “stretchable” on an iPhone screen that we thought about “tentacles”. Then we knew it was a perfect fit! We started designing our little heroes inspired by real octopuses, squids and other cephalopods.
We did a lot of research to get inspiration on shapes and colors, but of course there is also a lot of redesign in cartoon style so sometimes it might be hard to see the direct reference. But you can still recognize a few: for instance, Clint was inspired on the vampire squid. Baron, the bad guy in the story, is inspired by a more regular octopus.
We also looked at shrimps and crabs for the enemies. The big boss of the first game is a coconut crab, while a basic enemy you meet in the game is a hermit crab. You can tell the influences directly from the designs.
We took inspiration from other real underwater fauna and flora for the environment design. Even their habitations or their helmets are inspired by things you can find on the bottom of the sea. And in the comic book, we extended the character design to fish; for instance, one of the characters was inspired on a swordfish. In our game, squids and turtles actually cooperate, even though this might not be the case in real life.
For simplification, our little characters only have 4 arms. It’s funny that we’ve been told by some members of our Japanese audience – experts in octopuses and squids – that our little heroes did not look enough like these animals!
ABOUT THE TEAM
The Game Bakers are an indie game studio founded by Emeric Thoa and Audrey Leprince, and based in Montpellier, France. Besides the Squids franchise, they are also responsible for the acclaimed Furi and the upcoming Haven.
 Squids and cuttlefish have 8 arms and 2 tentacles. Octopuses have 8 arms and no tentacles.
 Shrimps, crabs and lobsters are crustaceans and belong to the Phylum Arthropoda, alongside insects and arachnids. They are not related to cephalopods, which belong in the Phylum Mollusca alongside snails and clams.
Since the beginning of 2019, the web cartoon and flash animation “The Legend of Luo Xiaohei” (in short, Luo Xiaohei) has been viewed more than 72 million times on barrage video website Bilibili (https://www.bilibili.com/). It premiered on March 17, 2011, and has since been updated at a very slow pace. Currently, there are only 27 episodes, each lasting a little over five minutes, counting the ending and opening themes.
The low-updating cartoon has wonderful backgrounds and depicts many creatures, some of which are terrestrial Mollusca. The creators of Luo Xiaohei are Chinese, so the inspirations for the Mollusca in the cartoon are all from East Asia. The depictions are either directly based on a particular species, or freely created based on a wider group of species. Here I discuss the taxonomic and ecological characteristics of the mollusk species depicted in Luo Xiaohei.
Episode 9, 06:28 / Episode 10, 01:07
Taxonomy: Genus Amphidromus Albers, 1850.
In Episode 9, two snails can be seen on a tree covered with moss. Based on a recent study by Lok & Tan (2008), the diet of Amphidromus is similar to other tree snails such as Achatinella Swainson, 1828 and Partula Férussac, 1821 (Kobayashi & Hadfield, 1996). These snails are known to live among moss, their favorite food, and the enviroment depicted in the cartoon is indeed quite realistic.
In fact, the environment shown in this episode seems to be humid, and Amphidromus occurs in Northeast Asia (Sutcharit & Panha, 2006), a warm and humid region. Also, since this is a Chinese cartoon, it is worth mentioning that species in this genus are also known to occur in South China (Benson, 1851). These snails are usually found in tree holes (Inkhavilay et al., 2017) and when predators like birds are about, they won’t move, which strongly fits the depiction in the cartoon. We can also see the same kind of shell in the background of Episode 10 (01:07 min). The cartoonist is probably hooked on these wonderful snails.
Episode 10, 03:38
Taxonomy: Family Cyclophoridae Gray, 1847.
A juvenile shell can be seen on a leaf. Based on the shape of its expanded aperture, it may have an operculum. This is probably an extrapolation by the creator, because terrestrial snails actually do not expand and thicken their aperture when they are young. By the time they expand the shell’s outer lip, they should have more whorls. The inspiration for this one may come from the genus Platyrhaphe Möllendorff, 1890.
Episode 15, 02:05
Taxonomy: Genus Camaena Albers, 1850.
A broken shell lies on the ground over some moss. We can see the umbilicus directly, which shows that this shell is sinistral (that is, it has a “left-handed” coiling direction). Also, the environment shown is consistent with South China. According to the plot, Luo Xiaohei (the titular character in the cartoon) becomes smaller due to magic, so this is why the shell seems so large. However, in fact, Camaena is quite large for a terrestrial snail (Ding et al., 2016).
In China (where the cartoon was produced), the color of the sinistral Camaena species is usually brownish and reddish (Ding et al., 2016). In the cartoon, the color is yellowish, but this may be caused by the shell being long exposed to the weather. Usually, shells found in the wild are often weathered and discolored, and the characteristic bands disappear.
Episode 15, 04:29
Taxonomy: Genus Meghimatium Hasselt, 1823.
Identification of slugs depends on the proportional relationship between the mantle and the entire body and the location of the breathing pore (called pneumostome). In the cartoon slug, there is no visible boundary between the mantle and the entire body. Because the slug must match the background color but not lose its color, its body will add a lot of green to integrate to the overall atmosphere and environment and thus, be inconspicuous.
The continuous mantle limits the range of identification options to two slug families: Veronicellidae Gray, 1840 and Philomycidae Gary, 1847 (Wiktor et al., 2000). The mantle of veronicellids does not look so humid (they are called “leatherleaf slugs”), so naturally, it can only be Philomycidae.
In China, a very common genus of slugs belonging to Philomycidae is Meghimatium. Some members of this genus vary a lot in color pattern, such as Meghimatium bilineatum (Benson, 1842). The common color pattern of M. bilineatum is grey with two longitudinal black lines, but also orange individuals without lines can be found (Chen & Gao, 1987; Wiktor et al., 2000). I have also found grey-colored individuals lacking the black lines.
Episode 16, 07:55
Taxonomy: Genus Achatina Lamarck, 1799.
A shell used as a flower pot seems to have been inspired by snails in the genus Achatina. Shells in this genus are very large and have a tall spire. The species kown as African giant snail, Achatina fulica (Férussac, 1821), has been introduced to South China before the 1930s (Jarrett, 1931). But the shell in the cartoon has a lower spire and more inflated whorls.
The terrestrial mollusks in Luo Xiaohei are accurately depicted regarding their real-world ecology, habitat, and diet (e.g., Episode 9, 06:28). Some of the depictions show real morphological features of the species they seem to be based on (e.g., Episode 15, 04:29). Nevertheless, terrestrial mollusks are an essential part of natural environments. Much like in nature, they also play an important role in Luo Xiaohei, especially in Episode 15, 02:05, when the shell indirectly reflects the fact that Luo Xiaohei has become smaller. In fact, the mollusks depicted in the cartoon may actually help in transmitting the atmosphere of the humid, lush environment where the story takes place.
Benson, W.H. (1842) Mollusca. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 1(9): 486–489.
Benson, W.H. (1851) Description of new land shells from St. Helens, Ceylon, and China. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 2(7): 262–265.
Ding, H.L.; Wang, P.; Qian Z.X.; Lin, J.H.; Zhou W.C.; Hwang, C.C.; Ai, H.M. (2016) Revision of sinistral land snails of the genus Camaena (Stylommatophora, Camaenidae) from China based on morphological and molecular data, with description of a new species from Guangxi, China. Zookeys 584: 25–48.
Inkhavilay, K.;Sutcharit, C.; Panha, S. (2017) Taxonomic review of the tree snail genus Amphidromus Albers, 1850 (Pulmonata: Camaenidae) in Laos, with the description of two new species. European Journal of Taxonomy 330: 1–40.
Jarrett, V.H.C. (1931) The spread of the snail Achatina fulica to south China. Hong Kong Naturalist 2(4): 262–264.
Kobayashi, S.R. & Hadfield, M.G. (1996) An experimental study of growth and reproduction in the hawaiian tree snails Achatinella mustelina and Partulina redfieldii (Achatinellinae). Pacific Science 50(4): 339–354.
Lok, A.S.F.L. & Tan, S.K. (2008) A review of the Singapore status of the green tree snail, Amphidromus atricallosus perakensis Fulton, 1901 and its biology. Nature in Singapore 1: 225–230.
Sutcharit, C. & Panha, S. (2006) Taxonomic review of the tree snail Amphidromus Albers, 1850 (Pulmonata: Camaenidae) in Thailand and adjacent areas: subgenus Amphidromus. Journal of Molluscan Studies 72: 1–30.
Wiktor, A.; Chen, D.N.; Wu, M. (2000) Stylommatophoran slugs of China (Gastropoda: Pulmonata) – Prodromus. Folia Malacologica 8(1): 3–35.
Thanks go to Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences for their great specimen digitization work. And thanks also go to Wikipedia for their contribution to free knowledge. I express my heartfelt praise and respect to the Luo Xiaohei creative team and Bilibili. Especial thanks to Yifeng Lü, a member of Luo Xiaohei team, for helping me to find Mollusca in the cartoon. I also thank Mengmeng Wang, Jingjun Han and my family for their tolerance and help.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Guoyi Zhang is a student and taxonomist working on the Camaenidae of China. Land snails are Zhang’s favorites in life. Zhang also enjoys watching Luo Xiaohei and other cartoons on Bilibili as a hobby.
 By MTJJ, China (2011–present). Original title: 罗小黑战记
It feels like a long time since Altair first adventured through the Holy Land. Now Assassin’s Creed, by Ubisoft, became one of the highest selling video game franchises of all time. It is even bigger if you consider the novels, comic books, animations, and well… that movie-thing. It is also one my top 3 favorite game series, so no wonder it would pop up on one of my articles eventually.
Besides the nice action and beautiful historical settings of Assassin’s Creed games, my favorite moments are when I suddenly stumble upon one of my real-life heroes. I enjoy talking to their in-game reconstructions and to see how they match both my expectations and the historical accounts of their real-world counterparts. Most of these people are, of course, scientists, even though some lived in a time where the word “scientist” was yet to be coined.
So, my goal here will be to show how these people are portrayed in Assassin’s Creed and how this matches reality. I will also explain their major achievements and their importance to science. But with so many games in the franchise, it would be a monumental task to write a single article with every scientist; thus, I decided to present this in parts. The first one, as you might have surmised from the title, will be about James Cook and Charles Darwin.
At first sight, this might seem a strange pairing, but it has its reasons. I’ve chosen to start with them because this year marks some anniversaries – and us humans just can’t help but be attracted to round numbers and meaningful dates. The year of 2019 marks 250 years from Cook’s historical first visit to New Zealand and 240 years from his death. It is also Darwin’s 210th would-be-birthday and the 160th birthday of the most groundbreaking book ever written: On the Origin of Species.
CAPTAIN JAMES COOK
James Cook was born on 7 November 1728 in Marton, in North-East England. He attended local school, apprenticed as a shop boy, and in his late teens became a merchant navy apprentice. During that time, he learned navigation skills and a healthy dose of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and astronomy. In 1755, he joined the Royal Navy, just when Britain was preparing for the Seven Years’ War.
Cook served aboard several ships; most remarkably, he was part of the HMS Pembroke crew when the British captured the Fortress of Louisbourg from the French in 1758, during the Seven Years’ War. Due to his talent as a cartographer, he was put to good use during that time, mapping several parts of Canada in the late 1750’s and early 1760’s (then aboard the HMS Grenville). This is the part of his life seen in Assassin’s Creed, but he is most famous for what came afterwards; so let us take a look at that before turning to the game.
In 1768, the Admiralty made Cook lieutenant and put him in command of the HMS Endeavour on a scientific voyage to the Pacific Ocean. His main goal was to observe the transit of Venus in Tahiti in 1769, which would help to determine the distance of the Earth to the Sun (the solar parallax). After that was out of the way, Cook opened an envelope with further orders: to navigate the South Pacific in search of the hypothetical continent Terra Australis and to find New Zealand’s eastern shores. He set off to the south and then westwards, reaching New Zealand and precisely mapping its entire coast. He also took the opportunity to record the transit of Mercury. Cook also needed to document the flora and fauna and establish a relationship with native people; in the long term, the goal was to acquire their consent to take the land for His Majesty. That was the beginning of the British history of New Zealand.
BOX 1. The discovery and naming of New Zealand
Despite what might be assumed, Cook did not discover New Zealand. Polynesian settlers arrived there between 1200 and 1300 CE and became known as the Māori. They called their new home Aotearoa.
The first non-Polynesian person to arrive in New Zealand was Dutch explorer Abel J. Tasman, who first sighted the shores of South Island in December 1642. Tasman’s crew would have landed there, but were driven off by the Māori. They assumed that land could be the western shore of the imaginary continent Terra Australis. In any event, Tasman named the “new” land Staten Landt, which is a straightforward horrible choice. Dutch cartographers recognized this and renamed the place Nova Zeelandia in 1645, after the province Zeeland in the Netherlands. This name stuck, even under later British control.
Even though he did not stay long, Tasman literally put New Zealand on the map and right under the radar of European colonial efforts. His name lives on today in the Tasman Sea (separating Australia and New Zealand), in Tasmania (Australia’s southern island), and in the Abel Tasman National Park (in northwestern South Island, New Zealand).
Once back in England, Cook was promoted to commander and sent on a second voyage in search of Terra Australis, which everyone now knew was not New Zealand. Cook took the HMS Resolution, with the HMS Adventure serving as its companion ship, and navigated the southern oceans. He almost reached Antarctica, but his “failure” to find land put an end to the Terra Australis myth.
Back in England once again, he was made captain and soon became involved in a third voyage, commanding the HMS Resolution once again (the companion ship this time was the HMS Discovery). His goal was to find a northern passage, through the Arctic, from the Pacific to the Atlantic. He couldn’t do it, of course, and became frustrated with the voyage. During a prolonged stay in Hawaii to fix the ship, tensions began to rise with the locals. Cook tried to kidnap the Hawaiian king to put an end to it; the Hawaiians naturally didn’t like that and Cook was killed.
Captain Cook was responsible for mapping large parts of the world, as well as for several astronomical observations and for collecting dozens of ethnographic artifacts. He might not convey the impression of the typical scientist, but can and should be counted as one.
He was not the only scientifically-inclined person on his expeditions, though. During his voyages, Cook counted with botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel C. Solander, astronomers Charles Green, William Wales and William Bayly, and naturalists Herman Spöring, Johann R. Forster, Georg A. Forster and David Nelson. There were also artists to illustrate the new lands, their people, flora and fauna.
Cook features in Assassin’s Creed: Rogue (henceforth ACR), released in 2014 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (2015 for Microsoft Windows) and remastered for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in 2018. This game is different from the others in the series in that you play as a Templar instead of an Assassin. The game follows Shay Cormac in his convoluted journey from Assassin apprentice to senior Templar.
Cormac first encounters Cook towards the middle of the game’s story. By that time (June 1758) Cook was master of the HMS Pembroke. Even though he appears several times, his presence is not as well-marked as one would hope. Cormac and his crew go after him due to his “mathematical mind” and expertise in deciphering secret codes. They comment that Cook’s “seamanship is second-to-none” and that he had a self-policy of strict honesty. Cormac and his colleague Gist discuss how Cook would be a good addition to the Templars, but in the end decide that his total lack of guile would be bad for the Order: the man would not be able to keep the secret.
The presentation of Cook’s character and personality is in line with contemporary sources and his many later biographies, which paint him as intelligent, honest and driven. However, he faced many trials during his voyages and sometimes dealt with them using more brutality (towards his crew or the native people of the Pacific) than we can now accept. Furthermore, he seemed to have had a drastic change of personality on his third voyage. In any event, the depiction of young James Cook in ACR is very compelling.
The first mission in ACR involving Cook is very straightforward: to beat the French. Cormac takes the helm of the HMS Pembroke to aid Cook in turning the tide of the battle and finally, capturing the Fortress of Louisbourg. This aligns rather nicely with the historical record.
Cormac meets Cook again in Percé, in 1759, and asks him to decipher some encrypted maps. Cook also helps in tracking down a French-Canadian Assassin, after which he asks Cormac whether he belonged to a larger organization. After getting a reply in the lines of “we couldn’t say even if we were”, Cook then assumes Cormac and his crew were under direct orders of the King. The Templars seem satisfied with this and do not correct Cook. Instead, they say their group will contact him about sponsoring future voyages.
The last bit is a clear reference to Cook’s three exploration voyages to the Pacific. What interest the Templars might have there remains unknown for the moment, but it could definitely involve Terra Australis. In any event, real-life Cook indeed got the attention of the Admiralty and the Royal Society during his years in Canada, especially because of his incredible work mapping Newfoundland; indeed, this latter led to his appointment as commander of the first Pacific voyage.
CHARLES R. DARWIN
Darwin (1809–1882) needs no introduction – but here’s one anyway. He is THE most important figure in Biology and of the most important scientists of all time. He is most famous for his book On the Origin of Species (henceforth Origin), first published in 1859, but his contributions to the natural sciences extend beyond that. As late American paleontologist Stephen J. Gould argued, Darwin’s ideas rank with Copernicus in the way they revolutionized not only science but also the very way our silly species sees itself.
There is simply way too much to write about Darwin: his early life, his voyage, his books, his garden experiments, his immense legacy, etc. There are dozens of books written about him and, if I start writing all the things I find interesting here, I might just end up with a whole book. Since I do not want that, I will focus here on very small parts of his life that are related to what happened in the game.
Darwin features in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (henceforth ACS), released in 2015 for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows. The game takes place in London, starting in 1868, and revolves around the brother and sister pair of Assassins, Jacob and Evie Frye.
In the game, you first meet Darwin investigating a factory that produced an opium-based drug called “Soothing Syrup”. It was made by the Templars, of course, and Jacob decided to help Darwin in his investigation. They find out that Richard Owen (see Box 2), who was responsible for an article defaming Darwin, knew something about the syrup. Jacob interrogates Owen and discovers the name of the doctor who was behind the new drug, confronting and killing him in an asylum.
BOX 2. Sir Richard Owen
Owen is clearly linked with the bad guys in ACS. He was a controversial figure indeed, hated by his adversaries, but maybe not quite the “video game villain” kind. Sir Richard Owen (1804–1892) was a brilliant naturalist and authored outstanding works in animal anatomy and paleontology. In fact, he is the one who coined one of the most important words in our vocabulary, “dinosaur”. He is also responsible for the magnificent Natural History Museum in London, built as a cathedral of Nature.
However, Owen opposed Darwin’s idea of evolution by natural (and sexual) selection. Owen was well aware of the anatomical features that established lines of descent and relatedness among animals. Still, his belief in human uniqueness, immersed in what he saw as “natural order” arranged by a creative power, escalated his quarrel with Darwin and his followers, mainly Thomas H. Huxley and Joseph D. Hooker. He could not agree with humans being “just” a weirdly naked species of ape.
In ACS, Darwin even says to Owen: “Mr. Owen, you are truly the most insufferable fellow I have ever had the misfortune to count among my acquaintances!” In real life, after Owen’s involvement in an event that undermined one of his colleagues, Darwin wrote in a letter: “I used to be ashamed of hating him so much, but now I will carefully cherish my hatred & contempt to the last days of my life.”
Back to the real world, first I should point out that Darwin was somewhat of a hermit. He lived in the countryside near London since 1842 and his home was known as Down House. Darwin reportedly did not enjoy going into town that much, so you would be hard pressed to find him in London as the Frye twins did. But that is totally excusable, as a game set in Victorian London must include Darwin somehow. Also, by that time Darwin already had his share of adventures during the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle around the world, so you would be even more unlikely to find him poking around criminal activities in London. Thus, the whole “Soothing Syrup” quests would be very unlikely, especially because they involve more medicine and chemistry than actual biology.
Later on in ACS, the Frye twins meet Darwin again, who says that his critics were threatening him and his colleagues with violence. He was waiting for a certain German colleague of his, identified in the game simply as Dr. Schwartz, who was bringing an important fossil to London. Darwin asks the Fryes to protect Schwartz, but they discover that the German scientist was intercepted and killed by Templars. Even so, they manage to recover the fossil and deliver it to Darwin.
This mission is simply perfect for the setting, even though it is slightly historically inaccurate. The mission is called “The Berlin Specimen”, which is a name that can only refer to one thing: the fossil specimen of Archaeopteryx lithographica from the Natural History Museum (Museum für Naturkunde) of Berlin. This species is one of the most important in the world from a historical perspective: its first fossil was discovered in southeastern Germany just two years after Origin was published and was a major evidence in favor of Darwin’s work, showing that the origin of modern birds lays within the group of theropod dinosaurs.
The Berlin specimen is the most famous (and most complete) of all the fossils of Archaeopteryx lithographica; we typically see a replica of it in exhibition in museums worldwide. However, it was only discovered somewhere in 1874–1876, some years after the setting of ACS, but still reasonably close. Curiously, a man named Schwartz, from Nuremberg, tried to buy the actual fossil before it was bought by the Berlin museum (funded by Werner von Siemens, founder of Siemens AG).
There is in fact a “London specimen” of Archaeopteryx, discovered in 1861 and bought by none other than Richard Owen for the Natural History Museum in January 1863. Perhaps this fossil would have been more appropriate for ACS; especially given that Owen is already in the game.
Back to ACS, Darwin first asks the Fryes to investigate a plant that can make people delirious and then to secure him a copy of that day’s newspaper, which had a rebuttal to Owen’s defamation mentioned above. The Fryes then discover a Templar plot to spread newspaper articles with anti-Darwin propaganda, epitomized as a caricature.
In fact, Darwin was constantly under the radar of the Templars in ACS, who tried to buy him (and his research) out. Darwin answered that “[s]cientific knowledge cannot be bought, it belongs to everyone.” The Fryes, of course, would come to his aid. They discover who was behind the caricature (spread through London as posters) and sabotage the printer shop.
Darwin’s ideas of evolution by natural and sexual selection and their implications for our own species were the cause of many heated debates during his lifetime. In fact, to this day many people are still in denial regarding his ideas (especially in religious countries like the US and Brazil), despite the massive amount of evidence in his favor. Darwin knew this would happen and that is basically why he took so long to publish his main book: he needed to amass as much supporting evidence as he possibly could. In ACS, Darwin says to Evie that “I am used to people challenging my ideas”.
The last mission involving Darwin in ACS is called “A Struggle for Existence” and alludes to the full title of his main book: “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”. But the mission is not as poetic as it sounds; rather it is very literal. It begins with Florence Nightingale telling the Fryes that Darwin had been arrested and that she feared that “Mr. Darwin is no longer the fit, young man who once traveled the world.” The Fryes then rescue him from a Templar base and Florence suggests that Darwin retired with his family to the Isle of Wight to recuperate in peace. Darwin, though, argues that “[t]he acquisition of knowledge is in itself sufficiently recuperative.” Real-world Darwin actually spent a holiday with his family on the Isle of Wight during 1868; the latter of the photos shown above was taken there.
ASSASSIN AND TEMPLAR SCIENTISTS
As I said in the beginning, Cook and Darwin (and Owen, I suppose) are hopefully just the first on a series I intend to write exploring all the real-world scientists that feature in the many Assassin’s Creed games. (I’ll definitely include Florence Nightingale at some point, in case you were wondering.) Also, since several games take place before the establishment of modern science, you’ll also see some philosophers and historians around here. Until next time!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Rodrigo Salvador is a biologist who studies mollusks or, to put it shortly, a malacologist. He loves reading about the scientists of old and can’t help but share this sometimes. He is hyped by Assassin’s Creed games ever since the very first images of Altair came out. His favorite entry in the series is Origins, because… Egypt, but his favorite Assassins are still Ezio and Evie.
 Herdendorf (1986) argued that the Transit of Venus, first in 1761 and then in 1769, was the first international collaborative effort in science, including dozens of observers in tens of stations spread worldwide. He considered it as the establishment of the modern scientific international community.
 Actually, while Darwin was working on his book another British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913), independently conceived the idea of evolution through natural selection. His work on the subject was jointly presented with Darwin’s in 1858 to the Linnean Society of London.
Wingspan is a game entirely about birds and it has been a wonderful surprise, being considered one of the hottest titles for 2019. This is the first game from designer Elizabeth Hargrave, published by Stonemaier Games, and will be available in March this year.
In this game, the players take the role of bird enthusiasts (researchers, birdwatchers, and ornithologists) and must discover and attract birds to their wildlife preserves. In board game terms, Wingspan is an engine-building game, that is, a game in which you have to establish an effective system to generate and accumulate points. There are 170 unique bird cards in the game and, as you add them to your nature preserve, they help you do more and more on each subsequent turn. In general, forest birds make you better at getting food, wetland birds help you get more cards, and grassland birds make you better at laying eggs.
The Journal of Geek Studies interviewed Elizabeth Hargrave to understand how ornithology and ecology made their way into a board game. You can read the full interview below.
Q: To come up with a game based on birds, you must be a birdwatcher or an ornithologist, is that right?
A: Yes, I’m an amateur birder.
Q: When did your interest in birds began?
A: I’ve always been a nature lover and appreciated birds in general when I saw them, the same way I appreciated any other wildlife. I’ve always had a bird field guide and a pair of binoculars around. But I didn’t really start intentionally birding – like, going out with birds as my primary purpose – until maybe 6 or 7 years ago.
Q: What gave you the idea for a bird ecology game?
A: I felt like there were too many games about castles and space, and not enough games about things I’m interested in. So I decided to make a game about something I cared about.
Q: Did you bring into Wingspan some of your experience with birds? Your favorite species, maybe?
A: I tried to get a diverse set of birds from North America into the game, and a lot of the common ones. But some species definitely got a push just because I like them. Roseate spoonbills are only in a tiny corner of North America, but it’s the corner of North America that I grew up in, and I love them, so they’re in. There’s a lot of room with 170 cards – but it’s still only a fraction of all of the species that live in North America.
Q: So, let’s turn to the game now. What is the players’ goal in Wingspan? How does one win in a bird game?
A: You win by having the most points. A lot of your points will come from playing the birds themselves, but you can also get points by laying eggs or by using certain bird powers. And then there are specific goals and bonuses that change from game to game. You might have the “photographer” card that will give you bonus points for birds with colors in their name, or the “falconer” that gives points for predator birds. And then there are shared goals that you can compete for, like having the preserve with the most eggs in it at the end of a round.
To win, you usually have to choose to focus on some of those things over others. And you need to think about how the different powers on the bird cards could help you get there.
Q: The game’s strategy is spun around a lot of ecology. What sort of information have you brought from the real world into Wingspan? Or, better put, how much scientific data have you included in the game?
A: There is a ton of real-world information on each card. Birds get played into certain habitats on your player mat, based on their real-world habitat. And each card’s cost is food, based on some very simplified categories of the food that the birds actually eat. And each bird’s nest type could play into the end-of-round goals.
When I could, I tried to work in real-life bird behavior for the powers on each bird. For example, predator birds go hunting by looking at the top card in the deck: if the bird has a small enough wingspan that the predator could eat it, you get to keep that card and score a point for it. Nest parasites like brown-headed cowbirds get to a lay an egg on another bird’s nest when another player lays eggs. That kind of thing.
And finally, each card has a little factoid on it about the bird, and a very simplified map of which continents it is native to. Those don’t actually come into play on the game, but sometimes they might explain why a bird’s power is what it is.
Q: Do you hope the players will learn something about the birds by playing Wingspan?
A: I hope that it’s a game that you can play primarily as a game, without feeling like you’re supposed to be learning anything… and then maybe accidentally pick some things up along the way. A lot of educational games feel very preachy to me, and that’s not my intention. But I do hope that as players interact with the birds in the game, some of the real-world information that’s there is interesting to them.
Q: Suppose a player is inspired by Wingspan to do some birdwatching of their own. Would you have some tips to offer to this fledgling birder?
A: Find a list of common birds for your area, and look for them right around where you live. Once you have a few birds that you can reliably identify, things get easier.
A pair of binoculars makes a huge difference. You don’t have to spring for a super-expensive pair right away – there are decent starter pairs for the cost of a board game. But it’s incredibly frustrating to try to ID birds without being able to see all their markings.
Find a local birding club, or hit up a birder friend – most people are happy to share their knowledge, and to have you along as an extra pair of eyes. I once caused a major freak-out in a group of more-knowledgeable birders by saying “hey, what’s that one?” – it turned out to be a golden-winged warbler, a beautiful bird that very rarely visits our area.
Download the eBird app and keep lists of the birds you see. If you’re anything like me, growing your personal list will be addictive – but you’ll also be contributing to a worldwide database that ornithologists use to track trends in bird populations.
Q: Do you think ultimately Wingspan can help with bird conservation efforts?
A: As much as the industry is growing, board games are still a pretty niche hobby. But every little bit helps! I have definitely heard from gamers who have started paying attention to birds in real life because of Wingspan.
Q: Is there any takeaway message you’d like the players to get from Wingspan?
A: I always set out to make it a fun game first, about something that I love. If you have fun playing Wingspan, my mission is accomplished. If you can see why people love birds – or get interested in them yourself – after playing, even better.
ABOUT THE TEAM
This is the first published game from designer Elizabeth Hargrave. Bird art is by Natalia Rojas and Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, while art for the player mats and birdhouse dice tower is by Beth Sobel. Christine Santana did the graphic design. David Studley designed the solo version of the game, with help from the Automa team. Jamey Stegmaier managed the whole team, and worked with Elizabeth to develop the gameplay.
Valleys Between is an environmental puzzle game, where your goal is to grow your world for as long as you can while protecting it from threats that will damage its health.
When we started designing Valleys Between we wanted to explore ways to get people thinking about environmental issues, and while the game has evolved during the game development cycle, the core themes of the game are still there. While we considered real world ecology and nature, we realised early on that to create a fun and engaging game we would need to take inspiration from them without being too literal.
One of our goals is to create a strong bond between the player and the world they’ve created, and one of the ways we do this is by allowing you to literally shape the world with your fingertips. Players only have the ability to swipe up or down to interact with the world, but small actions such as pulling a tree up out of the ground can actually have a big impact. Much like the real world, one action isn’t always enough to solve larger problems but a group of small actions can result in a big change.
Many of the games mechanics are inspired by nature, though in a simplified or abstract way. This allows us to craft gameplay that’s enjoyable and relatable without ever straying too far into something that feels completely at odds with reality (at least in most cases). With that in mind we had two important rules that guided our design:
The game is inspired by nature, so the environmental theme should always be present while never overpowering or distracting the player from the gameplay.
We won’t sacrifice enjoyable gameplay for the sake of keeping something too realistic or similar to how our real world works.
These rules allowed us to find a balance between fun and relatable mechanics that are easy for the player to understand. When designing mechanics we often started from an ecological concept and explored how we could distill it down to base elements to see how they could work well within the game. The best way to illustrate this is to look at the primary mechanics in Valleys Between.
At its core, Valleys Between is about creating a thriving world. The first step to doing this is to create an environment where things can grow, so the first move a player makes is to create water tiles in their new world. Water makes all dirt tiles around it turn into grass, and trees can only be planted on grass. To plant a tree, the player pulls up on a grass tile and essentially plucks a fully-grown tree out of the ground. While this is clearly a few steps removed from reality, it feels close enough, and this familiarity helps create a stronger connection between the nature presented in the game and what the player expects from nature in the real world.
Trees that are next to each other can be combined to make a forest, which grows your world by adding a new row of land. In this way, the base relationship between water and trees are shown as being critical to growing a world. Groups of forests can be further combined to make a house, which introduces humans as part of the ecosystem in Valleys Between. While this is an incredibly simplified representation of nature to a few small mechanics in Valleys Between, it’s part of what makes it feel environmentally rich.
The game wouldn’t be very fun without something challenging you, so we decided to introduce the two sides of human influence on the environment. The first is a positive influence of creating a house by combining trees which helps your world grow and expand. However, as your world grows, we also introduce a negative influence in the form of factories and other man-made objects. Factories threaten the health of your world and they can spill oil to surrounding tiles if you leave them for too long. While there isn’t necessarily an easy action to fix things these things in our world, we wanted players to want to protect their world from these threats even if they can’t stop them from occurring. We also found in early playtests that people became very attached to the animals that wander their world, and this helped them feel connected to it, so we decided to tie these concepts together and have animals act as the primary protectors of your world. Animals wander throughout your world, and while you can influence their path, you aren’t able to control them directly. You can choose to use them to nurture and enhance a specific area, or use them to convert a factory to something that won’t damage the health of your world. Once you’ve used an animal, they fall asleep for a period of time so the player has to choose when to nurture and when to protect their world.
While these mechanics may seem to be quite a stretch from the real world, we’ve found that by taking inspirations from nature rather than literal representations, we’ve been able to craft an enjoyable game.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Niamh Fitzgerald is a producer and game designer at indie studio Little Lost Fox, based in Wellington, New Zealand. She organised the New Zealand Game Developer Conference in 2017 and 2018, and likes to combine her love of travel with game development by getting involved in game developer events around New Zealand and internationally.
 Released in 2018 by Little Lost Fox. Currently available for iPhone/iPad and coming soon to Android. Learn more at http://littlelostfox.com/
Magic the Gathering (MTG) is a popular trading and collectible card game, first published by Wizards of the Coast in 1993. Although the game now spans many formats and game types, the core concept pits two players “Planes-walkers” against each other, drawing power (mana) from plains, swamps, mountains, forests and islands to summon creatures and cast spells to battle and defeat opponents. The game has a complex and ever evolving set of rules. Wizards of the Coast regularly release new sets and blocks introducing new cards, mechanics and lore to the rich Multiverse, the planes of existence that Planeswalkers can travel between, that makes the games setting.
One aspect of the game which arguably underpins the continued success of MTG is the vibrancy and colour which gives flavour to the complex ruleset of the game. Storylines featuring several recurring characters, normally Planeswalkers, are told across novelisations, through flavour text and the beautiful artwork of the cards. The designers and artists liberally take inspiration for the denizens of the Multiverse from wider science-fiction, fantasy and of course the natural world.
Although your average game of MTG may feature battles between Inexorable Blobs, hammer wielding cat wizards and goblin bombers, more zoologically minded Planeswalkers may summon an Allosaurus, Hammerhead Shark or a Grizzly Bear or two to the fray. Of course, as numerous Journal of Geek Studies papers have highlighted (Salvador, 2014, 2018; Cavallari, 2015; Salvador & Cunha, 2016), cephalopod molluscs have also inspired the designers of MTG and this paper will look at known cephalopods from the Multiverse with some comments on differences between their biology and the cephalopods we’re more familiar with on our humble plane.
HERE WON’T BE KRAKENS
‘Squid’, octopuses and nautiluses have all featured in MTG so far on creature, other spell and even Planeswalkers cards. Krakens are also a creature type within the Multiverse but differ from the Kraken of historical and contemporary mythology, normally associated with giant squid or squid-like creatures. In MTG krakens are giant, island destroying, beasts which show a diversity of cetacean, arthropod and molluscan features amongst others. For this reason, krakens get an honourable mention here but won’t be examined as the mutating magical powers of the deep sea defy current systematic reasoning.
Mirroring trends in scientific research and literature on cephalopods, although they are culturally important organisms they make up a small niche of known creatures in the Multiverse. Unlike other creature types which have been a mainstay in MTG sets, cephalopod cards are comparatively rare. Cephalopod-themed cards were published as early as 1997 but it’s only comparatively recently that enough cards have been produced to attempt an all-cephalopod themed standard 60-card deck.
The different cards will be examined in a hybrid taxonomic and card type order starting with creature cards then moving onto enchantments, Planeswalkers and sorcery types. In total, excluding reprinted cards and art variants, there are 21 cephalopod-themed cards currently published for MTG: 14 creatures, 2 sorceries, 2 enchantments, 2 tokens and 1 Planeswalker.
A NOTE ON POWER LEVELS
In MTG the comparative power, strength and endurance of different creatures is expressed as a number on the bottom right hand of creature cards. The numerator represents the power of a creature (the amount of damage it can do by punching, slicing, psychically tormenting or oozing on a defending creature) and the denominator represents toughness (the amount of punching etc. it can take).
The power levels of various creatures of the Multiverse is the subject of much debate and mirth amongst players but for this paper the Grizzly Bear with the power/toughness 2/2 will be used as a baseline to make inferences about analogies between cephalopods from other planes and our own.
Perhaps unfairly maligned as hangers-on or ‘living fossils’ on our plane, today’s diversity of living species of nautiluses, the only externally shelled cephalopods, have inspired philosophers, artisans and scientists for centuries. The exact species diversity and relationships between them is still in flux, compounded by the difficulty in accessing and studying these organisms.
There are just two nautiluses in MTG, the Chambered Nautilus, which shares its name with a generic name used to refer to the whole living group, or sometimes, specifically Nautilus pompilius, and the Crystalline Nautilus (Fig. 1). Much like living nautiluses, which are nationally and internationally protected by law, the flavour text for chambered nautilus suggests that their shells are also exploited by jewellers on some planes at least:
“What’s merely a home for the nautilus can become exquisite jewelry in the hands of Saprazzan artisans.”
— Flavour text from Chambered Nautilus card.
Chambered nautiluses are 2/2 creatures in MTG and the card art shows one giving a merfolk an unwanted cuddle. The art and power level suggests that Magic’s nautiluses are significantly larger than living ones. Interestingly, they share a fleshy hood, numerous tentacles and a lenseless eye complete with iris groove for channelling mucus (Muntz, 1987).
By contrast the crystalline nautilus, masterfully depicted by artist Brad Rigney, suggests extreme adaptation unlike that of known nautiloid species. In the first instance, the crystalline nautilus is both a creature and enchantment and is shown with a vivid pearlescent shell similar to polished shells of nautiluses. The soft tissue anatomy is consistent with known species of Nautilus and Allonautilus; however, the crystalline nautilus is shown moving at speed over the surface of the water. This has never been documented in known species and furthermore, from the depiction, the hyponome plays no part in this high speed aquaplaning mode of locomotion. A power and toughness of 4/4 suggests that crystalline nautilus is significantly more durable and powerful than Magic’s chambered nautilus too.
As a general term, squid is often used for decapodiform cephalopods excluding cuttlefish which is not a natural grouping of these soft-bodied cephalopods. There are three squid creatures in MTG and two squid producing creatures. With the exception of Gulf Squid, the squid appear to have corneal membranes and are classified, albeit tentatively, here as myopsid squid.
The three squid creatures in MTG are the Fylamarid, Sand Squid and the intriguing Gulf Squid(Fig. 2). Sand Squid appear the most similar to known myopsid species albeit significantly larger than any known decapodiform cephalopod, depicted embracing a human-sized creature with thick, flat arms. Fylamarids are flying squid which appear to have evolved true sustained flight beyond the shorter bursts of flight in species of flying squid (Muramatsu et al., 2013) with adaptations of large wing like projections underneath the siphon region, huge lateral fins and vampire squid-like filament arms alongside usual arm array. The tentacles appear to have been lost, but they can squirt ink.
Although the Gulf Squid has been categorised as a squid by MTG (presumably informed by scholars from across the Multiverse), the gulf squid possesses a large ornamented spiral shell suggesting an ammonoid affinity or convergence. The direction of shell coiling with relation to the position of the aperture as well as the skin colour, suggests a close resemblance to another well-known fictitious cephalopod (Salvador, 2014). Further study of this group is required to confirm relationship with other known cephalopods from the Multiverse.
Likewise, Chasm Skulkers, categorised by MTG as a ‘squid horror’ also defies known relationships within Cephalopoda. Upon the death of a Chasm Skulker, a number of 1/1 squid creatures are created. It is unknown if these are symbiotic or parasitic cephalopods, who attack on the death of their ‘host’, or spontaneously created with magical forces. The last ‘squid’ card gives some insight into ecology in the oceans of different planes, summoning a Coral Barrier also brings with it a 1/1 squid creature consistent with reef species in our plane.
In terms of types of octopuses in MTG, which in some cases seems to be analogous to species, octopuses are the most speciose of known cephalopods from the Multiverse. There are six octopus creatures. Like cephalopods in our plane, the Multiverse also seems to be plagued with problematic naming conventions when it comes to octopus types.
In order of power, Crafty Octopus (Fig. 3) is the weakest octopus card, but like living species, makes up for it in terms of brain power. In addition to showing an advanced range of tool use, Crafty Octopus is also wearing glasses, steadfast evidence of intelligence in ethological studies.
The next octopus in terms of power is the Giant Octopus(Fig. 3), depicted at a size larger than buildings and capable of destroying ships with their arms. Although certainly giant by comparison to the largest known species of octopuses in our plane, the name may be a misnomer as they are the second smallest type of octopus in MTG, and therefore not biologically giant as defined by Klug et al. (2015). The flavour text for the various reprints of this card tell us many things. Firstly, that calamari is appreciated across the Multiverses and secondly with a quote from Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, that this influential volume has somehow also made its way across the Multiverse (or perhaps Verne walked the planes?).
Tied at 5/5 power and toughness are the ship-crushing Sealock Monster and multi-mouthed Godhunter Octopus(Fig. 4). Studying specimens of this size would have huge implications for understanding the evolution of colossal size in coleoid cephalopods. From a restricted glimpse of Godhunter octopuses, it appears they possess numerous toothed mouth-like openings, superficially similar to toothed sucker rings.
Moving up the power scale, the Elder Deep-Fiend (Fig. 4) is next, literally bursting from inside another creature which is handy in a pinch. The Elder Deep-Fiend shows some interesting anatomy similar to Godhunter Octopus with a toothed maw on the surface of the mantle rather than in the centre of arms. However, it’s important to note that this octopus is a physical manifestation formed from the ceaseless hunger of titans from the Blind Eternities so adherence to biological principles is not necessarily a given.
The last of the octopus creatures is Lorthos, the Tidemaker (Fig. 5) a whopping and cephalopod-theme pleasing 8/8 legendary creature. Unfortunately, last seen being dismembered by an Eldrazi titan, this unique specimen is presumed lost to science (Digges, 2015).
SORCERIES, ENCHANTMENTS & PLANES-WALKER KIORA
In addition to summoning creatures to go head to head with each other in magical conflicts, Planeswalkers can also use a variety of spells to tip the table in their favour and control the field of play. They can also summon other Planeswalkers to assist in battles. There are a number of cephalopod spells in MTG but unfortunately, their magical and ethereal nature defies existing classification systems and biological concepts.
Crush of Tentacles(Fig. 6; although crush of cephalopod arms appears to be more accurate) is a powerful sorcery spell that makes all other creatures disappear and, if you’ve got the mana to spare, summons an 8/8 octopus to boot. Octopus Umbra(Fig. 6) is an enchantment aura that can be used to give other creatures ‘the power of Octopus’ boosting them to 8/8 power and toughness with the ability to shut down creatures with a power less than 8 (see what they did there?).
Then there are two spells and one creature which cause pause for thought on cephalopod taxonomy. Quest for Ula’s Temple(Fig. 6), Whelming Wave and summoning Slinn Voda all affect creature types. Quest for Ula’s Temple becomes a tidal wave of creatures and the other two remove certain creatures from play. Interestingly, octopuses are the only cephalopods affected by these alongside aforementioned Krakens, Leviathans and Serpents. Quite why it’s only octopuses and not all cephalopods which are affected is currently unknown. Interestingly, Whelming Wave summons a… err… whelming wave, but octopuses are spared from its destructive power. This then allows them to take over the land presumably as happened recently in Wales (Ward, 2017).
The last cephalopod-themed card worth mentioning is Planeswalker Kiora. A merfolk Planeswalker, she has the power to summon 8/8 octopuses into battle and is depicted in both her Master of the Depths and Crashing Wave (Fig. 7) as keeping a suckered beast or two on hand at all times. A must-have ally for those wanting to literally bring more arms to the fight.
SO LONG SUCKERS
As of the time of writing, these are all the known cephalopod and cephalopod-related creatures, spells and Planeswalkers from the MTG Multiverse. In this examination there is some biological conservatism across planes of existence when it comes to cephalopod biology, anatomy and ecology. There are also some marked differences, which although may be biologically questionable, implausible or indeed impossible, they make for a fun game. There are still plenty of cephalopods yet to draw inspiration from including early fossil forms, cuttlefish, ram’s horn squid and bobtail squid. Here’s hoping that many more cephalopods will be making their way to a card table soon.
Cavallari, D.C. (2015) Shells and bytes: mollusks in the 16-bit era. Journal of Geek Studies 2(1): 28–43.
Digges, K. (2015) The Rise of Kozilek. Wizards of the Coast. Available from: https://magic.wizards. com/en/articles/archive/uncharted-realms/rise-kozilek-2015-12-09 (Date of access 12/10/2018).
Klug, C.; De Baets, K.; Kreoger, B.; Bell, M.A.; Korn, D.; Payne, J.L. (2015) Normal giants? Temporal and latitudinal shifts of Palaeozoicmarine invertebrate gigantism and global change. Lethaia 48: 267–288.
Muntz, W.R.A. (1987) A Possible function of the iris groove of Nautilus. In: Saunders, W.B. & Landman, N.H. (Eds.) Nautilus: The Biology and Palaeobiology of a Living Fossil. Plenum Press, New York. Pp. 245–247.
I’d like to thank ‘Worm Tongue’ Murphy, ‘Tap to Block’ Nick, ‘Read the Cards’ Andy and ‘Bobby’ Big Balls for hours of field testing these ideas and concepts. Special thanks go to the staff of Dark Sphere London for their patience in cephalopod card hunting.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Carnall is a natural history curator specialising in all living things across time which isn’t really a specialism. As a museum curator he knows better than most that there is no prying apart popular culture and science as they both feed on and into each other. All animals are the best but cephalopods are more best.
During his heroic career Superman fought several foes. Some of these stories are truly memorable, like The Death of Superman (1992–1993), when he faced Doomsday. But many stories just ended up completely forgotten. Granted, there are some stories that most fans prefer to forget, like the film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), but some are curious or weird enough to eventually deserve a fresh look. The story I’m about to tell you is one of the latter kind.
This one happened during the first years of the so-called Bronze Age of Comics (1970–1985). Comic books from the Bronze Age retained lots of elements and conventions from the preceding Silver Age, but started to introduce stories more in tune with social issues, like racism and drugs. Likewise, comics also began including environmental issues and this is the topic I will focus on here. More specifically, on extinction.
THE LAST MOA ON EARTH
It is the first story on Action Comics no. 425 (July 1973), written by Cary Bates, illustrated by Curt Swan and Frank Giacoia. It is called “The Last Moa on Earth!” and by the title alone, you can see it is about a giant extinct bird.
My goal here is to guide you through the story and offer some Biology inputs every now and then, explaining some things and “correcting” the bits the comics got wrong. I do know that writers should be free to invent and I wholeheartedly agree with that – it is science fiction after all! However, there are some sciency bits and pieces that are so simple to get right that there can be no excuse for giving the public wrong information.
The story starts off with hunter Jon Halaway in a New Zealand forest, being attacked by a giant flightless bird. He shoots and kills it, and decides to visit a local scientist (in Hawera, a town on the west coast of the North Island) to confirm his suspicions of the bird’s identity.
The scientist tells Halaway that he shot a bird thought to be extinct for 500 years and that there were once thousands of these animals in New Zealand. Both pieces of information are correct. Scientists estimated that there were circa 160,000 moa in New Zealand when Polynesian settlers arrived between 1,200 and 1,300 CE (Holdaway & Jacomb, 2000; Wilmshurst et al., 2010). There were nine species of moa in total and the Polynesians (who later became known as the Māori) had already extinguished them all by the early 1,400’s CE (Tennyson & Martinson, 2007; Perry et al., 2014).
The scientist then says that the bird was the largest of the moa species, Dinornismaximus. While indeed this species was likely the largest, it inhabited only the South Island of New Zealand. The species from the North Island, where Halaway was hunting, is called Dinornis novaezealandiae. So the writer got the species wrong, but we cannot truly blame him: tens of moa “species” were described throughout the years, mostly because of the huge difference in size between the sexes of some species confused early researchers. Thus, the classification of moa species was really messed up until genetic studies started to be conducted from the late 1990’s onwards.
On a similar note, D. maximus is actually an invalid name; the valid name for the South Island giant moa is D. robustus (Gill et al., 2010). That is because “D. maximus” was a second name given to describe the same species; to avoid confusion, only the first name ever used (D. robustus) is valid in these cases.
Halaway estimated the size of the slain moa at 12 feet (approximately 3.6 m), which is quite reasonable. The largest known specimens would have been 2 meters high at their backs or 3 meters high with their necks held straight up (something that they did not do; Tennyson & Martinson, 2007). Moreover, Halaway’s dead bird was a female, which are typically much larger than males in the two Dinornis species (Bunce et al., 2003; Tennyson & Martinson, 2007).
Box 1. What’s a moa anyway?
The moa belong to a group of birds called “ratites”, which also includes ostriches, emus, cassowaries, kiwi, rheas, and the extinct elephant birds. Recent research has shown that moa are not closely related to the other notable New Zealand ratites, the kiwi. Rather, they are closer to the charismatic South America tinamous (Mitchell et al., 2014; Yonezawa et al., 2017). Since tinamous still retain some ability to fly, the moa’s ancestor was actually a flying bird (Gibbs, 2016).
The loss of flight (alongside attaining a large body size) is a common occurrence on island environments where no mammalian predator is present. Other New Zealand species have also lost this ability; besides the kiwi (the typical example of a flightless bird), there are parrots (kakapo), rails (takahē) and wrens.
Halaway realizes that what he did was plain wrong. As mentioned above, during the Bronze Age comics became conscious of social and environmental problems – and extinction is a major problem, since it is usually our fault. This is important because, even though more than 350 years have elapsed after the last dodo was killed, most people still do not really grasp the idea that a species can disappear forever (Adams & Carwardine, 1900).
The “good” Mr. Halaway than devoted all his energy and resources into finding the slain moa’s egg. He succeeds and notes that the egg was being incubated in a hot spring with “strange fumes”. The egg was really big and appear egg-shaped in one panel and spherical in the other. Moa’s eggs were not spherical and not that large. Nevertheless, they were quite big and the largest known intact eggs are 20 and 25 cm tall (respectively, for the North Island and South Island Dinornis).
Halaway finally arrives in Metropolis, where he is interviewed by none other than Clark Kent. On the highway, Halaway tells Clark that he wants to redeem himself of his “unforgivable deed” and hope that scientists will figure a way to use the egg to produce more moa. The repented hunter then faints, just as the baby moa hatches and escapes, throwing the car off-balance and into a river.
Clark takes off his suit and glasses and, after he’s more comfortable in his supersuit, saves Halaway and takes him to a hospital. Now I will cut the whole weird plot short and just say that the moa created an “organic link” (whatever that is) with Halaway via a microorganism, and was draining his energy. Typical crazy comic book stuff, but that’s not the point here. So let’s get back to the baby moa.
Superman starts searching Metropolis for the runaway moa and eventually finds it flying. Yes, flying – without wings, the comic-book moa flies by “thrashing its feet at super-speed”. In fact, Superman notices that the moa can fly faster than a super-sonic jet.
Also, even though just a few hours had passed since the moa escaped, when Superman found it, the bird had already doubled in size. And these were not the only superpowers granted to the moa by the mysterious fumes.
Box 2. The moa’s archnemesis
The moa were herbivores, browsing on several types of leafy herbs, shrubs and trees (Wood et al., 2008). They were so abundant that it is thought their presence in New Zealand resulted in the evolution of a set of counter-measures in some plant lineages, which have small and hardened leaves, and sometimes also spines (Greenwood & Atkinson, 1977; Cooper et al., 1993; Worthy & Holdaway, 2002). But who ate the moa? Well, they were were so large that one would think they had no natural predators before the hungry Polynesians arrived. But that would be wrong – moa were hunted by giant eagles.
They are known as Haast’s eagles, after the naturalist who first described them, Sir Johann von Haast. They are the largest known true raptors, in both size and weight. They could reach a 2.6 m wingspan (somewhat smallish for their bulk) and 16 kg in weight, with females being larger (Brathwaite, 1992; Tennyson & Martinson, 2007). To hunt and eat their massive prey, Haast’s eagles had strong legs and feet, with huge claws. Unfortunately, these amazing birds could not survive after the moa became extinct and likely did not last much longer than 1,400 CE (Tennyson & Martinson, 2007).
The moa also gained the ability to use its feathers as projectiles that could even pierce an elephant’s hide (according to Superman). Needless to say, birds cannot do that unless they are also Pokémon. Finally, the moa could instantly regrow lost limbs, a feat that few heroes (and absolutely no birds) can achieve.
After some more fighting, Superman understands that the bird just wants to go back home – to that place with the fumes and the lonely pink flower. Superman realizes that the flower is a “Quixa blossom”, as he calls it, and says it is a rare plant found only in northwest New Zealand.
Since my knowledge of plants is fairly limited, I asked a New Zealand botanist for help with this one. I was told that there is no flower with that name in the country and actually nothing that even remotely looks like it.
In any event, Superman finds the moa’s home and takes it back there, thus stopping the energy draining effect and saving Halaway. Superman then proclaims the area a “moa preserve” and sets up a fence around it. A thoughtful move, but one that completely overlooks the fact that the supermoa could fly.
The story ends with Halaway saying that “the world owns the moa another chance for survival”. Unfortunately, reality is not so kind: our species has wiped the moa off the face of the Earth and there is no second chance.
Overall, if you ignore the superpowers and the “organic link” stuff, this Superman story is actually a nice portrayal of an extinct species and its tragic fate on the hands of humankind. If nothing else, I hope it has inspired a reader somewhere to become a scientist or to fight to preserve other endangered animals.
Adams, D. & Carwardine, M. (1990) Last Chance to See. William Heinemann, London.
Brathwaite, D.H. (1992) Notes on the weight, flying ability, habitat, and prey of Haast’s Eagle (Harpagornis moorei). Notornis 39: 239–247.
Bunce, M.; Worthy, T.H.; Ford, T.; Hoppitt, W.; Willerslev, E.; et al. (2003) Extreme reversed sexual size dimorphism in the extinct New Zealand moa Dinornis. Nature 425: 172–175.
Cooper, A.; Atkinson, I.A.E.; Lee, W.G.; Worthy, T.H. (1993) Evolution of the moa and their effect on the New Zealand flora. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 8: 433–437.
Mitchell, K.J.; Llamas, B.; Soubrier, J.; Rawlence, N.J.; Worthy, T.H.; et al. (2014) Ancient DNA reveals elephant birds and kiwi are sister taxa and clarifies ratite bird evolution. Science 344: 898–900.
Gibbs, G. (2016) Ghosts of Gondwana: The History of Life in New Zealand. Fully Revised Edition. Potton & Burton, Nelson.
Gill, B.J.; Bell, B.D.; Chambers, G.K.; Medway, D.G.; Palma, R.L.; et al. (2010) Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand, Norfolk and Macquairie Islands, and the Ross Dependency, Antarctica. Te Papa Press, Wellington.
Greenwood, R.M. & Atkinson, I.A.E. (1977) Evolution of divaricating plants in New Zealand in relation to moa browsing. Proceedings of the New Zealand Ecological Society 24: 21–33.
Holdaway, R.N. & Jacomb, C. (2000) Rapid extinction of the moas (Aves: Dinornithiformis): model, test, and implications. Science 287: 2250–2254.
Perry, G.L.W.; Wheeler, A.B.; Wood, J.R.; Wilmshurst, J.M. (2014) A high-precision chronology for the rapid extinction of New Zealand moa (Aves, Dinornithiformes). Quaternary Science Reviews 105: 126–135.
Tennyson, A. & Martinson, P. (2007) Extinct Birds of New Zealand. Te Papa Press, Wellington.
Wilmshurst, J.M.; Hunt, T.L.; Lipo, C.P.; Anderson, A.J. (2011) High-precision radiocarbon dating shows recent and rapid initial human colonization of East Polynesia. PNAS 108(5): 1815–1820.
Worthy, T.H. & Holdaway, R.N. (2002) The Lost World of the Moa: Prehistoric Life of New Zealand. Canterbury University, Christchurch.
Wood, J.R.; Rawlence, N.J.; Rogers, G.M.; Austin, J.J.; Worthy, T.H.; Cooper, A. (2008) Coprolite deposits reveal the diet and ecology of the extinct New Zealand megaherbivore moa (Aves, Dinornithiformes). Quaternary Science Reviews 27: 2593–2602.
Yonezawa, T.; Segawa, T.; Mori, H.; Campos, P.F.; Hongoh, Y.; et al. (2017) Phylogenomics and morphology of extinct paleognaths reveal the origin and evolution of the ratites. Current Biology 27: 68–77.
I am very grateful to Dr. Carlos Lehnebach for the help with flower, to Alan Tennyson for helping me to correct some mistakes on moa/eagle biology, and to Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa for allowing the usage of the photographs herein.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Rodrigo Salvador is a paleontologist/ zoologist who studies mollusks, but just happens to have a soft spot for giant flightless birds. He is a diehard DC Comics fan, but to be honest, he never really liked Superman. Instead, he prefers to read the stories of the caped crusader and his extensive Gotham “family”.
Dinornis means “terrible bird”, just like dinosaur means “terrible lizard”.
 The largest tibia (a leg bone) ever found belongs to this species, being 1 m long (Tennyson & Martinson, 2007).
 Tinamous are not typically included in the ratites group, rather being historically considered a separate (basal) lineage and grouped together with ratites in the more inclusive “palaeognaths” group. However, the work of Mitchell and collaborators (2014) have placed the tinamous well inside the ratites.
“The system of life on this planet is so astoundingly complex that it was a long time before man even realized that it was a system at all and that it wasn’t something that was just there.” ―Douglas Adams, 1990
Douglas Noel Adams was born on 11 March 1952 in Cambridge, UK, and grew up to become one of geekdom’s most revered icons. Adams is the author of… Well, that is pretty obvious and I should not have to write this down, but I will nonetheless, just because I won’t be able to sleep well otherwise. So bear with me for a moment – here goes: Adams is the author of the trilogy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the self-proclaimed world’s largest trilogy, with five books in total.
However, unbeknownst to many of his fans, Adams was also an environmental activist. He spearheaded or participated in several conservation initiatives, such as Save the Rhino International. His history with conservation started in 1985, when the World Wide Fund for Nature (better known as WWF) and British newspaper The Observer partnered up, sending writers to visit endangered species to raise public awareness (BBC, 2014). Adams travelled to Madagascar in search of a lemur species, the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis). As he put it, “My role, and one for which I was entirely qualified, was to be an extremely ignorant non-zoologist to whom everything that happened would come as a complete surprise” (LCtS: p. 1).
In Madagascar Adams met not only weird lemurs, but also British zoologist Mark Carwardine. They enjoyed the experience and decided to travel the world to see other endangered animals. I mean, Adams and Carwardine travelled the world, not the lemurs; the lemurs stayed in Madagascar as far as anyone can tell. According to Carwardine, “We put a big map of the world on a wall, Douglas stuck a pin in everywhere he fancied going, I stuck a pin in where all the endangered animals were, and we made a journey out of every place that had two pins” (BBC, 2014).
Their travels resulted in Last Chance to See, a BBC radio documentary series that aired in the end of 1989. The companion book (by Adams & Carwardine, 1990, henceforth abbreviated as “LCtS”) was published in the following year (Fig. 1). As a matter of fact, Adams considered this book as his favorite work (Adams, 2005).
Despite Adams’s calling himself an “ignorant non-zoologist”, world-renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins politely disagreed, writing: “Douglas was not just knowledgeable about science. He didn’t just make jokes about science. He had the mind of a scientist, he mined science deeply and brought to the surface… humour, and a style of wit that was simultaneously literary and scientific, and uniquely his own” (Dawkins, 2009: p. xiii).
Last Chance to See describes Adam’s and Carwardine’s travels around the globe to see nearly-extinct species, such as the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis) and the northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni). As one could expect, nearly all the species are mammals, since most of the public are primarily concerned with cuddly and relatable species. I, however, will focus here on the only bird on their list that got an entire chapter for itself. And I’ll do that for various reasons: (1) I am not very normal, so I am not that fond of smelly mammals; (2) it is a success story and people like success stories; and (3) this is a very funny-looking bird, I promise you.
This bird is called kakapo.
Mark Carwardine first described the kakapo to Douglas Adams as “the world’s largest, fattest and least-able-to-fly parrot” (LCtS: p. 7). His description might seem a little disparaging at first, but it was meant in an affectionate way – you cannot help but smile when you see a kakapo. Besides, Carwardine’s description is actually spot-on (Fig. 2).
According to Adams, “[the] kakapo is a bird out of time. If you look one in its large, round, greeny-brown face, it has a look of serenely innocent incomprehension that makes you want to hug it and tell it that everything will be all right” (LCtS: p. 108).
The kakapo (or kākāpō, in Māori or Te Reo spelling) is a nocturnal flightless bird and its face resemble that of an owl, with the eyes positioned more to the front. For this reason, it is also known as owl-parrot or night parrot. Kakapos have green feathers, speckled with black and yellow (Fig. 3).
Furthermore, kakapos are solitary birds, have a polygynous lek mating system (don’t panic, I’ll explain that later), lack male parental care, and breed in irregular intervals (with gaps of 2 to 7 years; Powlesland et al., 2006). Kakapos are so unique that ornithologists classified the species in its own family: Strigopidae. They are the very first lineage to have branched out of the parrot group (the Order Psittaciformes). Even their closest “relatives”, the kaka and the kea (also from New Zealand), are already considered to be very distinct from kakapos.
Being such an ancient lineage of parrots, researchers consider that it could have split off the rest of the parrot groups when New Zealand got separated from the what is now Australia and Antarctica around 80 million years ago (Gibbs, 2016). All the southern landmasses had been previously joined in the supercontinent Gondwana, which was made up of South America, Africa, India, Antarctica, Australia and Zealandia (Fig. 4) and was by that time finishing its separation.
This break up left Zealandia with no mammals and a bird “paradise” island started to take shape. It is considered that the kakapo followed the trend of oceanic island bird lineages (where nasty mammals are not present) to evolve larger and flightless forms (Powlesland et al., 2006). For instance, that happened with the lineages of the dodo, moa, and elephant bird.
I cannot overstate how weird kakapos are for a parrot – or for a bird, actually. Adams considered the kakapo the strangest and most intriguing of all the creatures he saw during his travels with Carwardine (LCtS: p. 105). So I’ll illustrate that by highlighting some aspects of its biology that are of broader interest or peculiar weirdness. If you, however, are looking for a complete guide to the species’ biology, do take a look at the work of Powlesland et al. (2006).
We already covered that kakapos are nocturnal and flightless, and thus have good hearing and sense of smell, alongside massive legs and feet to walk around and climb trees. Yes, they do not fly, but do climb trees to feed. Evolution works in mysterious ways, it seems. Elliot (2017) wrote: “They often leap from trees and flap their wings, but at best manage a controlled plummet.” I prefer, however, the way Douglas Adams put it: “it seems that not only has the kakapo forgotten how to fly, but it has forgotten that it has forgotten how to fly. Apparently a seriously worried kakapo will sometimes run up a tree and jump out of it, whereupon it flies like a brick and lands in a graceless heap on the ground” (LCtS: p. 109).
It seems kakapos are not able to follow the suggestion of the Hitchhiker’s Guide: “There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. (…) Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties” (Adams, 1982). Kakapos just constantly fail to miss the ground.
Overall, kakapos are quite large birds, weighing around 2 kg, but males may weigh up to 4 kg and be 40% larger than females (Eason et al., 2006; Elliot, 2017). Their life span is unknown, but is estimated at 60 to 90 years (Department of Conservation, 2018a, 2018b).
Kakapos are vegetarian and eat almost every possible parts of plants. In fact, they only breed in years with a good abundance of fruit (Cockrem, 2006; Elliot, 2017). In their current habitat, kakapo reproduction is tied with that of the rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum), an evergreen coniferous tree of the podocarp family (Fig. 5). These plants bloom together every 2 to 4 years (sometimes it takes more); the kakapos must wait for the rimu because they depend on its “fruits” (Fig. 6) to feed the chicks (Cockrem, 2006; Ballance, 2010).
Unlike any other parrot, kakapos are lek breeders. This behavior is common for other groups of birds and even other animals, though. It consists in males gathering relatively close to each other and starting a competition to show off to females. Birds can do this mainly by song or dance (or both), but might also include somersaults and flying maneuvers. Each female will chose the best performer (in their opinion at least) and successful males typically mate with more than one female during a single season.
Male kakapos sing to attract females. Or rather, they do something akin to “Pink Floyd studio out-takes” (LCtS: p. 111). The most common type of call produced by kakapos is called booming. This is a low-frequency (<100 Hz) resonant call, which can be heard up to 5 km away (Merton et al., 1984; Higgins, 1999). To produce this sound, male kakapos fill up internal air sacs; they can inflate until they look like a fluffy watermelon (Figs. 7, 8). Adams described the sound as a heartbeat, a powerful throb you felt before actually hearing it; and this gave the title to the kakapo’s own chapter in LCtS: “Heartbeats in the Night”.
Booming also serves to indicate the male’s overall location to the female. Once they are close by, males can produce a sharp metallic “ching” call to enable females to pinpoint their exact location (Powlesland et al., 2006). A good place to hear kakapo booming and chinging is New Zealand Birds Online (http://nzbirdsonline. org.nz/).
The female nests on the ground, either on a spot covered by dense vegetation or in natural cavities (Elliot, 2017). Kakapos usually lay 2 to 4 eggs and the female raise the chicks alone (Fig. 9; Cockrem, 2006; Powlesland et al., 2006). Young birds leave the nest within 2 to 3 months, but remain close to their mother’s home range until they are 6.5 to 8.5 months old (Farrimond et al, 2006; Powlesland et al., 2006).
So how do we summarize kakapos? Adams gives us a nice idea: “The kakapo (…) pursues its own eccentricities rather industriously and modestly. If you ask anybody who has worked with kakapos to describe them, they tend to use words like ‘innocent’ and ‘solemn’, even when it’s leaping helplessly out of a tree. This I find immensely appealing” (LCtS: p. 121).
Presently, the most famous kakapo is Sirocco, who became a YouTube star after he tried to mate with Carwardine’s head during the filming of the Last Chance to See TV series (Carwardine, 2010). Today, Sirocco is 21 years old and is the official “spokesbird” for conservation in New Zealand (Department of Conservation, 2018b), a title given to him by then Prime Minister John Key.
Kakapos were present in New Zealand long before humans arrived there: some subfossil bones have been dated from 2500 years ago (Wood, 2006). They were very common and lived throughout both the North and South Islands (Tipa, 2006), with few natural enemies. They were successful in their pre-human environment, but that was soon to change.
Polynesian settlers arrived in Aotearoa between 1200 and 1300 CE (Wilmshurst et al., 2010) and became known as the Māori. As typical of all humans, they brought domestic/pest species with them: dogs and rats.
As many island species, kakapos were only concerned with their known immediate predators; these mostly harmless birds were thus unprepared for a wave of invaders. Kakapos have the strategy of staying perfectly still when facing danger, which works fine against predators that rely on sight. However, this had little effect against dogs, which hunt by scent. The parrots were hunted for food and ornamentation (for instance, the Māori used the feathers in cloaks; Tipa, 2006) and the population declined. Polynesian rats also played a major role, preying upon defenseless kakapo eggs and chicks.
European settlers arrived on the 19th century and, as one might expect, colonization (and new mammalian predators, such as cats and mustelids) accelerated the species’ decline. The Europeans also brought naturalists, who collected specimens for study at museums (Fig. 10). British zoologist George Robert Gray officially named the kakapo Strigops habroptilus in 1845. Later naturalists (some already born in New Zealand) went further, observing live parrots in the wild and studying their natural history.
Already in the 1890’s, naturalists became aware that the species was heading towards extinction, so the first efforts in conservation (transferring animals to islands in Fiordland; Fig. 11) were undertaken (Hill & Hill, 1987). They failed and eventually the species fade out from the thoughts of New Zealanders, being considered extinct or nearly so (Ballance, 2010).
BUT DON’T PANIC
That lasted until the work of Williams (1956), which summarized all knowledge about the kakapo and brought it back to the spotlight. With this renewed interest, expeditions were formed to find the species in the southernmost reaches of New Zealand.
A serious take on conservation efforts started again in the 1970’s, when a population of around 200 kakapos was found on Stewart Island (Fig. 11; Powlesland et al., 2006). A new process of translocation and monitoring then began. During the 1980s and 1990s, the animals were all moved to predator-free islands: Codfish, Maud and Little Barrier (Fig. 11; Elliot, 2017). When Adams and Carwardine visited Codfish Island in 1992, there were only around 40 kakapos left (Ballance, 2010; Carwardine, 2010).
However, things started to look brighter after a review in the management of the species (Elliot et al., 2001). A strong and focused policy and full support of the government were essential during the decades since (Jansen, 2006). The kakapo population started to recover and can now be considered one of the greatest successes among global conservation programs – and a good example of how our species can, in fact, clean up after its own mess.
The last report, from June 2017, counted a total of 154 birds (Elliot, 2017), a number exceeding previous population simulations (Elliot, 2005). Recovering the kakapo from the brink of extinction was a feat, but more challenges remain. Presently, the species is considered as “critically endangered” according to the IUCN’s Red List (BirdLife International, 2016). Although this seems better, it is good to remember that this is just one step away from the “extinct in the wild” status in this classification scheme (which the kakapo held during two issues of the Red List in the mid-1990s). Presently, kakapos only survives on offshore islands and there is still lot of work to be done until we have a viable, and self-sustaining population that does not need human management.
Maybe just panic a little bit…
The kakapo is not the only endangered species in the New Zealand – everyone has heard about kiwis, at least. So what about all the other threatened species, birds and otherwise, in the country? Jansen (2006: 190) ominously wrote: “While extinction of kakapo is now less likely than 10 years ago, the future of the 600+ New Zealand species listed as acutely and chronically threatened (…) and that presently do not receive any management is by no means secure.” So yes, there is still a lot of work to be done.
But why should we care if some species go extinct? Why should we strive so much to save them? Carwardine (LCtS: p. 205) gave what Dawkins (2009) considered to be the typical explanations for business-minded humans: (1) we mess with the environment, everything go haywire, and that ultimately affects our survival, and (2) living beings have their uses as food, drugs, etc. However, Carwardine then presented his preferred explanation, one more typical of scientists and that we say to each other over coffee: we try to save them because they are cool. Or, as Carwardine put it: “There is one last reason for caring, and I believe no other is necessary. It is certainly the reason why so many people have devoted their lives to protecting the likes of rhinos, parakeets, kakapos and dolphins. And it is simply this: the world would be a poorer, darker, lonelier place without them” (LCtS: p. 206).
“Up until that point it hadn’t really clicked with man that an animal could just cease to exist. It was as if we hadn’t realised that if we kill something, it simply won’t be there anymore. Ever. As a result of the extinction of the dodo we are sadder and wiser.” ―Douglas Adams, 1990
Adams, D. (1982) Life, the Universe and Everything. Pan Books, London.
Adams, D. (2005) The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time. William Heinemann, London.
Adams, D. & Carwardine, M. (1990) Last Chance to See. William Heinemann, London. [Edition used here: 2009, by Arrow Books, London.]
Ballance, A. (2010) Kakapo: Rescued from the Brink of Extinction. Craig Potton, Nelson.
Elliott, G.P.; Jansen, P.W.; Merton, D.M. (2001) Intensive management of a critically endangered species: the kakapo. Biological Conservation 99: 121–133.
Farrimond, M.; Elliott, G.P.; Clout, M.N. (2006) Growth and fledging of kakapo. Notornis 53: 112–115.
Gibbs, G. (2016) Ghosts of Gondwana: The History of Life in New Zealand. Fully Revised Edition. Potton & Burton, Nelson.
Jansen, P.W. (2006) Kakapo recovery: the basis of decision-making. Notornis 53: 184–190.
Higgins, P.J. (1999) Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Vol. 4: Parrots to Dollarbird. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Hill, S. & Hill, J. (1987) Richard Henry of Resolution Island: a Biography. John McIndoe, Dunedin.
Merton, D.V.; Morris, R.D.; Atkinson, I.A.E. (1984) Lek behaviour in a parrot: the Kakapo Strigops habroptilus of New Zealand. Ibis 126: 277–283.
Powlesland, R.G.; Cockrem, J.F.; Merton, D.V. (2006) A parrot apart: the natural history of the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) and the context of its conservation management. Notornis 53: 3–26.
Tipa, R. (2006) Kakapo in Maori lore. Notornis 53: 193–194.
Williams, G.R. (1956) The kakapo (Strigops habroptilus, Gray): a review and re-appraisal of a near-extinct species. Notornis 7: 29–56.
Wilmshurst, J.M.; Hunt, T.L.; Lipo, C.P.; Anderson, A.J. (2011) High-precision radiocarbon dating shows recent and rapid initial human colonization of East Polynesia. PNAS 108(5): 1815–1820.
Wood, J.R. (2006) Subfossil kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) remains from near Gibraltar Rock, Cromwell Gorge, Central Otago, New Zealand. Notornis 53: 191–193.
I am very grateful to Colin Miskelly, Dylan van Winkel, the Department of Conservation, and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa for allowing the usage of their photographs herein.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Rodrigo Salvador is a biologist specializing in the classification and evolution of land snails. Yes, you might say, that has nothing to do with kakapos. But it so happens that the universe conspires to keep him entangled with bird work. As a scientist, he learned with Douglas Adams that knowing the right question is sometimes more important than knowing the answer.
 Or six, if you count And Another Thing… by Eoin Colfer (2009).
 Later, in 1992, a CD-ROM set was published, with photos and audio of Douglas Adams reading the book. In 2009, BBC released a TV series of Last Chance to See, in which British comedian Stephen Fry took the place of the late Adams.
 However, he soon changed the tone to blame flying birds instead: “There is something gripping about the idea that this creature has actually given up doing something that virtually every human being has yearned to do since the very first of us looked upwards. I think I find other birds rather irritating for the cocky ease with which they flit through the air as if it was nothing” (LCtS: p. 120).
Pocket Monsters or as they are better known, Pokémon, are playable monsters which first appeared in the 1990’s as a video game in Japan, but soon expanded worldwide. They are still very successful with numerous games, a TV series, comic books, movies, toys and collectibles, additionally to the trading card game and video games. Most recently the release of Pokémon GO, an augmented reality game for smartphones, meant that Pokémon became as popular as never before. The game launched in 2016 and almost 21 million users downloaded it in the very first week in the United States alone (Dorwald et al., 2017).
The games and TV series take place in regions inhabited by humans and Pokémon. Each Pokémon lives in a specific environment (forests, caves, deserts, mountains, fields, seas, beaches, mangroves, rivers, and marshes). The humans try to catch Pokémons with Pokéballs, a device that fits even the largest Pokémon but that is still small enough to be placed into a pocket, hence the name Pocket Monster (Whitehill et al., 2016). After Pokémon have been caught, they are put to fight against each other, just like in the real world, in which humans (unfortunately) let cockerels, crickets, or dogs fight (Marrow, 1995; Jacobs, 2011; Gibson, 2005). The origin of Pokémon goes back to the role-playing game created by Satoshi Tajiri and released by Nintendo for the Game Boy (Kent, 2001). Tajiri was not only a game developer, but like many Japanese adults, grew up catching insects as a child. He wanted to design a game so that every child in Japan could play and let their critters fight, even if they lived in areas which are too densely populated to find insects in the wild. This resulted in the 151 Pokémon in the first versions of the game (“first generation”), with each version adding more Pokémon.
Today, there are 807 Pokémon (seventh generation). Almost all are based on real organisms (mostly animals, but many plants as well), while some depict mythological creatures or objects (e.g., stones, keys). Each Pokémon belongs to one or two of the following 18 types: Normal, Fire, Fighting, Water, Flying, Grass, Poison, Electric, Ground, Psychic, Rock, Ice, Bug, Dragon, Ghost, Dark, Steel, and Fairy (Bulbapedia, 2018). All Pokémon in the game are oviparous, which means they all lay eggs; probably because the creator was fond of insects or just for practical reasons.
Certain Pokémon also evolve; however, this kind of evolution is not the same as the biological concept of evolution. In Pokémon evolution is largely synonymous to metamorphosis, such as when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. As this is the core concept of the game, almost all Pokémon evolve, not only the insects, but also mammals, rocks, and mythological creatures. Usually, they evolve with a complete or incomplete metamorphosis: either they just grow larger, or their look differs significantly between the adult and the young stages.
Insects are the largest group of organisms on earth (Zhang, 2011). There are more than one million described species of insects, of a total of 1.8 million known organisms (Zhang, 2011). They occupy all terrestrial environments (forests, fields, under the soil surface, and in the air) and freshwater; some are even found in the ocean. Additionally, they show a wide range of morphological and behavioral adaptations. This biodiversity is not reflected in the Pokémon world. In the present Generation VII, only 77 of the 807 Pokémon are “Bug type”: about 9.5% of all Pokémon. The aim of this work is to describe the entomological diversity of Pokémon based on taxonomic criteria of the classification of real insects.
The Pokédex was the source of primary information on Pokémon (Pokémon Website, 2018). The criteria to identify insects are either based on the type (Bug type) or morphology (resembles a real insect). Afterwards, the insect Pokémon were classified to the lowest possible taxonomic level (family, genus, or species) according to their real world counterparts. This classification of the Pokémon allowed the comparison of their biological data (such as ecological or morphological traits; Bulbapedia, 2018) with the current knowledge of real insects. The information of the biology of real insects is largely based on Borror et al. (1981).
Not all Bug types are insects; many of them represent other arthropods, like spiders, while some are from other invertebrate groups (Table 1). Also, five insect Pokémon do not belong to the Bug type (e.g., Trapinch (#328) is a Ground type; Table 2). In total, insects represent only 62 of the 807 Pokémon. In comparison, the vertebrate groups are overly well-represented by birds (61), mammals (232), reptiles (57), amphibians (23), and fishes (39) (Table 3).
Eleven insect orders are represented in the Pokémon world, namely Blattodea (with 1 Pokémon), Coleoptera (11), Diptera (3), Hemiptera (7), Hymenoptera (6), Lepidoptera (22), Mantodea (4), Neuroptera (3), Odonata (2), Orthoptera (2), Phasmatodea (1). They are listed below in systematic order.
Families: Libellulidae and Aeshnidae
Genera: Erythrodiplax and Anax
Yanma (#193) evolves to Yanmega (#469).
Yanma is a large, red dragonfly Pokémon. Like all dragonflies and damselflies, it lives near the water and hunts other insects for food. Yanma is territorial and prefers wooded and swampy areas. Based on its appearance, it belongs to the dragonfly family Libellulidae, and further to the genus Erythrodiplax Brauer, 1868.
Yanmega on the other hand is a large, dark green Pokémon. It is actually a different real-world species. Not only the colors are different, but also the morphology, like the appendages on the tip of the tail. Based on this, it belongs to the dragonfly family Aeshnidae, and to the genus Anax Leach, 1815. One could argue that it is based on Meganeura Martynov, 1932, a very large (wingspan up to 70 cm) but extinct dragonfly genus from the Carboniferous Period. However, the size alone should not be the indicator to classify the species, as many insectoid species are larger in the Pokémon world compared to the real world.
Scyther (#123) evolves to Scizor (#212, incl. Mega-Scizor).
Scyther is a bipedal, insectoid Pokémon. It is green with cream joints between its three body segments, one pair of wings and two large, white scythes as forearms. Scyther camouflages itself by its green color. Based on its appearance, it is classified as a praying mantis (or possible a mantidfly).
Scizor is also a bipedal, insectoid Pokémon. It is primarily red with grey, retractable forewings. Scizor’s arms end in large, round pincers. It appears to be based on a praying mantis, maybe with some references to flying red ants and wasp-mimicking mantidflies.
Although Scizor evolves from Scyther, they are very different and would actually be two different real-world species. Not only are the colors different, but also the morphology: the arms end in either scythes or pincers; Scyther has one pair of wings, Scizor has two.
Fomantis (#753) evolves to Lurantis (#754).
Fomantis is a plant-like and, at the same time, an insect-like Pokémon. Its main body is pink, with green hair, green tufts on the head, and green leaves as a collar. Fomantis is somewhat bipedal and is likely based on the orchid mantis Hymenopus coronatus Olivier, 1792 (Fig. 1), which is known for being able to mimic the orchid flower, along with the orchid itself.
Lurantis is also plant- and insect-like. It is pink, white, and green. Lurantis looks and smells like a flower, to attract and then attack foes (and prey). It also disguises itself as a Bug Pokémon for self-defense. Lurantis is likely based on the orchid mantis as well as the orchid flower itself, as it is impossible to say where the flower ends and the insect starts. Orchid mantises mimic parts of a flower, by making their legs look like flower petals. Well camouflaged, they can wait for their prey, which will visit the flower for nectar.
Pheromosa is a bipedal anthropomorphic Pokémon. It has a rather slender build and is mostly white. Pheromosa originates from the Ultra Desert dimension in Ultra Space. Pheromosa is based on generic cockroaches just after they have molted (Fig. 2); during this stage, the animals are pale and vulnerable until their exoskeleton hardens and darken.
Kricketot (#401) evolves to Kricketune (#402).
Kricketot is a bipedal, bug-like Pokémon. It has a red body with some black and white markings. By shaking its head and rubbing its antennae together, it can create a sound that it uses to communicate. Based on its appearance, it is a cricket.
Kricketune is also a bipedal Pokémon with an insectoid appearance, also primarily red with some black and tan colored markings. It can produce sound by rubbing its arms on the abdomen. Kricketune appears to be based on crickets due to their sound-producing ability, but it somewhat resembles a violin beetle.
Both Kricketot and Kricketune are depicted with only 4 limbs, whereas insects are largely defined by having exactly six legs.
Families: Gerridae and Fulgoridae
Surskit (#283) evolves to Masquerain (#284).
Surskit is a blue insectoid Pokémon with some pink markings. It produces some sort of syrup, which is exuded as a defense mechanism or to attract prey. This Pokémon can also secrete oil from the tips of its feet, which enables it to walk on water as though skating. Surskit usually inhabits ponds, rivers, and similar wetlands, where it feeds on microscopic, aquatic organisms. This Pokémon is based on water striders. However, a water strider does not ooze syrup and neither does it need oil to walk on water; it can walk on water due to the natural surface tension.
Masquerain is a light blue Pokémon with two pairs of wings. On either side of its head is a large antenna that resembles an angry eye. These eyespots are used by many real-life moths and lantern-flies to confuse and intimidate would-be predators. Masquerain is in fact based on a lantern-fly.
Both “species”, water striders and lantern-flies, are only distantly related, belonging to two different families within the “true bugs” (Hemiptera).
Nincada (#290) evolves to Ninjask (#291) and then to Shedinja (#292).
Nincada is a small, whitish, insectoid Pokémon. The claws are used to carve the roots of tree and absorb water and nutrients. Nincada builds underground nests by the roots of trees. It is based on a cicada nymph, which lives underneath the soil surface. However, a cicada nymph usually does not have fully developed wings. Instead, they have short wing stubs which eventually will become fully functional wings – as usual amongst hemimetabolous insects.
Ninjask is a small, cicada-like Pokémon with two pairs of wings. Its body is mostly black with some yellow and grey markings. Ninjask is a very fast Pokémon and it can seem invisible due to its high speed. It is based on an adult cicada, with the colors somewhat resembling Neotibicen dorsatus (Say, 1825) (Fig. 3).
Shedinja is a brown and grey insectoid Pokémon. A hole between its wings reveals that its body is completely hollow and dark, as it possesses no internal organs. It is based on the shed husk (exuvia) that cicadas and other hemimetabolous insects leave behind when they molt.
Paras (#046) evolves to Parasect (#047).
Paras is an orange insectoid Pokémon with an ovoid body. On the top it has two little red and yellow mushrooms known as tōchūkasō. The mushrooms can be removed at any time, and grow from spores that are doused on this Pokémon’s back at its birth by the mushroom on its mother’s back. Tōchūkasō is an endoparasitoid that replaces the host tissue and can affect the behavior of its insect host. The base insect is based on a cicada nymph. The real-world tōchūkasō live on hepialid caterpillars in Tibet. However, there are many more species of entomopathogenic fungi in the world, most notable the genus Cordyceps (L.) Fr. (1818).
Parasect is an orange, insectoid Pokémon that has been completely overtaken by the tōchūkasō mushroom. The adult insect has been drained of nutrients and is now under the control of the fully-grown tōchūkasō. Parasect can thrive in dank forests with a suitable amount of humidity for growing fungi. The base insect is a deformed version of what is probably a cicada nymph, the parasitic mushroom having caused a form of neoteny, when the adults look like a juvenile form.
Trapinch (#328) evolves to Vibrava (#329) and then to Flygon (#330).
Trapinch is an orange, insectoid Pokémon. This Pokémon lives in arid deserts, where it builds its nest in a bowl-shaped pit dug in sand. It sits in its nest and waits for prey to stumble inside. Once inside, the prey cannot climb back out. It is based on the larval stage of the antlion, which lives in conical sandy pits before maturing into winged adults.
Vibrava is a dragonfly-like Pokémon. Vibrava’s wings are not fully developed, so it is unable to fly very far. However, it is able to create vibrations and ultrasonic waves with its wings, causing its prey to faint. Vibrava is a saprotroph – it spits stomach acid to melt its prey before consumption. Vibrava is based on the adult stage of an antlion. Adult antlions and dragonflies look from a distance quite similar and are therefore often mistaken for each other.
Flygon is a desert-dwelling insectoid dragon with a green body and one pair of wings. Its wings make a “singing” sound when they are flapped. It uses this unique ability to attract prey, stranding them before it attacks. It is based on the winged, adult stage of the antlion.
Pinsir (#127, incl. Mega-Pinsir).
Pinsir is a bipedal beetle-like Pokémon with a brown body and a large pair of grey, spiky pincers on top of its head. Pinsir is based on a stag beetle.
Grubbin (#736) evolves to Charjabug (#737) and then to Vikavolt (#738).
Grubbin is a small insectoid Pokémon. It has a white body with three nubs on either side resembling simple legs. Grubbin typically lives underground. It uses its jaw as a weapon, a tool for burrowing, and for extracting sap from trees. Grubbin appears to be based on a larval beetle, also known as “grubs”.
Charjabug is a small cubic Pokémon resembling an insect-like battery. Its body consists of three square segments with two brown stubs on each side. It generates and stores electricity in its body by digesting food. This energy is stored in an electric sac. Charjabug appears to be based on a cocooned bug and a battery. It may also be based on the denkimushi (Monema flavescens Walker, 1855), a caterpillar in Japan that, when touched, can give a sting that is said to feel like an electric shock (Fig. 4).
Vikavolt is a beetle-like Pokémon with a large pair of mandibles. It produces electricity with an organ in its abdomen, and fires powerful electric beams from its huge jaws. Vikavolt appears to be based on a stag beetle. Its straight, scissor-like mandibles resemble those of Lucanus hayashii Nagai, 2000.
Ledyba (#165) evolves to Ledian (#166).
Ledyba is a red ladybird-like Pokémon with five black spots on its back. Female Ledyba have shorter antennae than male Ledyba. Ledyba is a very social Pokémon, e.g. in the winter they gather together to keep each other warm. Ledyba is probably based on the five-point ladybird Coccinella quinquepunctata Linnaeus, 1758 due to its color and/or on the harlequin ladybird Harmonia axyridis (Pallas, 1773), which clusters together in the winter.
Ledian is a large red bipedal ladybird-like Pokémon. Female Ledians’ antennae are shorter than the males’. Ledian sleeps in forests during daytime inside a big leaf.
Heracross (#214, incl. Mega-Heracross).
Heracross is a bipedal beetle-like Pokémon with a blue exoskeleton. The prolonged horn on its forehead ends in a cross-shaped (males) or heart-shape (females) structure. Heracross is most likely based on the Japanese rhinoceros beetle Allomyrina dichotoma Linneaus, 1771 (Fig. 5).
Volbeat (#313) and Illumise (#314).
Volbeat is a bipedal firefly-like Pokémon. Its body is black with some blue, yellow, and red portions. It has a spherical yellow tail, which glows to communicate and draws geometric patterns in the sky while in a swarm. This is a male only Pokémon “species”; Illumise is its female counterpart. Volbeat lives in forests near clean ponds and is attracted by the sweet aroma given off by Illumise. It is based on a firefly like its counterpart Illumise. Its appearance may be based on a greaser, a subculture from the 1950’s.
Illumise is a bipedal firefly-like Pokémon. It is black and blue with some yellow markings. This is a female only Pokémon “species”; Volbeat is its male counterpart. It is a nocturnal Pokémon that lives in forests. Illumise does not seem to share its coloring with any particular species. Illumise may be based on flappers, a 1920’s women’s style. Its mating behavior only slightly resembles the behavior of real-world fireflies, in which females use light signals to attract mates.
Karrablast (#588) evolves to Escavalier (#589).
Karrablast is a round bipedal Pokémon with a yellow and blue body. When it senses danger, it spews an acidic liquid from its mouth. It targets another Pokémon, Shelmet, so it can evolve. It resides in forests and fields, and it often hides in trees or grass if threatened. Karrablast may be based on a Japanese snail-eating beetle due to its preference for attacking Shelmet, a snail-like Pokémon.
Escavalier is an insectoid Pokémon wearing a knight’s helmet. Its tough armor protects its entire body. It flies around at high speed, jabbing foes with its lances. Escavalier is probably based on the Drilus Olivier, 1790 genus, with references to a jousting knight. Drilus larvae are known for eating snails and stealing their shells, explaining why it attacks Shelmet and takes its shell to evolve into Karrablast.
Weedle (#013) evolves to Kakuna (#014) and then to Beedrill (#015, incl. Mega-Bedrill).
Weedle is a small larval Pokémon with a body ranging in color from yellow to reddish-brown. It has a conical venomous stinger on its head and a barbed one on its tail to fend off enemies. Weedle can be found in forests and usually hides in grass, bushes, and under the leaves it eats. Weedle appears to be based on the larva of a wasp or hornet, although these real-world larvae usually don’t have defense strategies. The only larvae which feed directly off leaves are those of sawflies.
Kakuna is a yellow cocoon-like Pokémon. Kakuna remains virtually immobile and waits for its “evolution” to happen, often hanging from tree branches by long strands of silk. Although Kakuna is the pupa stage of a Hymenoptera, it showcases a silky cocoon, a feature usually found in Lepidoptera and only some Hymenoptera, like sawflies.
Beedrill is a bipedal, wasp-like Pokémon. Its forelegs are tipped with long, conical stingers. It stands on its other two legs, which are long, segmented, and insectoid in shape. Beedrill has two pairs of rounded, veined wings, and another stinger on its yellow-and-black striped abdomen. By its color pattern, Beedrill looks like a vespid wasp, but due to the previous stages of this Pokémon species, it must be based on Tenthredo scrophulariae Linneaus, 1758, the figwort sawfly.
Combee (#415) evolves to Vespiquen (#416, female).
Combee is a small insectoid Pokémon that resembles three social bees inside three hexagonal pieces of honeycomb stuck together; the top two have wings. Female Combee have a red spot on the forehead. Male Combee are not known to evolve into or from any other Pokémon. The sex ratio of Combee is 87.5% male and 12.5% female. Combee can fly with its two wings as long as the top two bees coordinate their flapping. They gather honey, sleep, or protect the queen. Combee is based on a mix of bees and their larvae living in honeycombs. (Bees arrange their honeycombs in a vertical manner, whereas wasps arrange them horizontally.)
In the hive of the real-world honey bee (Apis mellifera Linneaus, 1758), there is usually one queen bee and up to 40.000 female workers. So, the sex ratio of Combee does not reflect the ratio of female (workers) and male (drones) honey bees, but of the reproductive bees, the drones and the fertile queens. The larger number of drones is needed, since each queen will often mate with 10–15 males before she starts a new hive. Usually, drones can make up to 5% of the bees in a hive.
Vespiquen is a bipedal bee-like Pokémon with a yellow and black striped abdomen resembling an elegant ballroom gown. Underneath the expansive abdomen are honeycomb-like cells that serve as a nest for baby Combee. Vespiquen is a female-only Pokémon “species”. Vespiquen is the queen of a Combee hive, controlling it and protecting it, as well as giving birth to young Combee. The horizontal honeycombs hints that this “species” is a wasp rather than a bee.
Durant is an ant-like Pokémon with a grey body and six black legs. It is territorial, lives in colonies and digs underground mazes. Durant grows steel armor to protect itself from predators. Durant is based on an ant, possibly the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile Mayr, 1868), due to the jaw and their invasive behavior.
Caterpie (#010) evolves to Metapod (#011) and then to Butterfree (#012).
Caterpie is a green caterpillar-like Pokémon. It has yellow ring-shaped markings down the sides of its body and bright red “antenna” (osmeterium) on its head, which releases a foul odor to repel predators. The appearance of Caterpie helps to startle predators; Caterpie is probably based on Papilio xuthus Linnaeus, 1767, the Asian swallowtail (Fig. 6). The osmeterium is a unique feature of swallowtails. Caterpie will shed its skin many times before finally cocooning itself in thick silk. Its primary diet are plants.
Metapod is a green chrysalis Pokémon. Its crescent shape is based upon a Swallowtail chrysalis with a large nose-like protrusion and side protrusions resembling a Polydamas Swallowtail or Pipevine Swallowtail chrysalis (genus Battus Scopoli, 1777).
Butterfree is a butterfly Pokémon with a purple body and large, white wings, somewhat resembling a black-veined white Aporia crataegi (Linneaus, 1758). Although it is supposed to be a butterfly, it lacks the proboscis, which is typical of Lepidoptera, and presents teeth instead. Additionally, the body does not consist of the typical three segments of insects. Therefore, each stage seems to be based on a different species.
Families: Geometridae and Arctiidae
Venonat (#048) evolves to Venomoth (#049).
Venonat has a round body covered in purple fur, which can release poison. It feeds on small insects, the only Lepidoptera caterpillar which is known to feed on prey instead of leaves belong the genus Eupethecia Grote, 1882 (Geometridae). However, Venonat does not resemble a caterpillar in general body shape or numbers of legs.
Venomoth is a moth-like Pokémon with a light purple body and interestingly two small mandibles. It has two pairs of wings, which are covered in dust-like, purple scales, although the color varies depending on their toxic capability. Dark scales are poisonous, while lighter scales can cause paralysis. These scales are released when Venomoth flutters its wings. The general appearance resembles species belonging to the Actiidae.
There is no cocoon stage for this species it is doubtful whether both stages were based on the same real-life species.
Scatterbug (#664) evolves to Spewpa (#665) and then to Vivillon (#666).
Scatterbug is a small caterpillar Pokémon with a grey body. If threatened by a bird Pokémon, it can spew a powder that paralyzes on contact. Similarly, the large white butterfly Pieris brassicae (Linneaus, 1758) is known to throw up a fluid of semi-digested cabbage, which contains compounds that smell and taste unpleasant to predators, such as birds.
Spewpa is a small insectoid Pokémon with a grey body covered by white furry material. In order to defend itself, Spewpa will bristle its “fur” to threaten predators or spray powder at them. Spewpa is based on a generic pupa of a moth or butterfly, probably a silkworm cocoon.
Vivillon is a butterfly-like Pokémon with wings that come in a large variety of patterns, depending in which climate it lives or rather, in which real-world region the player is. There is a total of 20 patterns known. It would be interesting to know whether they evolved due to allopatric speciation or if it is a case of mimicry.
Pineco (#204) evolves to Forretress (#205).
Pineco is a pine cone-like Pokémon without visible limbs. It is based on a bagworm, the caterpillar stage of psychid Lepidoptera. Bagworms cover themselves with a case (the bag) made of surrounding material. This Pokémon uses tree bark and thus resembles a pine cone.
Forretress is a large spherical Pokémon, also without any visible limbs. It lives in forests, attaching itself immovably to tree trunks. Forretrees is also based on a bagworm.
Different bagworm species are adapted to their environment, to the plants they eat, and to the materials available for producing their case. Therefore, Pineco and Forretress are actually based on two different species, as they both are caterpillars. There is no adult stage for this Pokémon.
Burmy (#412) evolves to Wormadam (#413, female) or Mothim (#414, male).
Burmy is a small pupa-shaped Pokémon with a black body and six stubby legs. It is based on a bagworm pupa, which will metamorphose into a winged moth if male, or wingless moth if female. Burmy can change its “cloak” (case) depending on the environment it last battled.
Wormadam is a black bagworm-like Pokémon with a cloak of leaves, sand, or building insulation. Its cloak depends on Burmy’s cloak when it evolved, and so does it type (Grass, Ground or Steel). It is a female-only “species”, with Mothim as its male counterpart. Female psychid moth either don’t have wings at all or have only small wing stubs that don’t develop fully.
Mothim is a moth-like Pokémon with two pairs of legs and two pairs of wings, one larger than the other. Mothim is a nomadic nocturnal Pokémon, searching for honey and nectar. Instead of gathering honey on its own, it raids the hives of Combee. It is a male-only “species”, with Wormadam as its female counterpart.
Wurmple (#265) evolves to Silcoon (#266) and then to Beautifly (#267).
Wurmple is a small caterpillar-like Pokémon with a mostly red body and many spikes on the top of its body. It can spit a white silk that turns gooey when exposed to air. Spikes or hairy appendages are common amongst nymphalid caterpillars. Also, it has five pairs of legs, whereas insects are known to have only three pairs of legs. However, many lepidopteran caterpillars have additionally “prolegs” (small fleshy stub-like structures) to help them move.
Silcoon is a cocoon-like Pokémon which is completely covered by white silk. Silcoon also uses the silk to attach itself to tree branches. Nymphalid cocoons are usually not woolly or hairy, but smooth.
Beautifly is a butterfly-like Pokémon with two pairs of wings. Beautifly has a long and curled black proboscis that it uses to drain body fluids from its prey. In the real world, Lepidoptera usually drink the nectar of flowers. One of the few exceptions are the species of the genus Calyptra Ochsenheimer, 1816, which pierce skin of animals and drink blood.
Wurmple (#265) evolves to Cascoon (#268) and then to Dustox (#269).
The caterpillar stage of this species is morphologically identical to the caterpillar stage of the “species” above: Wurmple. It appears that Wurmple can evolve in two forms: due to mimicry, sympatric speciation or are there morphological or biological characters, which have not been notices yet?
Cascoon is a round cocoon-like Pokémon covered in purple silk. Saturniid cocoons are usually covered in silk.
Dustox is a moth-like Pokémon. It has a purple body, two pairs of tattered green wings, and – just like Beautifly – two pairs of legs. Dustox is nocturnal and is instinctively drawn to light. Clearly, this is a moth. Some of the markings on its wings resemble typical markings of noctuid moths, but the big “fake eye” is typical of saturniids.
Larvesta (#636) evolves to Volcarona (#367).
Larvesta is a fuzzy caterpillar-like Pokémon. It has five red horns on the sides of its head, which it can use to spit fire as a defensive tactic to deter predators. Larvesta is based on a saturniid caterpillar.
Volcarona is a large moth-like Pokémon with four small feet and three pairs of wings. It releases fiery scales from its wings. Just like Larvesta, Volcarona is based on a saturniid moth, likely the Atlas moth Attacus atlas (Linneaus, 1758).
Cutiefly (#742) evolves to Ribombee (#743).
Cutiefly is a tiny Pokémon with large wings. Cutiefly appears to be based on the bee fly, specifically the species Anastoechus nitidulus (Fabricius, 1794) (Fig. 7).
Ribombee is a tiny insectoid Pokémon with a large head, slightly smaller body, and thin arms and legs. It is covered in fluffy yellow hair. Two wings nearly as large as its body sprout from its back. The wings are clear with three brown loop designs near the base. Its four thin limbs have bulbous hands or feet. Ribombee uses its fluffy hair to hold the pollen it collects from flowers. It is based on a bee fly.
Buzzwole is a bipedal anthropomorphic Pokémon. It has four legs and two pairs of orange translucent wings. It uses its proboscis to stab and then drink “energy” off its enemies/prey. Buzzwole originates from the Ultra Desert dimension in Ultra Space. It is based on a mosquito and may specifically derive inspiration from Aedes albopictus (Skuse, 1894), which is an invasive species worldwide.
Mixed Orders: Lepidoptera and Phasmatodea
Families: Tortricidae, Hesperiidae, and Phylliidae
Sewaddle (#540) evolves to Swadloon (#541) and then to Leavanny (#542).
Sewaddle is a caterpillar-like Pokémon with a green body with three pairs of legs. It makes leafy “clothes” using chewed-up leaves and a thread-like substance it produces from its mouth. The leafy hood helps Sewaddle to hide from enemies. Sewaddle appears to be based on the caterpillar of the silver-spotted skipper Epargyreus clarus (Cramer, 1775), which produce silk and fold leaves over themselves for shelter (Fig. 8).
Swadloon is a round yellow Pokémon inside of a cloak of leaves. It lives on the forest ground and feeds on fallen leaves. Swadloon appears to be based on the chrysalis of Epargyreus clarus. Epargyreus clarus fold leaves over themselves for shelter as they age and, when cocooning, eventually use silk to stick the leaves together and form its chrysalis.
Leavanny is a bipedal, insectoid Pokémon with a yellow and green body with leaf-like limbs. It lives in forests and uses its cutters and sticky silk it produces to create leafy “clothing”. It also warms its eggs with fermenting fallen leaves. Leavanny has the features of several insects. Primarily it appears to be a bipedal leaf-insect (Phylliidae). Its general body structure is also similar to that of Choeradodis Serville, 1831 mantises, which also have laterally expanded thoraxes and abdomens.
Only 11 insect orders (out of 30) are represented in the Pokémon world. Possible more, as differentiation of insect Pokémon and non-insect Pokémon are sometimes difficult. The main reason is, that many insect Pokémon are not depicted as a typical insect with its segmented body, the six legs, and two pairs of wings. Many are depicted as bipedal (e.g., #401 Kricketot) or even in an anthropomorphic way (e.g., #795 Pheromosa). Also, insectoid Pokémon typically have only four limbs (instead of six). Many insectoid Pokémon also have fewer wings than insects (except for #637 Volcarona, which has more). Therefore, the definition of what is an insect Pokémon is debatable.
One clue is to look at the types each Pokémon belongs to. However, from the circa 80 Bug-type Pokémon, only about 60 are insects. The others belong to other arthropods groups, like Chelicerata, Crustacea, and Myriapoda. This is not surprising, as often creepy crawlies (basically everything that is small with legs) are all addressed as “bugs”. In fact, only member of the insect order Hemiptera are called “true bugs”.
Interestingly, Prado & Almeida (2017) have included Pokémon on their insect list, which are doubtful: #251 Celebi, #247 Pupitar, and #206 Dunsparce. None of them are considered insects here. Celebi may resemble a bipedal somewhat anthropomorphic insectoid, but nothing of the lifestyle or beyond the vague appearance gives a clue to an insect. Similarly, #247 Pupitar, might look like a pupa of an insect. However, both its “larval” stage (#256 Larvitar) and its final stage (#248 Tyranitar) resemble a dinosaur or some sort of dragon. Only the hint of “pupa” in its name, links Pupitar to an insect. Lastly, #206 Dunsparce was classified as a Hymenoptera by Prado & Almeida (2017). Is may look somewhat like an insect, even showing two pairs of wings (and no legs at all). Dunsparce, however, is based on a mythical “snake-like animal” called Tsuchinoko, also known as “bachi hebi” (or “bee snake”). Finally, Prado & Almeida (2017) have classified #212 Scizor as “unknown”, but here it is treated as a praying mantis (Mantodea). Similarly, those authors have classified #284 Masquerain as a Lepidoptera, but here we treat is as a true bug (Hemiptera).
Lastly, #649 Genesect resembles somewhat an ant covered by steel. However, according to the Pokédex (Pokémon Website, 2018), it is a man-made machine.
Compared to the vertebrates (birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes), many more insects live on earth (66,000 described species to about 1 million, respectively; Zhang, 2011). This ratio is, however, not represented in the Pokémon world (Table 3), most likely due to the fact that the majority of people prefer (cute and cuddly) furry animals over creepy insects, even though butterflies and dragonflies are regarded as beautiful.
Borror, D.J.; DeLong, D.M.; Triplehorn, C.A. (1981) An Introduction to the Study of Insects. Saunders College, Philadelphia.
Bulbapedia (2018) The community driven Pokémon encyclopedia. Available from: http://bulbaped ia.bulbagarden.net/ (Date of access: 10/Sep/ 2018).
Dorward, L.J.; Mittermeier, J.C.; Sandbrook, C.; Spooner, F. (2017) Pokémon GO: benefits, costs, and lessons for the conservation movement. Conservation Letters 10(1): 160–165.
Gibson, H. (2005) Detailed Discussion of Dog Fighting. Michigan State University, East Lansing.
Kent, S.L. (2001) The Ultimate History of Video Games. Crown Publishing Group, New York.
Morrow, L. (1995) History they don’t teach you: a tradition of cockfighting. White River Valley Historical Quarterly 35(2): 5–15.
Official Pokémon Website, The. (2018) The Official Pokémon Website. Available from: http://poke mon.com/ (Date of access: 10/Sep/2018).
Prado, A.W. & Almeida, T.F.A. (2017) Arthropod diversity in Pokémon. Journal of Geek Studies 4(2): 41–52.
Whitehill, S.; Neves, L.; Fang, K.; Silvestri, C. (2016) Pokémon: Visual Companion. Pokémon Company International / Dorling Kindersley, London.
Zhang, Z.-Q. (2011) Animal biodiversity: an outline of higher-level classification and survey of taxonomic richness. Zootaxa 3703: 1–82.
I am grateful to Seth Ausubel (https://www. flickr.com/photos/96697202@N07/collections) for kindly granting permission to use his photograph of Epargyreus clarus on this article. I would also like to thank Miles Zhang for valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Rebecca Kittel is an entomologist working on parasitoid wasps. She is interested in all sorts of interactions of insects with human beings, regardless of whether they are real-life insects or purely fictional.
 Not all insects have two pairs of wings, though. For instance, the Diptera (flies) have only one, while the Siphonaptera (fleas) have none.
The diversity of the World of Ice and Fire (Westeros, Essos and the other continents combined) is remarkable. All kinds of species of animals and plants are known, including some mythical creatures. The purpose of this contribution is to provide a system of nomenclature for the most important animal species from the World of Ice and Fire. This new system is based on the High Valyrian language, and aims to provide a set of names that can be applied to the various species of life that survived, or even became extinct, in this world.
The World of Ice and Fire is a fictional world. Although most of the wild and domesticated animals are the same or similar to our own, there several animals that are unique to it. Also, more than one ‘species’ of humans survive in this world, now mostly isolated in remote islands like Ibben and the Sothoryos. The Common Tongue, spoken mainly in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, is given to us through the books in English; but this doesn’t mean that it is English. Even if a direwolf is called a direwolf in the books, it probably sounded differently in the Common Tongue.
Back to our world, following the pioneering work of C. Linnaeus in 1758 the need of a stable and universal system of biological nomenclature became necessary. Since then, a set of rules has been created, revised, used and applied to Zoological Nomenclature, forming the so-called International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN, or simply ‘the Code’). The latest edition was published in 1999, and some parts of the Code have been recently (2012) amended to include names and acts published in electronic-only journals.
I will briefly present the main features of this system of nomenclature for those not entirely familiar with it. The backbone concept of nomenclature is the binomen: each species name is formed by two components, the genus name and the specific name; both are written in italics and the genus name is capitalized (e.g., Homo sapiens). The ICZN offers a graphical summary of the whole process of naming animal taxa, which is summarized in Box 1 below. The reader should, of course, consult the Code for further details.
Box 1. Basic steps for naming taxa
The name must be contained in a published work (published sensu the ICZN);
The name must be available (sensu the ICZN);
The name must be properly formed, following the instructions of the ICZN.
Names that do not conform these rules are unavailable names (including the so-called ‘naked names’), and can be made available later for the same or different concept. If these conditions are met, the available names enter the zoological literature. Once part of the literature, the names ‘compete’ for validity, which mainly refers to the so-called ‘Principle of Priority’. Simply put, the oldest available name applied to a taxon is the valid name for this taxon (Art. 23.1, ICZN). The other names are invalid names, including synonyms, homonyms, and dubious names. Of course, in real life things are not so simple, as there are several exemptions from these rules and a multitude of complicated cases; the Code contains numerous articles and examples that try to account for all these situations.
Obviously, the purpose of this article is to propose a set of names for the animals of the World of Ice and Fire, but a curious reader might ask: do those names also become part of the ‘real life’ zoological nomenclature? The answer is no, these names will not form part of the zoological nomenclature for the main following reasons:
As the Journal of Geek Studies is an electronic publication, any name (or nomenclatural act) published in it should conform to the rules of Art. 8.5 (ICZN) for works published/distributed electronically. But it fails to conform to the provisions of the sub-article 8.5.3, which mandates the registration of the work and the names on the Official Register of Zoological Nomenclature (a.k.a. ZooBank).
Even though several of the animals of the World of Ice and Fire are referred to the Common Tongue with similar names and concepts of wild and domesticated animals that exist or existed in our world (e.g., a dog, a horse, a mammoth), those animals are actually purely hypothetical concepts (sensu Art. 1.3.1, ICZN) that exist in the fantasy World of Ice and Fire and the mind of G.R.R. Martin. Thus, they are excluded from the zoological nomenclature.
The names, as published herein, are not formed properly according to the Code. Both words are capitalized, not italicized, with diacritic signs, and are connected by a dash.
Therefore, all the names herein are unavailable names for our ‘real life’ zoological nomenclature. I suppose that a similar need of a system of nomenclature would be eventually necessary in the World of Ice and Fire as well, most probably among its scholars—the Maesters. The study of the natural world has largely been neglected by the great Maesters of the Citadel, in Oldtown. Maester Yandel in his work (Martin et al., 2014) provides some basic information on various animals — in many cases by citing other authors — but without any specific focus on nature. However, one cannot understand and explain the mysteries of the world, unless they are able to explain and describe the life on it. Therefore, and to avoid misunderstandings among Maesters across the continent, this new system of nomenclature would greatly assist in the communication among scholars in the World of Ice and Fire.
I strongly insist that the Maesters of the Citadel should try to promote the study of the natural mysteries of the world. I further propose that the Maester who will complete the study of a significant portion of the natural world should be awarded a wooden link to add to his chain. This link should be made by a weirwood tree and would symbolize that all life on the World is related, and originated from a common root, just like the branches and leaves of a weirwood tree.
In order to differ from the common, vernacular, names of the animals in the Common Tongue of the World of Ice and Fire, their scientific names will be created in the High Valyrian.
The Valyrian languages are a group of languages that were spoken in the past, with High Valyrian being spoken in Valyria and its descendants languages (Astapori and Meereenesse Valyrian) spoken in Astapor and Meereen respectively, as well as a variety of dialects and corruptions of the pure High Valyrian spoken in the Free Cities (Martin et al., 2014). Although several words in High Valyrian were already present in the books of the series The Song of Ice and Fire written by G.R.R. Martin, the language was created by D.J. Peterson for the TV series (Peterson, 2013).
For the purpose of establishing the ‘Zoological Nomenclature of Ice and Fire’, the names will be written in High Valyrian, with the use of the letters of the Latin alphabet (High Valyrian was certainly written in its own alphabet). The source of linguistic information is the Dothraki Wiki (2018; information stored therein is copyrighted by the Language Creation Society, HBO, and G.R.R. Martin).
The main objective of this work is to name the main species of animals (e.g., the species of humans) and also provide some names for large groups (e.g., a name for ‘mammals’). The basic information comes from the bestiary of A Wiki of Ice and Fire (2018, and references therein). Parts of this work have been preliminary published in the subreddit r/asoiaf (https://www.reddit.com/r/asoiaf/) by the author, under the alias E_v_a_n (2017, and references therein). Very few names have been proposed by some other redditors and they are not included herein. The terms ‘species’, ‘subspecies’, and ‘genus’ are used in a similar sense as in modern taxonomy and nomenclature for simplicity.
The various names were created based on the following basic rules and recommendations, which are illustrated by examples where necessary. The formation of the majority these rules is based largely on valuable comments of David J. Peterson, whom I deeply thank.
Rule 1. Names for large groups consist of a single word, whereas names for ‘species’ consist of two words. Example:Valar for humans, Sylvie-Valar for the wise humans, which is included in Valar.
Rule 2. The two words comprising the ‘species’ names are hyphenated and each start with a capital letter. We do not know if such kind of punctuation was present in High Valyrian. The purpose of adding the hyphen here is mainly to distinguish these names from original binomina in nomenclature.
Rule 3. Group names are written in small capitals. This rule is only for stylistic purposes.
Rule 4. All original diacritics of High Valyrian must be kept. Besides its stylistic purpose, the application of this rule further distinguishes the names herein from original names in nomenclature.
Rule 5. Formation of group names is done either with nouns in the collective or adjectives with the addition of the derivational affix –enka (meaning ‘like’). Example A: To form the name of the group of humans (‘equivalent’ to a genus name) we could use the word ‘vala’ (1lun; man) in the collective, as Valar. Example B: To form the name of the group of reptile-like animals we could use the word ‘rīza’ (1lun; reptile, lizard) with the addition of the derivational affix –enka (adj. I), as Rīzenka. Note that in this case we need to use only the root of the word ‘rīza’ (rīz–).
Rule 6. Formation of a species name is done with the combination of an adjective and a noun in the collective. Note that adjectives must agree in gender (i.e., lunar, solar, terrestrial, aquatic), case, and number, with the noun they modify; however, as the noun is in the collective, the adjective should be in the singular. Also, the adjective goes before the noun it modifies. Example A: To create the name for the wise humans we could use the combination of the noun ‘Valar’ (1lun; ‘all the men’, in the collective) with the adjective ‘Sylvie’ (adj. III). The singular of this adjective would be ‘Sylvie’ for lunar/solar and ‘Sylvior’ for terrestrial/aquatic (in the singular; see Rule 5 above). As the word ‘Valar’ is of lunar gender, it should be combined with the adjective in the lunar gender as well, as Sylvie-Valar. Example B: To create an adjective from a noun one should use one of the derivational affixes like –enka (adj. I) (see Rule 5). Again, there must be agreement in gender.
Rule 7. To create a name that consists of three components (‘equivalent’ to a subspecies or for other purposes), insert the third component in its proper place according to the desired meaning, again in agreement to Rule 6. Example: For the name of the white walkers, supposedly a further subdivision of the wise humans, we could use the name Sylvie-Valar, inserting in between the adjective ‘Timpa’ (adj. I) in the lunar gender and in singular, as Sylvie-Timpa-Valar. In this arrangement it reads: ‘all the wise white men’. Contrary to our own nomenclature, the position of the components may vary depending on the desired meaning. For example, ‘all the white wise men’ would read as Timpa-Sylvie-Valar. Both versions are equivalent for nomenclatural purposes herein.
Rule 8. To form a name from a toponym, one should add the derivational suffix –sīha, or –īha (depending if the root ends in consonant or vowel), to form an adjective of Class I. It then follows in agreement to Rule 6. Alternatively — and this could be done with other names as well, not only with toponyms — one could use the derivational suffix –ōñe (which means ‘from the’) to form a Class II adjective. Example A: To name the species of humans from Ibben, we could add the suffix –īha, as Ibbenīha-Valar. In this form it reads: ‘all the Ibbenian humans’. Example B:Ibbenōñe-Valar. In this form, it reads: ‘all the humans from Ibben’. This is a quite useful suffix to form many other names as well (see below).
All original information below comes from The Song of Ice and Fire books (Martin, 1996, 2000, 2005, 2011) and The World of Ice and Fire (Martin et al., 2014). For simplicity, I will not add these citations below.
The relationships among the main ‘species’ named herein are depicted across the branches of a weirwood tree (Fig. 1).
The maps presented herein (Figs. 2 and 4) are based on the original map available in Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 4.0), which was subsequently edited in Adobe Photoshop (removing words) and Adobe Illustrator (tracing) to create the final ‘clean’ version for this article. Silhouettes of animals are re-drawn manually from pictures available online with permission to be modified.
Abbreviations: Nouns: numbers denote the declension, followed by the abbreviated gender (aq, aquatic; lun, lunar; sol, solar; ter, terrestrial). Adjectives (adj.): Roman numerals indicate the class.
(all the names; from the noun ‘brōzi’, 5lun, meaning ‘name’)
Etymology. Dȳñenka, from the word ‘dȳñes’ (4sol; animal) and the suffix –enka (adj. I), which means ‘like’; altogether the name means ‘animal-like’.
Remarks. The distribution of the animals of the World of Ice and Fire is shown in Figure 2. Those with a roughly cosmopolitan distribution (e.g., horses) were excluded for simplicity.
Jūlrenka, mammal-like animals.
Etymology. Jūlrenka, from the word ‘jūlor’ (3aq; milk) and the suffix –enka (adj. I).
Uēpys-Nusper, all the ancient cows or aurochs.
Etymology. Uēpys from the adjective ‘uēpa’ (adj. I; old); Nusper from the nominative collective of the noun ‘nuspes’ (4sol; cow).
Remarks. This is the ancestor of the modern-day cows, and was larger, with longer and more robust horns. Although not present in most of Westeros as a result of domestication, their presence is reported beyond the Wall, and are served in feasts in some of the Great Houses of the North.
Lantarōvatsienkys-Ñomber, all the elephants with two big teeth.
Etymology. Lantarōvatsienkys, from the combination of the words ‘lanta’ (adj. I; two), ‘rova’ (adj. I; big), ‘atsio’ (3lun; tooth), and the suffix –enkys, referring to the animals’ large tusks; Ñomber from the noun ‘ñombes’ (4sol; elephant).
Remarks. Native to Essos, quite common in Astapor.
Krubenkys-Ñombītsor, all the dwarf elephants.
Etymology. Krubenkys, from of the word ‘krubo’ (3lun; dwarf) and the suffix –enkys; Ñombītsor from the noun ‘ñombes’ (4sol; elephant) and the diminutive suffix –ītsos (2sol), in the collective.
Remarks. Related to elephants, but never reaching a large size; used as transportation in Volantis.
Timpa-Kēlior, all the white lions or hrakkars.
Etymology. Timpa from the adjective ‘timpa’ (adj. I; white); Kēlior, from the collective of the noun ‘kēlio’ (3lun; lion).
Remarks. A rare species of white lion, native to the Dothraki Sea.
Dothrakōñe-Anner, all the horses of the Dothraki.
Etymology. Dothrakōñe, from the Dothraki, the horselords, and the suffix –ōñe (adj. II); Anner, from the nominative collective of the word ‘anne’ (4lun; horse).
Remarks. Widespread on the entire world, medium of transportation, and used in combat as well. They are especially important for the Dothraki horselords.
Rizmenkys-Annītsor, all the dwarf horses of the sand or sand steeds.
Etymology. Rizmenkys the word ‘rizmon’ (3ter; sand) and the suffix –enkys (adj. I); Annītsor from the word ‘anne’ (4lun; horse) and the diminutive suffix –ītsos (2sol) in the collective.
Remarks. Long neck, narrow head, slim and swift, with red, golden, black or pale fur. Bred in Dorne.
Starkenka-Zoklar, all the wolves of the Starks or direwolves.
Etymology. Starkenka, from the name of House Stark, whose sigil is the direwolf, and the suffix –enka (adj. I); Zoklar from the nominative collective of the word ‘zokla’ (1lun; wolf).
Remarks. An ancient relative of the common wolf, but much more robust and strong. Absent south of the Wall. However, a dead female direwolf was found south of the Wall; Ned Stark’s children and Jon Snow were allowed to keep and raise the pups (Fig. 3).
Qohorōñe-Valyrītsor, all the Little Valyrians from Qohor.
Etymology. Qohorōñe from Qohor and the suffix –ōñe (adj. II); Valyrītsor from the word Valyria and the diminutive suffix –ītsos (2sol) in the collective.
Remarks. Lemur-like primates with silver-white fur and purple eyes, living in the forest of Qohor.
Lannenka-Kēlior, all the lions of the Lannisters.
Etymology. Lannenka from Lann the Clever, founder of House Lannister whose sigil has a golden lion, and the suffix –enka (adj. I); Kēlior, from the collective of the word ‘kēlio’ (3lun; lion).
Ōgharenkys-Ñomber, all the great woolly elephants or mammoths.
Etymology. Ōgharenkys, from the word ‘ōghar’ (1aq; hair) and the suffix –enkys (adj. I); Ñomber, see above.
Remarks. Related to elephants, but more robust, with thick fur and curved tusks, from beyond the Wall. Giants usually ride them.
Sōnōñe-Gryver, all the snow bears.
Etymology. Sōnōñe, from the word ‘sōna’ (1lun; snow) and the suffix –ōñe; Gryver from the collective of the word ‘gryves’ (4sol; bear).
Remarks. Related to the brown bears, but adapted to survive in the cold environments beyond the Wall.
Μēremolrenkys-Epser, all the goats with a single horn or unicorns.
Etymology. Μēremolrenkys from the combination of the words ‘mēre’ (one) and ‘molry’ (2lun; horn) and the suffix –enkys (adj. I); Epser, from the nominative collective of the word ‘epses’ (4sol; goat).
Remarks. Goat-like animals with a single horn, believed to survive in Skagos and on the tall mountains of Ib. This disjointed distribution could be explained by two hypotheses: either they are native to one island and their presence on the other is explained by human interference; or this animal used to be widely distributed in the past (perhaps in times when the sea-level was lower and the two islands were connected to each other or to the mainland), and the present distributions are remnants.
Zōbritimpa-Anner, all the black-and-white horses or zorses.
Etymology. Zōbritimpa from the combination of the words ‘zōbrie’ (adj. III; black), ‘timpa’ (adj. I; white); Anner, from the nominative collective of the word ‘anne’ (4lun; horse).
Remarks. Related to horses, but with black and white stripes; they live in eastern Essos.
Valenka, the group of humans and human-like creatures.
Etymology. From the word ‘vala’ (1lun; man) and the suffix –enka (adj. I), meaning all-together ‘like humans’.
Remarks. This is the group that contains all human-like sentient species. Besides the group of humans, Valar (see below), there are several other species, mythical or not, that are most probably more closely related to the Valar than anything else. Although some of the species mentioned below could be myths and the product of fantasies and stories, I still prefer to properly name them. The distribution of Valenka is shown in Figure 4.
Guēsōñe-Riñar, all the children from the forest.
Etymology. Guēsōñe from the word ‘guēsin’ (4lun; forest) and the suffix –ōñe; Riñar from the nominative collective of ‘riña’ (1lun; child).
Remarks. Dark and beautiful, less barbarous than the giants; renowned for working with obsidian and beautiful songs. Currently live beyond the Wall.
Rōvalar-Rōvalar, all the giants.
Etymology. Rōvalar (all the giants) from the nominative collective of ‘rōvala’ (1lun; giant). Both components of the name are identical for emphasis.
Remarks. Giants once had a broader distribution in the World of Ice and Fire, but currently are restricted to the lands north of the Wall.
Hagedornōñe-Annevalar, all the horsemen of Hagedorn, also known as the Centaurs.
Etymology. Hagedornōñe, in honor of the great Archmaester Hagedorn, who wrote that centaurs never existed and were simply mounted warriors; Annevalar, from the combination of the words ‘vala’ (1lun; man) and ‘anne’ (4 lun; horse), meaning horsemen in the nominative collective.
Remarks. Most probably, the specimens examined in the Citadel are artifacts of mixtures of skeletons of humans and horses, probably confused with the Dothraki. Even so, it is still possible, especially in a world of magic like the World of Ice and Fire, that they once existed. Supposed distribution in the eastern grasslands of Essos during the Dawn Age.
Theronōñe-Valītsor, all the little humans of Theron, also known as the Deep Ones.
Etymology. Theronōñe, in honor to Maester Theron who first wrote about these creatures; Valītsor from the word ‘vala’ (1lun; man) and the diminutive suffix –ītsos (2sol) in the nominative collective.
Remarks. Supposedly misshapen creatures that fathered the merlings (see below). Their exact distribution is not known, but reports mention the destruction of the Lorathi mazemakers by sea creatures and the sacrifice of sailors on the Thousand Islands to fish-headed gods, likely connected to the Deep Ones. As such, we can speculate that the Deep Ones had a Shivering Sea distribution.
Klihenka-Valar, all the fish-men, also known as merlings.
Etymology. Klihenka, from ‘klios’ (3sol; fish) and the suffix –enka (adj. I); for Valar, see below.
Remarks. Aquatic human/fish hybrids, with a cosmopolitan distribution. House Manderly has a merling at its sigil.
Guēsōñe-Dekurūptyr, all the walkers of the forest, also known as the Ifeqevron.
Etymology. Guēsōñe (of the forest) from the word ‘guēsin’ (4lun; forest); Dekurūptyr comes from the word ‘dekurūbagon’ (to walk) and the suffix –tys (2sol) to form the word ‘walker’ in the nominative collective.
Remarks. Ifeqevron means, in the Dothraki language, ‘those who walk in the woods’, which served as the inspiration behind the name in High Valyrian. They inhabit the great forest of the Kingdom of Ifeqevron in northern Essos, between Vaes Dothrak and the Ibben Islands.
Valar, the group containing all humans.
Etymology. From the nominative collective of the noun ‘vala’ (1lun; man), meaning ‘all the humans’.
Remarks. Besides the major ethnic groups of Valar described below (the First Men, the Andals, and the Rhoynars), there are other ‘species’ of Valar that deserve their own name, some of them clearly distinct (e.g., the Ibbenese and the Hairy Men) and others probably distinct from Sylvie-Valar, like the Valyrians. In other cases, we do not have enough information to discern if some ethnic groups are truly distinct from those mentioned above. The horselords Dothraki are, of course, the most important example, including the tribes around them (e.g., the Lhazareen, Jogos Nhai, Qathii). As the First Men originate from the grasslands of Essos, and the Andals were also a nomadic group that stretched eastward in Essos, it is likely that the origin of these groups could be found in them. In the absence of convincing evidence, I prefer not to name all these Sylvie-Valar groups for the moment.
Ibbenīha-Valar, all the Ibbenians.
Etymology. Valar, see above; Ibbenīha comes from the combination of the word Ibben, their island of origin, and the suffix –īha (adj. I), which would mean in the Common Tongue ‘Ibbenian’.
Remarks. They are included in their own species of Valar, as they are apparently unable to produce viable offspring with other species of humans.
Ōgharenka-Valar, all the Hairy Men.
Etymology. Valar, see above; Ōgharenka, from the word ‘ōghar’ (1aq; hair) and the suffix –enka (adj. I).
Remarks. As the Hairy Men are supposed to be closely related to the Ibbenians, I assume that they represent a distinct species of Valar. Some say that they originated in Ibben and then spread out to Essos, settling in places like Lorath.
Sothorīha-Valar, all the Sothorysians.
Etymology. Valar, see above; Sothorīha comes from the combination of the word Sothoryos, their island of origin, and the suffix –īha (adj. I), which would mean in the Common Tongue ‘Sothorysian’.
Remarks. As the humans from Sothoryos, or Brindled Men, were unable to produce viable offspring with other species of humans, I suppose that they represent a distinct species of Valar.
Jaedrōñe-Valar, all the humans from the Summer Islands.
Etymology. Jaedrōñe comes from the word ‘jaedria’ (Summer Islands; 1aq.), and the suffix –ōñe, in allusion to the Summer Islands, their place of origin; Valar, see above.
Remarks. They are included in their own species of Valar, as they, throughout their history, apparently lived isolated from the rest.
Sylvie-Valar, all the wise humans.
Etymology. Sylvie, from the nominative singular of the adjective ‘sylvie’ (adj. III; wise); Valar see above.
Remarks. The First Men, the Andals and Rhoynars represent the three major ethnic groups in the World of Ice and Fire and we have evidence of their interbreeding producing viable offspring. As such, I include them in the same ‘species’, with different ‘subspecies’.
Sylvie-Ēlie-Valar, all the wise First Men.
Etymology. Ēlie comes from the adjective ‘ēlie’ (adj. III; first, primary).
Sylvie-Andalōñe-Valar, all the wise Andals.
Etymology. Andalōñe comes from the word for the Andals and the suffix –ōñe (adj. II).
Sylvie-Rhoynarīha-Valar, all the wise Rhoynarians.
Etymology. Rhoynarīha comes from Rhoynar and the suffix –īha (adj. I), denoting their place of origin.
Sylvie-Valyrīha-Valar, all the wise Valyrians.
Etymology. Valyrīha comes from Valyria and the suffix –īha (adj. I), denoting their place of origin.
Sylvie-Timpa-Valar, all the wise white humans.
Etymology. Timpa comes from the adjective ‘timpa’ (adj. I; white).
Remarks. Although their origin remains unclear, they probably represent a variation of the First Men. As such, they are tentatively included in the same ‘species’, but in a different ‘subspecies’ (Fig. 5).
Hontenka, the group that contains all the birds.
Etymology. Comes from the stem of the nominative collective of the word ‘hontes’ (4sol; bird) and the suffix –enka (adj. I).
Remarks. This group contains all birds. Note that birds are not defined by their flight ability, which was developed independently in other groups, such as dragons and insects.
Bantenka-Lārar, all the crows of the night.
Etymology. Bantenka, from the word bantis (5sol; night) in honor of the Night’s Watch, whose members are called ‘crows’, and the suffix –enka; Lārar, from the collective of ‘lāra’ (1lun; crow).
Remarks. Iconic birds, mainly because of their association with the Night’s Watch.
Hontenkys-Dāryr, all the birds of the king, also known as the Eagle.
Etymology. Hontenkys, from the word ‘hontes’ (4sol; bird) and the suffix –enkys (adj. I); Dāryr, from the collective of the word dārys (2sol; king).
Udrenkys-Vōljer, all the ravens.
Etymology. Udrenkys, from the word ‘udir’ (5aq; word, news) and the suffix –enkys (adj. I); Vōljer, from the collective of the word ‘vōljes’ (4sol; raven).
Remarks. One of the animals with special importance to humans, as they are used in long-distance communication between settlements. They are usually under the care of the Maester of each castle.
Sōnenkys-Vōljer, all the ravens of the winter, also known as the White Ravens.
Etymology. Sōnenkys from the word ‘sōnar’ (1lun; winter) and the suffix –enkys (adj. I), in allusion to their use by the Maesters of the Citadel to announce the change of seasons; Vōljer, from the collective of the word vōljes (4sol; raven).
Remarks. A different species of raven, kept and raised in the Citadel. They are used to announce the changing of seasons in Westeros.
Sōnenkor-Vāedar, the song of the snow, also known as the Snow Shrike.
Etymology. Sōnenkor, from the word ‘sōna’ (1lun; snow) with the suffix –enkor (adj. I); Vāedar, from the nominative of the word ‘vāedar’ (1aq; song).
Remarks. Found mainly in the North, but go as south as the Riverlands.
Tīkunītsenka, the small winged animals.
Etymology. From ‘tīkun’ (3sol; wing) and the suffixes –ītsos (2 sol; diminutive) and –enka (adj. I).
Ānogro-Bībire-Zōbros, the purple, blood-sucking animal, or bloodfly.
Etymology. Ānogro, from the word ‘ānogar’ (1aq; blood) in the genitive; Bībire, from the verb ‘bībagon’ (to suck); Zōbros, from the substantive of the word ‘zōbrie’ (adj. III; purple). The name means the “bloodsucking purple one”.
Remarks. Bloodsucking, purple insect, living in marshes and ponds in Essos.
Kastys-Raeder, all the green scorpions, or manticores.
Etymology. Kastys, from the adjective ‘kasta’ (adj. I; blue, green), in allusion to the Jade Sea where this creature lives; Raeder, from the nominative collective of the noun ‘raedes’ (4sol; scorpion).
Remarks. They have a black carapace, a barbed tail, and a human-like face. Its sting is poisonous and causes heart attack in humans. They live in the islands of the Jade Sea.
Rīzenka, the group of reptile-like animals.
Etymology. From the word ‘rīza’ (1lun; reptile, lizard) and the suffix –enka.
Basiliskīha-Rīzar, all the Basiliskian reptiles.
Etymology. Basiliskīha, from Basilisk and the suffix –īha (adj. I), meaning “Basiliskian”; Rīzar from the collective of the noun ‘rīza’ (1lun; reptile, lizard).
Remarks. The basilisk is a venomous, large, reptile from the Basilisk Isles.
Drakarenkys-Zaldrīzer, all the fire dragons.
Etymology. Drakarenkys, from the word ‘drakarys’ (2sol; dragon-fire) and the suffix –enkys (adj. I); Zaldrīzer, from the nominative collective of the word ‘zaldrīzes’ (4sol; dragon).
Remarks. These magical creatures once lived in the entire World of Ice and Fire, with four limbs, two wings, strong jaws, sharp teeth and claws, horns, and a long pointed tail (Fig. 6); they breathe fire. Once the source of power for the Valyrian dragonlords and the Targaryens, they were considered extinct since the last dragon died in the 153 AC (After Conquest) following the events of the Dance of the Dragons. However, Daenerys Targaryen was recently able to hatch three dragon eggs.
Suvenkys-Zaldrīzer, all the ice dragons.
Etymology. Suvenkys, from word ‘suvion’ (3ter; ice) and the suffix –enkys (adj. I); Zaldrīzer, see above.
Remarks. A mythical species of dragon that was larger than the fire dragons and breathed ice (Fig. 7). Rumor has it that the Night King was able to create a Suvenkys-Zaldrīzer beyond the Wall.
Tīkunoqittys-Zaldrīzer, all the dragons without wings, or firewyrms.
Etymology. Tīkunoqittys, from the nominative plural of the word ‘tīkun’ (3sol; wing) with the suffix –oqittys (adj. I; –less); Zaldrizer, see above.
Remarks. Wingless fire dragons from the Valyrian peninsula. Extinct.
Drakaroqittys-Zaldrīzer, all the fireless dragons, or wyverns.
Etymology. Drakaroqittys, from the word drakarys (2sol; dragon-fire) and the suffix –oqittys (adj. I; less); Zaldrīzer, see above.
Remarks. Related to dragons but fireless, surviving in Sothyryos.
Rīdōñe-Rīskelior, all the lizard-lions of the Reeds.
Etymology. Rīdōñe, meaning ‘of the Reed’, in honor to House Reed, whose sigil has a black lizard-lion, and the suffix –ōñe (adj. II); Rīskelior, from the word ‘rīza’ (1lun; reptile, lizard) and the word ‘kēlio’ (3lun; lion) in the collective.
Remarks. Crocodile-like lizards with large teeth that live in the streams and swamps of the Neck.
Qarthōñor-Qintrir, all the turtles of Qarth, or phantom tortoises.
Etymology. Qarthōñor, from the city of Qarth and the suffix –ōñe (adj. II); Qintrir, from the nominative col of the noun ‘qintir’ (5aq; turtle).
Tegōñior-Qintrir, all the terrestrial turtles.
Embōñior-Qintrir, all the marine turtles.
Qelbōñior-Qintrir, all the aquatic turtles.
Etymology. The first components are formed from the adjectives ‘tegōñe’ (adj. II; terrestrial), ‘embōñe’ (adj. II; marine), and ‘qelbōñe’ (adj. II; aquatic, from the river); Qintrir, see above.
Remarks. Reptile-like animals, whose body is enclosed within a bony shell; they can reach large sizes and have a cosmopolitan distribution. Although probably there are dozens of different species of turtles in the World of Ice and Fire, they are grouped here under three species only, based on their preferred habitat. Further work should focus on describing the various species of turtles included in each of these above-named groups.
Martino-Qintrir, the turtle of Martin, also known as the Old Man of the River.
Etymology. Martino, genitive of Martin, in honor of G.R.R. Martin, the author of the Song of Ice and Fire series; Qintrir, see above.
Remarks. The Old Man of the River is a sacred giant turtle that lived in the river Rhoyne, and is worshiped by the Rhoynars. G.R.R. Martin has publicly expressed his love of turtles and the role that they played in the development of the World of Ice and Fire, so this species is named after him.
Embenka, all the sea-dwelling animals.
Etymology. From the noun ‘embar’ (1aq; sea) and the suffix –enka (adj. I).
Grējojōñor-Uēhor, all the great squids of the Greyjoys, or krakens.
Etymology. Grējojōñor, in allusion to House Greyjoy, whose sigil bears a golden kraken, with the suffix –ōñe (adj. II); Uēhor, from the word ‘uēs’ (3sol; squid) in the nominative collective.
Remarks. A kind of giant squid, supposedly living in the sea south of Dorne.
Embrōñe-Jēnqañōgher, all the sea creatures with eight arms, also known as octopods.
Etymology. Embrōñe, from the genitive collective of the word ‘embar’ (1aq; sea) with the suffix –ōñe (adj. II); Jēnqañōgher, from the combination of the words ‘jēnqa’ (eight) and ‘ñōghe’ (4lun; arm) in the collective.
Qaedrāzmar-Qaedrāzmar, all the great whales, or leviathans.
Etymology. Qaedrāzmar, from the word ‘qaedar’ (1aq; whale) and the augmentative suffix –āzma (1lun) in the collective.
Remarks. An enormous grey whale, among the most ancient creatures of the World of Ice and Fire. Found in the Shivering Sea.
Naggōñe-Embrōñe-Zaldrīzer, all the sea dragons of Nagga.
Etymology. Naggōñe, of Nagga, the mythical sea dragon, with the suffix –ōñe (adj. II); Embrōñe, from the word ‘embar’ (1aq; sea) and the suffix –ōñe (adj. II); Zaldrīzer, see above.
Remarks. A sea dragon, feeding on krakens and leviathans. Supposedly extinct since the Age of Heroes, although some believe it still survives in the Sunset Sea.
This is only the first account on the names of some of the most important animals of the World of Ice and Fire. Many more kinds of beings remain lacking formal names, including most domesticated animals and plants. Future work should focus on refining this system of taxonomy and describing the remarkable living and extinct diversity of Westeros and Essos.
E_v_a_n. (2017) The Full Taxonomy of Ice and Fire. Subreddit “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Available from: https://redd.it/79jeze (Date of access: 27/Apr/2018).
International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). (1999) International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. 4th Edition. The International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, London.
International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). (2012) Amendment of Articles 8, 9, 10, 21 and 78 of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature to expand and refine methods of publication. ZooKeys 219: 1–10.
Martin, G.R.R. (1996) A Game of Thrones. Bantam Books, New York.
Martin, G.R.R. (1999) A Clash of Kings. Bantam Books, New York.
Martin, G.R.R. (2000) A Storm of Swords. Bantam Books, New York.
Martin, G.R.R. (2005) A Feast for Crows. Bantam Books, New York.
Martin, G.R.R. (2011) A Dance with Dragons. Bantam Books, New York.
Martin, G.R.R.; Garcia, E.; Antonsson, L. (2014) The World of Ice and Fire: the Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. Bantam Books, New York.
I would like to thank the Dothraki Wiki community for making available the rules, grammar and dictionary of High Valyrian. I thank the Reddit communities of the Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones for inspiration and comments. Special thanks to the redditors u/hm0119 and u/jackm0ve for their interest to jump in and name some species of their own; these names have not been included herein. I would like to deeply thank the editor of the JGS, Rodrigo B. Salvador, and the rest of the editorial board for useful comments that greatly improved this manuscript. I would like to express my gratitude to David J. Peterson, the creator of the Valyrian and Dothraki languages, who reviewed an earlier version of the manuscript; he managed not only to point out the numerous mistakes I made in the formation of the words in my early version but also to provide valuable lessons through his critical review. His comments and suggestions also made the entire system much more consistent and uniform. Of course, I am solely responsible for any mistakes in the formation of the High Valyrian names. This project has been developed in my free time, but was inspired by the importance of zoological nomenclature and the art of coining species names. I would like to thank my family for their understanding and support when I spend time with projects like this.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Evangelos Vlachos is a big fan of the World of Ice and Fire and, just like G.R.R. Martin, a huge fan of turtles and tortoises. He is currently a CONICET researcher in the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio, in Trelew, Chubut, Argentina, working on fossil turtles and tortoises.