Zoological Nomenclature of Ice and Fire

Evangelos Vlachos

CONICET & Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio, Trelew, Chubut, Argentina.

Email: evlacho (at) mef (dot) org (dot) ar

Download PDF

Valar gūrēñis — All men must learn

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[1], 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

  1. The name must be contained in a published work (published sensu the ICZN);
  2. The name must be available (sensu the ICZN);
  3. 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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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).

Figure 1. The taxonomy of the animals of the World of Ice and Fire, depicted on the branches of a weirwood tree.

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.

Figure 2. The distribution of known animal species in the World of Ice and Fire, excluding those with cosmopolitan distribution.

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’)

Dȳñenka, animals.

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).

Figure 3. The first known occurrences of Starkenka-Zoklar south of the Wall, seen here as two pups of a female direwolf. A typical example of Sylvie-Ēlie-Valar (Jon Snow) for scale. Screen capture from Episode #1 (‘Winter is Coming’), Season #1, of Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011–present).

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.

Figure 4. The distribution of known species of Valenka and Valar, the human-like species in the World of Ice and Fire.

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).

Figure 5. A typical specimen of Sylvie-Timpa-Valar, a white walker from beyond the Wall, from the Lands of Always Winter. Screen capture from Episode #8 (‘Hardhome’), Season #5, of Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011–present).

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.

Figure 6. Drogon, named after Khal Drogo, one of the two surviving Drakarenkys-Zaldrīzer, seen in the dragon pit of King’s Landing. Screen capture from Episode #7 (‘The Dragon and the Wolf’), Season #7, of Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011–present).

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.

Figure 7. Viserion, named after Viserys Targaryen (brother of Daenerys Targaryen), the only known specimen of Suvenkys-Zaldrīzer in the World of Ice and Fire. Although seemingly identical to a Drakarenkys-Zaldrīzer, there is clear evidence that this species does not breathe fire. Scholars disagree if a Suvenkys-Zaldrīzer breaths ice or some kind of ‘icy fire’. Screen capture from Episode #7 (‘The Dragon and the Wolf’), Season #7, of Game of Thrones (HBO, 2011–present).

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[2], 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.


Dothraki Wiki (Tongues of Ice and Fire Wiki). (2018) Learning High Valyrian. Available from: https://wiki.dothraki.org/Learning_High_Valyrian (Date of access: 27/Apr/2018).

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.

Peterson, D.J. (2013) Valar Dohaeris. Dothraki: a Language of Fire and Blood. Available from: http://www.dothraki.com/2013/03/valar-dohae ris/ (Date of access: 27/Apr/2018).

Wiki of Ice and Fire, A. (2018) Bestiary. Available from: http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/ Bestiary (Date of access: 27/Apr/2018).


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.


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.

[1] See the ICZN’s website (http://iczn.org) for detailed information.

[2] From http://www.simplethingcalledlife.com/interest ing/game-of-thrones-turtles/

Check other articles from this volume



Making a vampire

Veronika N. Laine

Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Email: veronika.laine (at) gmail (dot) com

Download PDF

The modern vampire is often portrayed as a human transformed into a vampire due to a bloodthirsty spirit[1], demons[2], viruses and other pathogens[3], magic or some unknown reason[4].  Neither fiction nor more realistic accounts have shed light on the precise molecular mechanisms of how the transformation happens until the novel trilogy and TV series called The Strain (Fig. 1) introduced some ways as to how the transformation could happen. In The Strain, parasitic worms carry a virus that causes the vampiric changes to happen through a modification in the expression of genes. This change even creates new organs such as the stinger.

Figure 1. Promotional poster of The Strain TV series, directed by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Image retrieved from: IMP Awards (http://www.impawards. com/).

For obvious reasons, no actual experimental studies have been conducted with vampires and so the exact origin and evolution of vampirism remains unknown. A full genome-wide association study or transcriptome analysis would be preferred to recognize the exact genes behind the vampiric traits, but getting enough samples from vampires will most likely be difficult. Thus, the “candidate gene” approach might be the best method for reaching some conclusions or, if there is enough material, a whole genome sequencing and comparison to human genomes.

In this article I will explore some thoughts on how we could make a vampire in the lab and which part of the genome we would need to alter in order to see the necessary changes. Imagine if genetic engineering would be so advanced that when you tweak little bits of the human genome here and there, you could make whatever traits, even vampiric ones, appear (or disappear) any way you like. Unfortunately, reality is seldom as easy, as it has been shown in movies such as Gattaca (Columbia Pictures, 1997), Splice (Warner Bros., 2009) and the X-Men series (20th Century Fox, 2000–2017), although the genome editing method CRISPR (Cong et al., 2013; Hsu et al., 2014) has lifted genomic modification to a completely new level and has already been used in removing diseases in humans (Ma et al., 2017). Alternatively, what if vampires already existed and we could get our hands on their genome sequence? Which genes would be affected by the transformation? Intriguingly, there are real life examples of species and conditions that could be thought of as vampiric and we can find potential candidate genes for vampirism from these traits. These “vampire building blocks” could then be used in constructing a lab vampire (at least hypothetically).

The myth of vampires has been around for thousands of years and the descriptions of vampirism vary between times and cultures. The vampires we know today date back to the 17th century and they have been covered by every platform in our popular culture. A good summary of the evolution of vampire myths can be found in Harris (2001).

The exact way in which humans transform into vampires depends on the source of the story you are reading and it often remains a mystery. In the extensive study of the science of vampirism, Dr. Pecos and Dr. Lomax (2001–2017) from the late Federal Vampire & Zombie Agency (FVZA) suspected that it is a human vampirism virus (HVV) that causes the transformation. The origin of the virus is suspected to be the vampire bats and their fleas, which sounds very plausible since bats are known to be carriers of many diseases such SARS, ebola and rabies (Biek et al., 2006; Smith & Wang, 2013), and it was also suggested in the movies Daybreakers and the Underworld series. Furthermore, rabies has been suggested to be the actual origin of the modern vampire myth (Gomez-Alonso, 1998).

In this article, I will present real life examples of vampiric traits and hypothesize possible molecular mechanisms and candidate genes that could be mutated after the transformation. I will concentrate on the following three vampiric traits that are common to many descriptions of vampires:

  1. Hematophagy (that is, feeding on blood)
  2. Immortality
  3. Sunlight avoidance


For many people, bloodsucking is the first vampiric trait that comes to mind. Blood is a nutritious fluid tissue, full of proteins and lipids and it is easy to consume. In nature, blood consumption has evolved in several unrelated species throughout the animal kingdom. Among invertebrates, leeches, mosquitos and fleas are the best known examples, and some fish (lampreys) are also known to feed on blood. There are several bird species that practice hematophagy, such as the oxpeckers, hood mockingbirds and vampire finches. Among mammals, the best known hematophagic species are the vampire bats.

Several changes in the genome are needed in order for animals to survive exclusively on blood. One of the key features is to prevent the victim’s blood from coagulating while feeding. In vampire bats the plasminogen activator (PA) genes have gone through gene duplication, domain loss and sequence evolution (Tellgren-Roth et al., 2009). These genes are expressed in the saliva glands of vampire bats and the proteins they produce help to process the blood of birds and mammals. In humans, these genes protect against heart attacks by producing proteins that clear the blood vessels by degrading blood clots. The hairy-legged vampire bat’s (Diphylla ecaudata) PA genes resemble the PA genes of the closely related non-blood feeding bat species. These bats feed on the blood of birds and it seems that the activation of PA in saliva glands is enough to keep the bird blood flowing. However, in the two bat species that feed on mammal blood, common vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) and white-winged vampire bats (Diaemus youngi, which also feed on birds), the PA genes have gone through more extensive modifications in order to better tackle the natural inhibitors of PA proteins in mammal blood. A transcriptome and proteome study of common vampire bats found additional genes expressed in the salivary glands (Francischetti et al., 2013). Furthermore, by comparing vampire bats and leeches to non-blood feeding species, Phillips & Baker (2015) found additional genes related to blood feeding, such as ectonucleoside triphosphate diphosphohydrolase-1 (ENTPD1), which has not before been linked to secretory expression. They also suggest that alternative splicing of genes has been an important mechanism for these species to rapidly evolve to feeding on blood.

In addition to blood coagulation, the vampire bats needed to overcome the bitter taste of blood. Bitterness in nature often means that the substance is poisonous and should be avoided. However, in all of the three vampire bat species there is a greater percentage of non-functioning DNA in the bitter taste receptor genes than in other bat species. These results suggest that these genes have been relaxed from selective constraint in vampire bats, which has led to a reduction of bitter taste function (Hong & Zhao, 2014).

Lastly, the problem with consuming blood is the ratio between amount of nutrition needed and the liquid consumed.  A typical vampire bat can consume half of its weight in blood in one feeding. The blood is then rapidly processed and the excess liquids are urinated within two minutes of feeding in order for the bat to take flight. Conceivably, the same effect would not be very convenient for vampires. If the vampire weighed for example 70 kg, it would need to consume 35 kg of blood in one feeding and urinate the excess liquid almost immediately, because the bladder can only hold about half litre of liquids. Furthermore, humans have about 5 kg of blood on average, so vampires would need to suck dry about seven people per night and urinate between victims, something that has not been discussed or shown in vampire stories, except in The Strain, where vampires defecate the blood while drinking. To compensate for the low intake of nutrients, vampires might slow down their metabolism and go to a hibernation mode and thus avoid the need to suck several litres of blood in one go. It would also enable fasting through hard times. In many stories, vampires have managed to survive without blood for days (see below).


Vampires are often regarded as undead; they are dead but behave like living beings, which in turn gives them eternal “life”. In this paper, I am not going to discuss whether vampires have a heartbeat or if they breathe (for that we would need actual vampire specimens); I will instead concentrate on how actual immortality could be achieved by giving real life examples.

First, we need to define what immortality is. The concept of biological immortality means that there is no mortality from senescence, which is biological aging. This of course means that the organism is not truly immortal, it can die through injury or disease. Vampires are often presented as highly resilient beings who can survive disease and injuries, but there are things that still kill them, like sunlight, a wooden stake through the heart, fire or beheading.

What is then the ultimate cause of senescence? It is still unclear how the process of senescence happens exactly, since it is a very complex phenomenon. This subject is under heavy research, especially in regard to how we could slow down or even reverse aging (de Keizer, 2017; see movies Self/less [Focus Features, 2015] and Mr. Nobody [Wild Bunch, 2009] for further thoughts). The research has been concentrating on gene expression changes, chemical and DNA damage, and telomere shortening. Telomeres are repetitive regions at the end of chromosomes. Every time cells divide, the ends of the chromosomes are progressively clipped in the replication process. Because the repetitive sequences in the telomeres are not protein coding, the clipping does not affect cell functions. When the telomeres are gone after a certain number of divisions, the cells stop dividing (Hornsby, 2007). However, cells have ways of replenishing the telomeres with an enzyme called “telomerase reverse transcriptase”. The drawback is that the majority of adult somatic (that is, non-reproductive) cells do not express telomerase, but it can be found for example in embryonic stem cells, male sperm cells, epidermal cells and in most cancer cells. In vampires, this enzyme might be active also in the adult somatic cells but this might pose an increased cancer risk. However, vampires might have ways to avoid cancer, as discussed below.

The way senescence happens is not universal; there are species where aging is negligible or cannot even be detected. There are two well-known examples of truly immortal species, the immortal jellyfish (Turritopsis dohrnii) and the animals from the Hydra genus. The immortal jellyfish, originally from the Caribbean Sea and now spread around the world, can use the process known as transdifferentiation to rejuvenate itself from its sexually mature free-swimming medusa form to sessile polyp form when the conditions turn harsh for the animal. When conditions are suitable again, the immortal jellyfish again transforms to its medusa form. This cycle can in theory continue forever, making the species immortal in the biological sense. However, this does not save the jellyfish from predators and diseases. The immortal jellyfish also appeared in the TV series Blacklist (Sony Pictures Television, 2013–present), where its cells were injected into humans in order to generate immortality. In the real world, science is not that advanced yet and it is also highly unlikely that it would be this easy to achieve immortality.

Hydras have been under more research than the immortal jellyfish. Hydras are simple freshwater animals (also cnidarians, like the immortal jellyfish) whose cells can continually divide and not undergo senescence. One gene, “Forkhead box O” (FOXO) has been extensively studied in hydras (and also in other species, like the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, mice and humans) (Boehm et al., 2012; Martins et al., 2016). In hydras, this gene is the main player behind the renewal of the cells. In other species, this gene has been linked to aging and longevity in many studies. In an essay by Schaible & Sussman (2013), the authors suggested that during the evolution of the FOXO gene, its function changed from Hydra’s life span extending role to many other pathways related to maintenance, which altered the gene’s rejuvenating functions in multicellular eukaryotes such as humans. Thus it might be that in vampires this gene (or actually all the FOXO genes – mammals have four of these genes) have retained the original function of FOXOs.

In the mammalian world, naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) and Brandt’s bats (Myotis brandtii) are exceptionally long-lived compared to other small sized mammals. Naked mole rats are known for some very peculiar characteristics. They can survive anoxic conditions, they have delayed ageing and live up to 32 years, and the species is highly resistant to cancer, among other things, making them a very interesting species for scientists to study. In studies of the longevity and cancer resistance of this species, scientists found that a gene called INK4, which is the most frequently mutated gene in human cancer, produced a new product through alternative splicing. This protein isoform (that is, protein variant), called pALT(INK4a/b), prevented the mutated cells from clustering together and thus made the naked mole rats more resilient to cancer (Tian et al., 2015). In another study by the same group, extremely high-molecular-mass hyaluronic acid was found in naked mole rat fibroblasts (the most common cells in the connective tissue of animals). The molecular weight was over five times larger than that of human or mouse hyaluronic acid. It was speculated that a higher concentration of hyaluronic acid evolved to keep the skin elastic in underground tunnels. In addition to skin elasticity, long hyaluronic acid molecules wrap around cells tightly, preventing tumor cells from replicating (Tian et al., 2013). Whole genome sequencing revealed additional genes that could be linked to longevity in this species (Kim et al., 2011).

Brandt’s bats are known to live for over 40 years, making it the most long-lived mammal of its size. In the whole genome study of the species, Seim et al. (2013) suggested that a combination of different adaptive characteristics such as hibernation, low reproductive rate, cave roosting and an altered growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor 1 axis could extend the Brandt’s bat’s lifespan. Furthermore, FOXO1 gene was expressed in high levels in Brandt’s bat suggesting a possible role also in the longevity of this species. Hibernation in general has been linked to survival of different species allowing them to withstand extreme conditions (Turbill et al., 2011; Wu & Storey, 2016). The molecular difference between hibernators and non-hibernators seems to be in gene regulation rather than a difference in the DNA sequence itself. Differential expression was detected in the genes that were involved in metabolic pathways, feeding behavior, and circadian rhythms (Faherty et al., 2016). Hibernation or some other kind of dormant state seems to be present in vampires as well, helping them to get through tough times. In the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, the vampires go to a hibernation-related state to cope with changing times. In the Underworld movies, two of the elders are kept in hibernation while a third reigns over the vampires. The reign goes in cycles, each of elders having their turn over the vampires and slave lycans. This cycle has social reasons, but it also gives rest for the elders from their immortal life.


Vampires are creatures of the night and sunlight is often regarded as deadly to them; in many occasions, they burst into flames whenever in contact with sunlight. It is an adverse trait for vampires and most probably emerged through pleiotropism. Pleiotropism is a phenomenon where one gene affects two or more unrelated traits (Paaby & Rockman, 2013). Mutations in genes causing immortality or blood consumption could also cause death by sunlight (antagonistic pleiotropy). Real life examples of bursting into flames due to sunlight are obviously not found, but sun can cause problems to people with certain conditions. Sunlight can cause severe allergic reactions, people can suffer from blood disease called porphyria, or have a rare recessive genetic disorder called “xeroderma pigmentosum”.

“Sun allergy” is an umbrella term for a number of conditions where rash and blisters occur on skin that has been exposed to sunlight. Some people have a hereditary type of sun allergy, such as hereditary polymorphous light eruption, others a non-heritable type, such as solar urticaria. In some cases, symptoms only occur when triggered by another factor, such as certain medications or skin exposure to certain plants. The allergic reaction to sunlight occurs in the same way as in any other allergic reaction, although it is still not clear what the triggering component is. Somehow, the immune system recognizes the sun-altered skin as foreign to the body, which in turn activates the immune defences against it. If vampires suffer from sun allergy, could strong antihistamines and a high sun protection factor sunscreen help them survive under the sunlight, in the same way as people with sun allergies? As death is a very severe reaction to sunlight, it is likely that vampires do not suffer from a sun allergy but from something more serious.

Porphyria, a group of blood diseases, have been suggested as a possible explanation for vampire myths but these ideas have been rejected in later papers (Winkler & Anderson, 1990). However, the mechanism behind porphyria could still shed light on why sunlight would be poisonous for modern vampires. In the cutaneous forms of porphyria where the skin is mostly affected, sunlight can cause pain, blisters or open sores to the patients. The disease is often hereditary due to a mutation in one of the genes that make the heme molecule (a component of hemoglobin, the red pigment in our blood): ALAD, ALAS2, CPOX, FECH, HMBS, PPOX, UROD, or UROS (Badminton & Elder, 2005). These genes could also be suitable candidates for vampire sunlight avoidance.

There is an even more severe sunlight sensitivity illness, the rare hereditary condition called “xeroderma pigmentosum” (XP). In extreme cases, the patients need to avoid all exposure to sunlight as it can cause severe sunburn with redness and blistering. If not protected from the sun, people with XP have a high risk of developing skin cancer. XP patients’ eyes are also very sensitive to sunlight and some of the patients have neurological problems such as seizures and hearing loss. The condition is caused by mutations in the genes that repair DNA damage. This causes a deficiency in DNA repair after ultraviolet damage to cells, which in turn accumulates abnormalities to the DNA causing the cell to become cancerous or die. In most of XP cases, mutations occur in these four nucleotide excision repair related genes: POLH, XPA, XPC or ERCC2 (Schubert et al., 2014). In addition to porphyria genes, these are also potential candidates for vampires’ adverse reactions to sunlight.


Obviously, the transformation from human to vampire would affect many genes, some of the changes being bigger than others, which makes the genetic modification of human to vampire even more difficult. From the real life examples, the PA (blood coagulation) and FOXO (immortality) genes seem to be strong candidates. Furthermore, it is also possible to find more suitable genes to test and to investigate interactions between hematophagy, immortality and sun avoidance genes by using network analysis such as Genemania (Warde-Farley et al., 2010). For example, when inserting the human ortholog (roughly put, the equivalent gene) of bat PA gene, the plasminogen activator, tissue type (PLAT), the FOXO genes FOXO1 and FOXO3, and the four XP genes, POLH, XPA, XPC and ERCC2 to Genemania, it is possible to see how the genes are linked and what additional genes might be involved (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Gene interaction network of the genes PLAT, FOXO1, FOXO3, POLH, XPA, XPC and ERCC2 done with Genemania. Showing 20 related genes with 27 total genes and 207 total links. Input genes are indicated with stripes.

In many of the traits mentioned above, we assumed that mutations in these candidate genes would be the cause of the vampiric traits. However, mutations are not the only possible cause. Epigenetic changes are functional changes in the genome that do not involve modifications in the DNA. Such mechanisms are, for example, DNA methylation and histone modification. External or environmental effects can cause DNA methylation and change gene expression. In vampires, both mutations and epigenetics could be possible players, causing changes and vampiric traits. Furthermore, if vampirism is caused by a virus or a parasite, we need to take into consideration the possible ways the pathogen could affect the human cells, which is a topic of its own.


Badminton, M.N. & Elder, G.H. (2005) Molecular mechanisms of dominant expression in porphyria. Journal of Inherited Metabolic Disease 28(3): 277–286.

Biek, R.; Walsh, P.D.; Leroy, E.M.; Real, L.A. (2006) Recent common ancestry of Ebola Zaire virus found in a bat reservoir. PLoS Pathogens 2(10): e90.

Boehm, A.-M.; Khalturin, K.; Anton-Erxleben, F.; Hemmrich, G.; Klostermeier, U.C.; Lopez-Quintero, J.A.; Oberg, H.H.; Puchert, M.; Rosenstiel, P.; Wittlieb, J.; Bosch, T.C.G. (2012) FoxO is a critical regulator of stem cell maintenance in immortal Hydra. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(48): 19697–19702.

Cong, L.; Ran, F.A.; Cox, D.; Lin, S.; Barretto, R.; Habib, N.; Hsu, P.D.; Wu, X.; Jiang, W.; Marraffini, L.A.; Zhang, F. (2013) Multiplex genome engineering using CRISPR/Cas systems. Science 339(6121): 819–823.

Faherty, S.L.; Villanueva-Cañas, J.L.; Klopfer, P.H.; Albà, M.M.; Yoder, A.D. (2016) Gene expression profiling in the hibernating primate, Cheirogaleus medius. Genome Biology and Evolution 8(8): 2413–2426.

Francischetti, I.M.B.; Assumpção, T.C.F.; Ma, D.; Li, Y.; Vicente, E.C.; Uieda, W.; Ribeiro, J.M.C. (2013) The “Vampirome”: transcriptome and proteome analysis of the principal and accessory submaxillary glands of the vampire bat Desmodus rotundus, a vector of human rabies. Journal of Proteomics 82: 288–319.

Gómez-Alonso, J. (1998) Rabies: a possible explanation for the vampire legend. Neurology 51(3): 856–859.

Harris, T. (2001) How vampires work. HowStuffWorks. Available from: http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/strange-creatures/vampire.htm (Date of access: 15/Aug/2017).

Hong, W. & Zhao, H. (2014) Vampire bats exhibit evolutionary reduction of bitter taste receptor genes common to other bats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 281: 20141079–20141079.

Hornsby, P.J. (2007) Telomerase and the aging process. Experimental Gerontology 42(7): 575–581.

Hsu, P.D.; Lander, E.S.; Zhang, F. (2014) Development and applications of CRISPR–Cas9 for genome engineering. Cell 157(6): 1262–1278

de Keizer, P.L.J. (2017) The Fountain of Youth by targeting senescent cells? Trends in Molecular Medicine 23(1): 6–17.

Kim, E.B.; Fang, X.; Fushan, A.A.; Huang, Z.; Lobanov, A.V.; Han, L.; (…) [+36 authors]. (2011) Genome sequencing reveals insights into physiology and longevity of the naked mole rat. Nature 479: 223–227.

Ma, H., Marti-Gutierrez, N., Park, S.-W., Wu, J., Lee, Y., Suzuki, K., (…) [+25 authors]. (2017) Correction of a pathogenic gene mutation in human embryos. Nature 548: 413–419.

Martins, R.; Lithgow, G.J.; Link, W. (2016) Long live FOXO: Unraveling the role of FOXO proteins in aging and longevity. Aging Cell 15(2): 196–207.

Paaby, A.B. & Rockman, M.V. (2013) The many faces of pleiotropy. Trends in Genetics 29(2): 66–73.

Pecos, H. & Lomax, R. (2001–2017) The Science of Vampirism. Dango Productions, Inc. Available from: http://www.fvza.org/vampires.html (Date of access: 15/Aug/2017).

Phillips, C.D. & Baker, R.J. (2015) Secretory gene recruitments in vampire bat salivary adaptation and potential convergences with sanguivorous leeches. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 3: 122.

Rice, A. (1988) The Queen of the Damned. Knopf, New York.

Schaible, R. & Sussman, M. (2013) FOXO in aging: did evolutionary diversification of FOXO function distract it from prolonging life? BioEssays 35(12): 1101–1110.

Schubert, S.; Lehmann, J.; Kalfon, L.; Slor, H.; Falik-Zaccai, T.C.; Emmert, S. (2014) Clinical utility gene card for: Xeroderma pigmentosum. European Journal of Human Genetics 22(7).

Seim, I.; Fang, X.; Xiong, Z.; Lobanov, A. V.; Huang, Z.; Ma, S.; (…) [+23 authors]. (2013) Genome analysis reveals insights into physiology and longevity of the Brandt’s bat Myotis brandtii. Nature Communications 4: 2212.

Smith, I.; Wang, L.-F. (2013) Bats and their virome: an important source of emerging viruses capable of infecting humans. Current Opinion in Virology 3(1): 84–91.

Stoker, B. (1897) Dracula. Archibald Constable and Company, Westminster.

Tellgren-Roth, Å.; Dittmar, K.; Massey, S.E.; Kemi, C.; Tellgren-Roth, C.; Savolainen, P.; Leslie, A.; Lyons, L.A.; Liberles, D.A. (2009) Keeping the blood flowing – plasminogen activator genes and feeding behavior in vampire bats. Naturwissenschaften 96(1): 39-47.

Turbill, C.; Bieber, C.; Ruf, T. (2011) Hibernation is associated with increased survival and the evolution of slow life histories among mammals. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 278: 3355–3363.

Tian, X.; Azpurua, J.; Hine, C.; Vaidya, A.; Myakishev-Rempel, M.; Ablaeva, J.; Mao, Z.; Nevo, E.; Gorbunova, V.; Seluanov, A. (2013) High-molecular-mass hyaluronan mediates the cancer resistance of the naked mole rat. Nature 499: 346–349.

Tian, X.; Azpurua, J.; Ke, Z.; Augereau, A.; Zhang, Z. D.; Vijg, J.; Gladyshev, V.N.; Gorbunova, V.; Seluanov, A. (2015) INK4 locus of the tumor-resistant rodent, the naked mole rat, expresses a functional p15/p16 hybrid isoform. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112(4): 1053–1058.

Warde-Farley, D.; Donaldson, S.L.; Comes, O.; Zuberi, K.; Badrawi, R.; Chao, P.; (…) [+11 authors]. (2010) The GeneMANIA prediction server: biological network integration for gene prioritization and predicting gene function. Nucleic Acids Research 38(suppl. 2): W214–W220.

Winkler, M.G. & Anderson, K.E. (1990). Vampires, porphyria, & the media: medicalization of a myth. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 33(4): 598–611.

Wu, C.-W. & Storey, K.B. (2016) Life in the cold: links between mammalian hibernation and longevity. Biomolecular Concepts 7(1): 41–52. 


I would like to thank Dr. Olaf Thalmann and Angela Boeijen for insightful comments and Nina Haglund for language revision. 


Dr. Veronika Laine is a molecular biologist working currently with the great tit and she is especially interested in behavior, genes, pleiotropism, bats, kittens and vampires, especially Eric Northman. She plays too much video games.

[1] The Queen of the Damned, by Anne Rice (1988).

[2] Old folklore; Buffy the Vampire Slayer (20th Television, 1997–2003).

[3] Daybreakers (Lionsgate, 2010); the Underworld film series (Lakeshore Entertainment, 2003–2016); The Strain (20th Television, 2014–2017).

[4] Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1897); The Vampire Diaries (Warner Bros., 2009–2017); The Twilight Saga (Summit Entertainment, 2008–2012); True Blood (HBO Enterprises, 2008–2014).

Check other articles from this volume


Fantastic beasts and how to diversify them

Guilherme Hermanson

Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras de Ribeirão Preto, Universidade de São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto, Brazil.

Email: guilhermehermanson (at) gmail (dot) com

Download PDF

Despite their secrecy, fantastic beasts are oftentimes noticed by muggles. Their diversity, however, was never subject of any study in order to understand what could have driven it. At least two groups of creatures show that both historical and environmental aspects played role on these organisms’ lineages’ splitting events, leading to their current distribution on the globe. Additionally, nonspecialist readers that enjoy Harry Potter culture might become interested in the topic and, as such, fictional content can represent an innovative tool of science outreach to introduce evolutionary biology and biogeography concepts to the general public.


Not even special clauses (Scamander, 2001) prevented muggles of noticing fantastic beasts among them. They are part of our days probably since before we started creating tales about them (d’Huy, 2013). Present in all continents, except Antarctica, magical creatures occupy an unequal variety of niches, from herbivorous forms to fire-eating beasts (Scamander, 2001). All the main differences described for such creatures may reflect not just local traditions or modifications from oral stories, but actual lineage branching events (e.g., Hamilton et al., 2015).

Among such beasts, there are some groups in which well-known diversification processes can be exemplified, namely a clade of hominoid-related beasts, and a clade of insect-related creatures, both currently spread in the European and North American continents (Fig. 1; topology follows Gerelle et al., 2016). Basically, the appearance of natural barriers, as well as opportunistic exploitation of diverse ecological niches, could be the main causes explaining where such fantastic creatures currently inhabit (i.e., their geographic distribution); this would be in spite of the common explanation of climate change driving biodiversity dynamics (e.g., Janis, 1993; Alroy et al., 2000).


According to Gerelle et al. (2016), Fairies, Imps, Pixies, Grindylows, and Doxies form the sister clade to butterflies (crown-Lepidoptera), making them a sort of ‘lepidopteran-like’ beasts. Despite being phylogenetically related to insects, all creatures in this clade possess humanoid traits, consisting of a remarkable case of evolutionary convergence. In addition, the absence of wings in Grindylows and Imps is probably a case of reversion to the apterous plesiomorphic condition of insects (i.e., the insect lineage was originally wingless; Kukalová-Peck, 1991).


Figure 1. Current distribution of the groups discussed in the text with their phylogenetic relationships, based on Gerelle et al. (2016).

It is plausible to assume that the split between crown lepidopterans and lepidopteran-like fantastic beasts occurred back in the earliest Jurassic (Hettangian) of Britain (circa 200 Ma, i.e., 200 million years ago), as this is where the oldest fossil lepidopteran comes from (Whalley, 1986; Schachat & Gibbs, 2016). At that time, continents were united in a single land mass, called Pangaea, which would have allowed some populations of ‘Doxy-like’ beasts to migrate from British areas to what is now North America (Fig. 2A). This would explain why Doxies are present in both continents, but the remaining representatives of the group are not, demonstrating another case of disjunct distribution, as occurs, for example, with ratite birds, some pleurodiran turtles and flowering plants (Wen, 1999; de Queiroz, 2005). Otherwise, Doxies might have later migrated to North America through land continuities such as the De Geer Bridge (McKenna, 1975).


Figure 2. Probable location of ancestors of (A) the lepidopteran-like beasts during the Hettangian (earliest Jurassic) of Britain, with posterior migration to North America, and (B) hominoid-related beasts, originating in Central Europe during the Paleogene, with subsequent migration to northern Europe and North America. Maps modified from the Paleobiology Database (PBDB; www.paleobiodb.org).

Grindylows branched early in this clade’s evolutionary history, “soon” after the Doxy lineage separated, likely dating to the Toarcian (late Early Jurassic; circa 180 to 175 Ma), when England was flooded by marine transgressions (Wignall, 1991). The populations occupying the deluged area probably vanished, while the ones remaining at its borders survived and later invaded the aquatic environment (organisms closely related to modern Grindylows). This is somewhat akin to the Pleistocene refuge hypothesis of Neotropical diversification (e.g., Vanzolini & Williams, 1981; Garzón-Orduña et al., 2014), but instead of forest retraction due to climate fluctuation, areas underwent fragmentation because of marine water incursion.

Like the other splitting events, Imps and Pixies diverged mainly due to historical causes. Both beasts share morphological and reproductive similarities (Scamander, 2001). Pixies are restricted to Cornwall, whereas Imps are distributed throughout Britain, living near river banks. In Cornwall, the River Tamar largely represents the boundary with the rest of England (Carey, 1911). The rise of sea-level (similar to that of the last interglacial period; Rohling et al., 2008), could have flooded the river region, isolating populations that lived near it (like modern Imps do). On the Cornish side of the river, a small population would have differentiated, preventing gene flow after the restoration of sea levels (Fig. 3). Despite capable of flying (and thus crossing the river), Pixies are not known to form hybrids with Imps.

According to folklore, Fairies are exclusively British creatures (Briggs, 1967; Silver, 1999), but the lack of information regarding ecological preferences (Scamander, 2001), as well as fossils, hinder speculation about their evolutionary history.


Figure 3. (A) Geographical distribution of ‘Pixie + Imp’ ancestor in southwestern England. (B) Vicariant event isolating two populations and preventing gene flow. (C) Current distribution of Imps and Pixies, the latter being restricted to Cornwall.


It is likely that, instead of historical events causing populations to split, ecological constraints were mainly responsible for the current diversity of hominoid-related beasts. The first branching lineage to be analyzed is the clade formed by Gnomes, Red Caps, and Leprechauns. As hominoid-related beasts, the group probably originated at least before the Miocene (a period spanning roughly 23 to 5 Ma; Stevens et al., 2013) and later invaded European landmasses. The burrowing habit of Gnomes most likely resulted of selective pressure due to the predation by Jarveys, a large ferret-like beast present both in Europe and North America. As such, the plesiomorphic (i.e., ancestral) condition of the group was a non-burrowing habit, which might have evolved independently in Red Caps too (Scamander, 2001). The occurrence of Gnomes in both Europe and North America depicts again a case of disjunct distribution, but the processes that drove such pattern probably differ from that of the Doxy. Rather than a vicariant event resulting from the split of Laurasia, climatological events could have created a passage that allowed them to reach North America (e.g., the Thulean Bridge; Brikiatis, 2014), as exemplified by marine diatoms during the Eocene (Bijl et al., 2013). As Jarveys intensively preyed on Gnomes, some populations likely sheltered in tunnels and acted as scavengers, feeding on the blood shed by their kin (similar to modern Red Caps).

In turn, Leprechauns likely represent a more recent lineage that migrated to Britain at first (still connected to the European mainland; Erlingsson, 2004) and then reached Ireland, probably across a land bridge before humans (Edwards & Brooks, 2008; Bower, 2016), being later included in Irish folklore (Winberry, 1976; Koch, 2006). However, Leprechauns (as all the exemplified beasts) lack a fossil record, which complicates the understanding of how and when such groups colonized the areas they currently live in (Crottini et al., 2012).

The other clade of hominoid-related beasts comprises Erklings, Trolls and Progebins, distributed in northern Europe (Fig. 4A). Modern representatives of the group are known to feed on flesh (especially human; Scamander, 2001), which evokes whether such beasts arose earlier or later than the Homo arrival to Europe (ca. 1.4–1.8 Ma; Parfitt et al., 2005; Toro-Moyano et al., 2013). Probably spread all over Europe originally, the competition for the same kind of resources (mostly raw flesh) with a distantly related clade


Figure 4. (A) Probable ancient distribution of Erklings, Trolls, and Pogrebins in Europe. (B) Arrival of Homo species in Europe, ca. 1.5 Ma. (C) Demise of original populations of fantastic creatures, showing their current relictual distribution in Europe.

(Homo species) may have constrained the range of the group (mainly inhabiting densely vegetated zones today), extinguishing ancient populations more widely distributed. This last example analogously illustrates a case (e.g., Silvestro et al., 2015) in which the later arrival of a phylogenetically distant (but ecologically similar) clade to an area triggered diversification shifts onto the previous occupiers, as well as the probable extinction of some forms.


In order to verify if there is a regionalization among the fantastic biota, their geographical distribution was compiled from Scamander (2001) and interpreted based on (i) six distinct geographical realms from Wallace (1876), and (ii) the recent division of Holt et al. (2013) in 13 domains. Each creature was plotted against the realm in a simple area vs. taxa matrix (e.g., Souza, 2005), scoring (0) if absent, and (1) if present in a determined locality. This gives us a diagram, called ‘area cladogram’, with the biogeographic history of the groups.

The area cladogram obtained with Wallace’s six biogeographic domains (Wallace, 1876) is partially consistent with the biogeographical history of the southern hemisphere (i.e., mostly Gondwanan-derived land masses), according to patterns observed in some plants and animals (e.g., Sanmartín & Ronquist, 2004), in which the Oriental biota (i.e., mainly Indian) is the sister group to the remaining areas (Fig. 5A). This could be reasonably expected, since India was the first land mass to branch in Gondwana breakup geological sequence (Barron, 1987; McLoughlin, 2001). The relationships of African, South American and Australian areas however disagree with Sanmartín & Ronquist (2004), in which it was expected that South American and Australian biotas were more closely related to one another than to the African biota. This result could imply a Pangaean origin for these fantastic beasts, with subsequent vicariant events. However, this hierarchical pattern following the breakup sequence of Gondwana could also be a kind of ‘vicariance-mimicking’ phenomenon affecting the cladogram area topology (see Upchurch et al., 2002). Until fossils of fantastic beasts are found, knowledge about their past distribution remains obscured. On the other hand, when plotted according to the biogeographic realms of Holt et al. (2013) the Gondwanan-derived continents do not present such hierarchical relationship (Fig. 5B), resulting in a pectinate (i.e., comb-like) conformation within the area cladogram. Both results could also be influenced by the lack of data about the fantastic beasts, which may not follow the pattern of ordinary ones.


Figure 5. Area cladograms obtained based on (A) Wallace’s zones (1876), and (B) Holt et al. (2013) new zones, subdividing those proposed by Wallace.

In sum, due to the incompatible results for Gondwanan continents, the fantastic biota could have had a hybrid, composed origin (Amorim, 2012), with both autochthonous and allochthonous elements. The Palearctic and Nearctic realms were recovered together in both analyses, although both regions are inhabited by most of the beasts, which could have biased the result. Despite of the apparently unarguable Laurasian distribution of such beasts, it has been historically difficult to depict the continents’ biogeographical scenario (Sanmartín et al., 2001; Wildman et al., 2007).


Biogeography is an integrative science combining different sources of evidence to understand what caused organisms to be distributed the way they presently are – or were in the geological past (Lomolino et al., 2010). Despite of its relevance, the public knowledge (i.e., outside the academic environment) concerning this research area seems debilitated, even with the timid increase in electronic dissemination (Ladle, 2008). Present in both evolutionary approaches of Darwin (1859) and Wallace (1876), the spatial distribution of organisms offers an unparalleled tool to stimulate students to think about evolution and natural history (Rosenau, 2012; Allchin, 2014) – and not just to understand evolution, but to accept it as well (Lombrozo et al., 2008).

In this context, the teaching of biogeography (and evolution in general) could benefit from the use of fictional organisms with “real” distributions around the globe. Presenting the continents’ past and present arrangement, allied with the localities inhabited by the beasts and possible disjunction events, in a kind of inquiry-based approach (e.g., Robbins & Roy, 2007) would instigate students to formulate their own hypotheses. This, in turn, could lead them to more easily assimilate all these concepts. The specific use of the popular Fantastic Beasts of the Harry Potter franchise to canalize this is supoprted mostly by the interest of younger audiences (under 25 years old) in the recently released spin-off movie (over 50%; Lang, 2016). Actually, scientific scenarios were already present on several episodes from the Harry Potter books (e.g., Rowling, 1997; 1998; 1999; 2005), providing a larger background for people to get involved.

Moreover, this would not be the first time that a fictional universe was considered to engage younger people on scientific activities (e.g., Roque, 2016). J.K. Rownling’s fantasy novels are already proven as a promising and innovative background for scientific experiments (e.g., Vezzali et al., 2014). As such, the present work is hopefully in a good position to arouse at least a spark of interest among students to understand what made our beasts – fantastic or otherwise – to live where they do.


Allchin, D. (2014) On genius and happenstance in scientific discovery. The American Biology Teacher 76: 145–148.

Alroy, J.; Koch, P.L.; Zachos, J.C. (2000) Global climate change and North American mammalian evolution. Paleobiology 26: 259–288.

Amorim, D.S. (2012) Biogeografia da Região Neotropical. In: Rafael, J.A.; Melo, G.A.R.; Carvalho, C.J.B.; Casari, S.A.; Constantino, R. (Eds.) Insetos do Brasil: Diversidade e Taxonomia. Editora Holos, Ribeirão Preto. Pp. 111–132.

Barron, E.J. (1987) Cretaceous plate tectonics reconstructions. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclima-tology, Palaeoecology 59: 3–29.

Bijl, P.K.; Bendle, J.A.; Bohaty, S.M.; Pross, J.; Schouten, S.; Tauxe, L.; Stickley, C.E.; McKay, R.M.; Röhl, U.; Olney, M.; Sluijs, A.; Escutia, C.; Brinkhuis, H.; Expedition 318 Scientists. (2013) Eocene cooling linked to early flow across the Tasmanian Gateway. PNAS 110: 9645–9650.

Briggs, K.M. (1967) The Fairies in English Tradition and Literature. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Brikiatis, L. (2014) The De Geer, Thulean and Beringia routes: key concepts for understanding early Cenozoic biogeography. Journal of Biogeography 41: 1036–1054.

Bower, B. (2016) Bear bone rewrites human history in Ireland. Available from: https://www. sciencenews.org/article/bear-bone-rewrites-hu man-history-ireland (Date of access: 02/Nov/ 2016).

Carey, W.M. (1911) The geography of Cornwall. The Geographical Teacher 6: 90–103.

Crottini, A.; Madsen, O.; Poux, C.; Strauß, A.; Vieites, D.R.; Vences, M. (2012) Vertebrate time-tree elucidates the biogeographic pattern of a major biotic change around the K-T boundary in Madagascar. PNAS 109: 5358–5363.

Darwin, C.R. (1859) On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. John Murray, London.

de Queiroz, A. (2005) The resurrection of oceanic dispersal in historical biogeography. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20: 68–73.

d’Huy, J. (2013) Le motif du dragon serait paléolithique: mythologie et archéologie. Préhistoire du Sud-Ouest 21(2): 195–215.

Edwards, R.J & Brooks, A.J. (2008) The island of Ireland: drowning the myth of an Irish land-bridge? In: Davenport, J.J.; Sleeman, D.P.; Woodman, P.C. (Eds.) Mind the Gap: Postglacial Colonisation of Ireland. Special Supplement to the Irish Naturalists’ Journal, Dublin. Pp. 19–34.

Erlingsson, U. (2004) Atlantis from a Geographer’s Perspective. Lindorm Publishing, Miami.

Garzón-Orduña, I.J.; Benetti-Longhini, J.E.; Brower, A.V.Z. (2014) Timing the diversification of the Amazonian biota: butterfly divergences are consistent with Pleistocene refugia. Journal of Biogeography 41: 1631–1638.

Gerelle, W.; Scamander, N.; Vahanvaty, A. (2016) Preliminary phylogeny of magical and ordinary creatures: evidence of a recent diversification. Available from: http://www.scq.ubc.ca/wp-con tent/uploads/2015/03/APCMvol2paper01_HarryPotter_Wesley_Ammar.pdf (Date of access: 01/Nov/2016).

Hamilton, A.J.; May, R.R.; Waters, E.K. (2015) Zoology: here be dragons. Nature 520: 42–43.

Holt, B.G.; Lessard, J.-P.; Borregaard, M.K.; Fritz, S.A.; Araújo, M.B.; Dimitrov, D.; Fabre, P.-H.; Graham, C.H.; Graves, G.R.; Jønsson, K.A.; Nogués-Bravo, D.; Wang, Z.; Whittaker, R.J.; Fjeldså, J.; Rahbe, C. (2013) An update of Wallace’s zoogeographic regions of the world. Science 339: 74–78.

Janis, C.M. (1993) Tertiary mammal evolution in the context of changing climates, vegetation, and tectonic events. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 24: 467–500.

Koch, J.T. (2006) Celtic Culture: a Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara.

Kukalová-Peck, J. (1991) Fossil history and the evolution of the hexapod structures. In: Naumann, I.D. (Ed.) The Insects of Australia: a Textbook for Students and Research Workers. Melbourne University Press, Melbourne. Pp. 141–179.

Ladle, R.J. (2008) Catching fairies and the public representation of biogeography. Journal of Biogeography 35: 388–391.

Lang, B. (2016) ‘Fantastic Beasts’ box office debut draws on aging ‘Harry Potter’ fanbase. http://variety.com/2016/film/box-office/fantas tic-beasts-box-office-harry-potter-1201923148/ (Date of access: 20/Nov/2016).

Lombrozo, T.; Thanukos, A.; Weisberg, M. (2008) The importance of understanding the nature of science for accepting evolution. Evolution: Education and Outreach 1: 290–298.

Lomolino, M.V.; Riddle, B.R.; Whittaker, R.J.; Brown, J.H. (2010) Biogeography. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland.

McKenna, M.C. (1975) Fossil mammals and early Eocene North Atlantic land continuity. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 62: 335–353.

McLoughlin, S. (2001) The breakup history of Gondwana and its impact on pre-Cenozoic floristic provincialism. Australian Journal of Botany 49: 271–300.

Parfitt, S.A.; Barendregt, R.W.; Breda, M.; Candy, I.; Collins, M.J.; Coope, G.R.; Durbidge, P.; Field, M.H.; Lee, J.R.; Lister, A.M.; Mutch, R.; Penkman, K.E.H.; Preece, R.C.; Rose, J.; Stringer, C.B.; Symmons, R.; Whittaker, J.E.; Wymer, J.J.; Stuart, A.J. (2005). The earliest record of human activity in northern Europe. Nature 438: 1008–1012.

Robbins, J.R. & Roy, P. (2007) The natural selection: identifying and correcting non-science student preconceptions through an inquiry-based, critical approach to evolution. The American Biology Teacher 69: 460–466.

Rohling, E.J.; Grant, K.; Hemleben, C.; Siddall, M.; Hoogakker, B.A.A.; Bolshaw, M.; Kucera, M. (2008) High rates of sea-level rise during the last interglacial period. Nature Geoscience 1: 38–42.

Roque, F.O. (2016) Field studies: could Pokemon Go boost birding? Nature 537: 34–34.

Rosenau, J. (2012) Evolution and biogeography: leading students in Darwin and Wallace’s footsteps. Evolution: Education and Outreach 5: 582–584.

Rowling, J.K. (1997) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Bloomsbury, London.

Rowling, J.K. (1998) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Bloomsbury, London.

Rowling, J.K. (1999) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Bloomsbury, London.

Rowling, J.K. (2005) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Bloomsbury, London.

Sanmartín, I.; Enghoff, H.; Ronquist, F. (2001) Patterns of animal dispersal, vicariance and diversification in the Holarctic. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 73: 345–90.

Sanmartín, I.; Ronquist, F. (2004) Southern hemisphere biogeography inferred by event-based models: plant versus animal patterns. Systematic Biology 53: 216–243.

Scamander, N. (2001) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Bloomsbury, London.

Schachat, S.R & Gibbs, G.W. (2016) Variable wing venation in Agathiphaga (Lepidoptera: Agathiphagidae) is key to understanding the evolution of basal moths. Royal Society Open Science 3: 160453.

Silver, C.G. (1999) Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Silvestro, D.; Antonelli, A.; Salamin, N.; Quental, T.B. (2015) The role of clade competition in the diversification of North American canids. PNAS 112: 8684–8689.

Souza, F.L. (2005) Geographical distribution patterns of South American side-necked turtles (Chelidae), with emphasis on Brazilian species. Revista Española de Herpetología 19: 33–46.

Stevens, N.J.; Seiffert, E.R.; O’Connor, P.M.; Roberts, E.M.; Schmitz, M.D.; Krause, C.; Gorscak, E.; Ngasala, S.; Hieroymus, T.L.; Temu, J. (2013) Palaeontological evidence for an Oligocene divergence between Old World monkeys and apes. Nature 497: 611–614.

Toro-Moyano, I.; Martínez-Navarro, B.; Augustí, J.; Souday, C.; Castro, J.M.B.; Martinón-Torres, M.; Fajardo, B.; Duval, M.; Falguères, C.; Oms, O.; Parés, J.M.; Anadón, P.; Julià, R.; García-Aguilar, J.M.; Moigne, A.-M.; Espigares, M.P.; Ros-Montoya, S.; Palmqvist, P. (2013) The oldest human fossil in Europe dated to ca. 1.4 Ma at Orce (Spain). Journal of Human Evolution 65: 1–9.

Upchurch, P.; Hunn, C.A.; Norman, D.B. (2002). An analysis of dinosaurian biogeography: evidence for the existence of vicariance and dispersal patterns caused by geological events. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 269: 613–621.

Vanzolini, P.E. & Williams, E.E. (1981) The vanishing refuges: a mechanism for ecogeographic speciation. Papéis Avulsos de Zoologia 34: 251–255.

Vezzali, L.; Stathi, S.; Giovannini, D.; Capozza, D.; Trifiletti, E. (2014) The greatest magic of Harry Potter: reducing prejudice. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 45: 105–121.

Wallace, A.R. (1876) The Geographical Distribution of Animals. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Wen, J. (1999) Evolution of eastern Asian and eastern North American disjunct distribution in flowering plants. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 30: 421–455.

Whalley, P. (1986) A review of the current fossil evidence of Lepidoptera in the Mesozoic. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society of London 28: 253–271.

Wignall, P.B. (1991) Model for transgressive black shales? Geology 19: 167–170.

Wildman, D.E.; Uddin, M.; Opazo, J.C.; Liu, G.; Lefort, V.; Guindon, S.; Gascuel, O.; Grossman, L.I.; Romero, R.; Goodman, M. (2007) Genomics, biogeography, and the diversification of placental mammals. PNAS 104: 14395–14400.

Winberry, J.J. (1976) The elusive elf: some thoughts on the nature and origin of the Irish leprechaun. Folklore 87: 63–75.


I would like to thank J.K. Rowling, who idealized the magical world of Harry Potter as well as its fantastic creatures; my Biogeography professor, Eduardo Almeida, in whose course I was able to formulate ideas regarding the subject; my colleagues (Anaís Silveira, Carolina Barroso, Fernanda Dalarmi, Isabela Soares, Luene Pessoa e Thayná Medeiros) with whom I worked in said course, as well as Nádia Gibran, for all the support and kindness. The author is funded by the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP; proc. 2016/03373-0).


Guilherme Hermanson is a big fan of the Harry Potter magical world. He is also an undergraduate student at the University of São Paulo (Ribeirão Preto’s campus), currently developing his research at the university’s Paleontology Lab, focused on the internal anatomy of extinct turtles.

Check other articles from this volume