Tag Archives: alola forms

Alolan Rattata: A Tale of Mice, Men, and Mongoose

Do you remember the old nursery rhyme about the old lady who swallowed a fly?

For the uninitiated, the story goes as follows: There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. For what reasons she swallowed a fly we do not know. Perhaps she will suffer the consequences of her poor dietary decision. The woman, perturbed by the buzzing of the live fly she just consumed, proceeds to swallow a spider in order to catch the fly. The spider appears to successfully apprehend the fly, however, the spider has begins to wriggle and wiggle and tiggle inside her. Having learned nothing from her previous two experiences with swallowing live animals, she goes on to swallow a bird to catch the spider, then a cat to catch the bird, a dog to catch the cat, a cow to catch the dog, and a horse to catch the cow, at which she finally succumbs to her gluttonous behavior.

A child-appropriate bedtime story if there ever was one.

But ethical questions surrounding the grime nature of this nursery rhyme aside, the tale of the old lady who swallowed a fly provides great insight to the core of human nature. We tend to have limited foresight, unable to predict the consequences of our actions even when we have prior experience with them. Our carelessness towards solving problems hastily with poorly thought out solutions instead of taking the time to think critically and rationally about the situation at hand.

This tendency is best exemplified when it comes to the issue of invasive species. A similar pattern emerges every time mankind unwittingly introduces a foreign species to a new land. An alien organism is unleashed into an ecosystem that evolved without its influence. Consequently, the invading species propagates and decimates the native populations. So, in order to counter effect of the invading species, we introduce another foreign species into the ecosystem. The new invader propagates and decimates the native populations as well, and the cycle begins anew. Like the old lady, we assume that we can quell the fly’s buzzing by swallowing a spider without seeing that we’ll just to have to deal with the spider.

You’re probably thinking, That would never happen in real life. Nobody is that stupid. Allow me to point to the Hawaiian Islands, certainly no strangers to foreign invaders (See The Feral Cat Problem: The Unfortunate Truth About Alolan Form Meowth). During their expeditions, European explorers were accompanied by an uninvited guest, Rattus norvegicus, known colloquially as the brown rat. These furry stowaways followed humans on their many expeditions throughout the world, colonizing many remote islands alongside their human counterparts. Hawaii was no exception.

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Rats are essentially the crème de la crème of invasive species. One could say that they were specifically designed to conquer foreign ecosystems. For starters, rats are very adaptable and are able to live in a wide range of environments. In addition, rats eat everything. That is not hyperbole. If it has any nutritional value, a rat can and will eat it. But perhaps what makes them so successful as an invasive species is their ability to reproduce exponentially. Rats reach sexual maturity at five weeks, females ovulate every 4-5 days, and they have a gestation period of only 22 days with as many as 20 babies in a litter1. A single pair of rats can produce as many as 2,000 descendants over the course of a single year2. Indeed, if there was ever an animal best equipped to conquer the world, the rat would be it.

And unsurprisingly, once these furry invaders set foot on the pristine island ecosystem of Hawaii, there population skyrocketed as they ravaged the countryside like barbarian tribes ransacking the Roman capital. They pillaged agricultural fields, disrupted local ecosystems, destroyed native bird nests, and spread a slew of new diseases and parasites which took their own toll on the native populations, animal and human alike.

The metaphorical fly had caused quite a bit of damage, so to quell its buzzing, in 1883, the sugar industry introduced mongooses to sugarcane fields with the hope of curbing the damage done by the rat infestation.

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The mongoose is a native of India3. Like rats, mongooses are far from picky eaters. They will essentially feed on anything that they are able to successfully swallow. Hawaii with its diverse plant and animal life was an open buffet. Why stick to mere rats when you can dine on Hawaiian delicacies such as petrel hatchings, sea turtle eggs, and practically every moving object in sight.

Moreover, mongooses are able to adapt to a variety of environments, thus giving them unlimited range to hunt throughout the islands.

While their impact on rat populations has been rather insignificant, mongooses have annihilated native populations. They have all but exterminated the native lizard population4, driven several bird species to near extinction, and caused a reported $50 million in damage5. The Hawaiian goose, also known as the nene, had an estimated population of 25,000 in 1778. By 1952, that number had dropped to 306.

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To make matters worse, mongooses are surprisingly intelligent, and tend to avoid most traps, especially when prey is abundant, and it is always abundant.

And as a final piece of cruel irony to this already depressing tale, rats are nocturnal creatures, coming out mostly at night, while mongooses are diurnal, being most active during the day7. The two species rarely came in contact with each other.

[Queue Mario Fail Music]

Goes to show that a little research can go a long way. #TheMoreYouKnow

In perhaps the most obvious parallel to its real-life counterpart yet, the Alola region is also victim to the narrow-sightedness of a few individuals. Yungoos, the Loitering Pokémon, is not native to Alola, but was introduced to the islands in order to deal with the overpopulation of a “certain other Pokémon”. It has now since been revealed the “certain other Pokémon” to be none other than Alolan Rattata, now a dual Normal-Dark Type, fitting for such a destructive creature.

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Perhaps like with Alolan Meowth, the inclusion of this unfortunate real-life reference will bring attention to a critical issue plaguing the Hawaiian Islands, and maybe begin a conversation about the way we approach fixing our messes.

Maybe we should tell our children the tale of the old lady who swallowed a fly as a cautionary tale, so that they do not make the same mistakes we do.

The Feral Cat Problem: The Unfortunate Truth About Alola Form Meowth (Pokémon Sun and Moon)

Hawaii has a cat problem.

The Hawaiian Islands are no strangers to invasive species, European colonization has introduced a plethora of foreign creatures to its delicate ecosystems. Mosquito eggs stowed away in pools of water only to hatch in an environment that evolved without them. Argentinian ants added Hawaii to their list of conquer territories when cargo ships unintentionally brought them to the islands, as did fire ants who also thrived in the defenseless new world. Naturally, snakes and rats found their way aboard human ships as well, humanity can’t go anywhere without its two greatest enemies. But perhaps one of the most devastating forces to set foot on the shores of Hawaii (besides Europeans) is felis catus, the domestic cat.

Likewise, it is only fitting in a game that has already borrowed so much from real life to acknowledge the feral cat problem plaguing Hawaii in the form of Alolan Meowth.

Like its real life counterpart, Meowth is not native to the Alola region. The species was introduced to the islands as a gift to the royal family from a distant unidentified region, most likely Kanto. Through a combination of selective breeding and excessive pampering, Meowth evolved into its Alolan form which reflects its terribly destructive lifestyle. Once the monarchy fell, the Meowth turned to the wild and became what we would call a feral animal, a species that was initially domesticated but has since returned to the wild.

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In the time since the fall of the monarchy, Meowth have become quite common across the islands, much like their real-life counterparts who currently inhabit all eight Hawaiian Islands. The cats have no predators and sit comfortably atop the food chain, free to feast on an ecosystem that evolved independently of its influence and thus is open season for one of evolution’s finest predators.

While their Pokémon counterparts evolved into a different form, feral cats on Hawaii, as in most places, have remained relatively unchanged, appearing no different from domesticated cats in everything except behavior. As any cat owner knows well, even domesticated cats are fairly independent and are nowhere as needy as, say, dogs. Despite years of selective breeding, cats are still, essentially, tiny tigers that you keep in your house. This is bad news for wildlife.

For starters, in the time since their introduction, feral cats have wreaked havoc on island ecosystems. Feral cats are responsible for the extinction of 33 island species, and currently pose a threat to 8% of critically endangered birds, mammals, and reptiles. Feral cats on Hawaii have been especially devastating towards local bird populations. Exact numbers are difficult to come by mainly due to the rarity of the birds, but a recent study conducted in 2013 by the University of Hawaii, National Park Service, and the U.S. Geological survey monitored the burrows of the Hawaiian Petrel, a bird native to the island. Out of the fourteen burrows monitored, feral cats were found to be present in eight. However, feral cats are not just a problem on islands. Over 2.4 billion bird deaths have been attributed to your feline friends in the United States alone.

hawaiian birds

As we have seen from previous gameplay trailers, the Alola region is already home to a diverse population of birds, particularly the various forms of Oricorio. It isn’t much of a stretch to assume that the presence of Meowth has had its own devastating impact on the Alolan ecosystem. Who knows how many native species have suffered at the hands of Meowth, or have even gone extinct from predation? Oricorio and its various forms may currently be endangered like many native Hawaiian species. If the games intend to continue their streak of mirroring real life, then it is quite possible that Oricorio’s endangered status may be reflected in its rarity. The player may only be given a single opportunity to capture each form, similar to legendaries and a few other Pokémon such as Volcarona and Kecleon.

However, predation is not the only threat that feral cats have introduced to the islands. Cats can serve as hosts for Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that requires cats to complete its life cycle. Feral cats can unwittingly carry the parasite from ecosystem to ecosystem, spreading its infectious eggs through its feces. This can often contaminate water sources—marine and freshwater—as well as spread on land where bird and even humans can fall victim to it.

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In the Pokémon World, we already have Pokérus which is highly beneficial. But considering that feral cats are often hosts for diseases, is it possible that Alolan Meowth will be instrumental in spreading a new PokéPathogen? Or perhaps it was Meowth that initially introduced Pokérus to the Alola region, however, due to the island’s isolation, the normally benign virus is actually harmful to the native population, similar to how island populations in our world are often susceptible to diseases that seem harmless to us since we have built an immunity to them over the years.

While it is fun to speculate on the implications of a feral species running rampant in a fictional ecosystem, the issue of feral cats is serious and needs to be addressed. Hopefully, by just the inclusion of this Alolan form, more attention can be brought to the destructive power of our feline friends when we act carelessly on their behalf.

For more information on feral cats and other invasive species in Hawaii, check out the Hawaii Invasive Species Council’s website, as they were a great resource for this blog post, as was the American Bird Conservancy.

Alola Form Exeggutor: Island Gigantism at its finest (Pokémon Sun and Moon)

I have a soft spot for Exeggutor. Despite being an unsettling freak of nature, Exeggutor in all its three-headed glory has managed to creep its way into my personal pantheon of favorite Pokémon. One of my first posts on The Biology of Pokémon focused specifically on Exeggutor, and surprisingly there is a lot to unpack just from a biological perspective. My analytical mind has always been perplexed by the anomalous existence of this strange creature. While others mocked and scoffed at its design, I always felt that there was more to the story of Exeggutor, that it wasn’t just another freak Pokémon, that there was a meaning to the madness.

Earlier this week, the Pokémon Company dropped a literally game changing trailer, revealing several new additions including new Pokémon, Z-moves, the apparent departure from the traditional 8-gym system, Totem Pokémon, and of course, Alola Forms.

And guess who was the first Pokémon to get an Alola Form.

Within minutes, the Internet was abuzz with memes mocking Exeggutor’s Alola Form. While I find a few of the memes worthy of a laugh, I can’t help but feel pity for my dear Exeggutor, finally having gotten its long overdue day in the sun, only to be mocked by a merciless fan base.

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But fear not Exeggutor, I will defend your honor.

For starters, Exeggutor having different forms depending on its environment is not a new concept. As early as Pokémon Crystal, the PokéDex mentions how Exeggutor will often grow many heads if it is living in a good environment.

  • Living in a good environment makes it grow lots of heads. A head that drops off becomes an Exeggcute.

The PokéDex entries from the Third Generation build on this, directly citing exposure to sunlight as conducive to head growth in Exeggutor.

  • Exeggutor originally came from the tropics. Its heads steadily grow larger from exposure to strong sunlight. It is said that when the heads fall off, they group together to form Exeggcute.
  • Originally from the tropics, Exeggutor’s heads grow larger from exposure to strong sunlight. It is said that when the heads fall, they group to form an Exeggcute.

The Alolan Islands provide the perfect environment for Exeggutor to thrive in, the tropical climate allows for year-round sunlight to fuel Exeggutor’s photosynthesis. Uninhibited by the winters that likely stunt its growth in more temperate regions, in the tropics of Alola, Exeggutor is able to achieve what the Alolan people refer to as its “true form”.

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In biology, there is a phenomenon called island gigantism, in which animals grow to larger lengths than their mainland counterparts once they are isolated on an island. This is often coupled with another island phenomenon called island dwarfism which is the exact opposite, the island animals become smaller than their mainland counterparts.

Island gigantism usually takes place in smaller animals, often herbivores. When a population of organisms colonize an island, the ecosystem is usually still developing and has many niches unfilled. Additionally, most of these new ecosystems lack the huge predators that many organisms faced on the mainland, as the physical distant and separation by water often make it difficult for such animals to colonize islands. Without the selective pressure of predators, in addition to a wealth of resources and abundance of ecological niches to be filled, many organisms will thrive in these environments and evolve larger bodies since they are no longer inhibited by the selective pressures of their former ecosystem.

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A great example of island gigantism is the Giant Tortoise, found in the Galapagos Islands. These massive creatures have no natural predators and can live upwards of one hundred years, with the longest recorded in captivity having lived to be 170 years old. They can weight up to 880 lbs. (400 kg to the rest of the world) and reach lengths of more than 6 ft. (1.87 m).  It is thought that they had evolved larger bodies in order to go longer periods without food and travel distances to obtain it.

Exeggutor is a classic case of island gigantism. Fewer predators reside on the Alola islands, and with an excess of sunlight, Exeggutor is free to push the limits of its evolution.

In fact, if you look at Alolan Exeggutor from an evolutionary perspective, its design starts to make more sense. Take, for example, its outrageously long neck. While at first it may seem out of place, if not, a major weakness, it also serves a very important purpose—photosynthesis. Exeggutor, being a plant, requires sunlight in order to complete the redox reactions that produce its food, glucose. With a longer neck, Exeggutor is able to reach above the treetops of the canopy and capture all the sunlight it needs. Additionally, Exeggutor has few, if any predators, while on these islands, so the selective pressures that would normally act against such a trait are not present, and thus, Exeggutor can evolve its neck to as far as its physical limitations allow it.

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Another interesting aspect of Alolan Exeggutor is its tail, which is said to contain a fourth head that independently controls the tail. This is important because its three main heads are too high to reach the lower sections of its bodies, so in battle, the tail head can defend its base when the top heads are unable to. Another perk of having a fourth head close to the ground is that it can also keep an eye out for potential dangers while the top half of Exeggutor is busy basking above the treetops.

As absurd as Exeggutor’s Alola Form may appear at first glance, it is perfectly evolved for the Alolan ecosystem and serves as yet another example of how well the Pokémon World can reflect our own at times. So the next time you see a derogatory comment or a meme mocking the Coconut Pokémon, remember how amazing this freak of nature truly is.

#ExeggutorLivesMatter

For more on Exeggutor, check out the original post, Exeggutor: A True Freak of Nature.