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Kingler-Cloyster Coevolution?

Coevolution main banner

Some teachers make the mistake of teaching evolution as a singular process which involves only a single isolated population of organisms that stumble upon complexity through a mix of mutation and genetic drift. But evolution is a dynamic multifaceted process involving a whole host of organisms cooperating, competing, and capturing each other. In many cases, these interactions spawn a cyclical feedback loop wherein a trait in Species A drives changes for a trait in Species B, which leads to further change in Species A, and then again in Species B, and so on and so on, back and forth these two evolutionary players go in a game that can only end in escape or extinction.

This wheel of reciprocal selection is what we call coevolution, and drives many of the interactions we observe in the natural world from the antagonistic relationship between predator and prey, to more mutualistic ones between equally contributing and benefiting partners, as is the case with clownfish and sea anemone. Coevolution can produce many extreme phenotypes. Darwin, for example, whilst forming his grand theory of evolution, was sent a rather unusual orchid which would eventually bear his name. This orchid possessed a very long nectar spur. From this, Darwin predicted that there must be some organism out there with a tongue of matching length. Indeed, there was, named Morgan’s sphinx moth, whose lengthy proboscis can indeed reach the nectar at the bottom of the spur. Coevolution in action.

Darwins orchid and moth

Indeed, much of the diversity observed in nature is a product of coevolution, and while skimming the Pokédex it became apparent to me that such a process might in fact be driving at least some of the extreme phenotypes found in the Pokémon World. Even given relatively little information on each individual Pokémon, there is enough to make a considerable argument for coevolution occurring in Pokémon.

Perhaps the most likely candidates for Pokémon Coevolution are Kingler and Cloyster.

Classified as the Pincer Pokémon, Kingler draws design inspiration from fiddler crabs whose males possess a single oversized claw, a product of sexual selection. While fiddler crabs mainly use their oversized claw to literally wave down mates—as it proves useless for feeding purposes ironically enough—Kingler reportedly use their claw in their predator efforts against their bivalve prey, Shellder and Cloyster:

Said to be capable of prying open Shellder and Cloyster shells using its 10,000-horsepower pincer. (Pokémon Stadium)

But more interesting yet is the sheer amount of power that lone claw possesses—10,000 horsepower! In fact, the Pokédex makes repeated mention of this number:

The large pincer has 10000 hp of crushing power. However, its huge size makes it unwieldy to use. (Pokémon Red Version and Blue Version)

One claw grew massively and as hard as steel. It has 10,000-HP strength. However, it is too heavy. (Pokémon Yellow Version)

Coined by the inventor James Watt (yes, that watt), horsepower (hp) describes the power a horse exerts in pulling1. Specifically, Watt found that a horse could exert enough force to pull at about 33,000 foot-pounds per minute, or alternatively, 746 watts. This can also be expressed in joules (1,055 joules) as well as Calories (0.252 Calories)2. Most market cars do not exceed 500 horsepower. On the low end, a Ford escort has 110 hp. While on the high end, a Ferrari 355 F1 caps off at about 375 hp. So in terms of engine power, 10,000 hp is ridiculous. For a visual, here is the difference between an 850 hp engine and a 10,000 hp engine.

However, Kingler does not possess an engine but a pincer, which in essence is a simple machine, a lever. Kingler even operates it as such, prying open Shellder’s shell with an egregious amount of force. To measure the mechanical horsepower of Kingler’s pincers, we need only apply the original definition of horsepower—33,000 ft-lb per min—to the Pincer Pokémon.

With some quick arithmetic, we find that Kingler’s prying pincer motion can move 330,000,000 ft-lb per min, or alternatively, 7,456,999 watts. For a better visualization, a lightbulb typically requires 60 watts of power to run for one hour. The Eiffel Tower uses about 20,000 lightbulbs3. If the energy from Kingler’s pincer were converted into electrical energy, it would be able to power every light on the Eiffel Tower for 275 hours, or about eleven and a half consecutive days. And that’s only one crab. A complete team of six Kingler could power the Eiffel Tower for 1,650 hours or 69 days.

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Considering the sheer power this crustacean wields, one can only wonder—what would cause Kingler to evolve an unnecessarily powerful pincer in the first place?

Enter Cloyster, the Bivalve Pokémon, who aside from being an admittedly lazy portmanteau of clam and oyster, is a well-recognized defensive tank in competitive Pokémon circles. With a base defense of 180, Cloyster has the highest base physical defense of any Water-Type Pokémon (not counting Mega Evolutions, otherwise is a tie with Mega Slowbro). Furthermore, the Pokédex makes constant reference to the durability of its shell defenses, describing its shell as “harder-than-diamonds” and “impossible to shut” when closed, as well as being capable of withstanding hits from bombs and even missiles:

For protection, it uses its harder-than-diamonds shell. It also shoots spikes from the shell. (Pokémon Yellow Version)

Its shell is so hard, it can even withstand a bomb. No one has ever seen what is inside its shell. (Pokémon Stadium)

Once it slams its shell shut, it is impossible to open, even by those with superior strength. (Gold)

Even a missile can’t break the spikes it uses to stab opponents. They’re even harder than its shell. (Pokémon Crystal Version)

Its shell is extremely hard. It cannot be shattered, even with a bomb. The shell opens only when it is attacking. (Pokémon FireRed)

Its hard shell cannot be shattered—not even by a bomb. The contents of the shell remain unknown. (Pokémon Sun)

All things considered, Cloyster is an incredibly durable bivalve…almost too durable for what it needs to endure. Sure, clams get battered by rough tides, and in the Pokémon World I’m sure being able to withstand forces comparable to a bomb blast has its advantages, but even in the context of the Pokémon World it seems rather excessive considering Pokémon in general seem to be rather durable creatures if even the tiniest Skitty is able to shake off a Hyper Beam to the face.

However, this all makes sense within the context of an evolutionary arms race, an actual term used to describe a form of coevolution in which the species involved each evolve countermeasures to the adaptation of the other4.

A close parallel to the possible Kingler-Cloyster system in our world can be found with Sinistrofulgur, a predatory whelk and its bivalve prey, Mercenaria. The whelk feeds on Mercenaria by mounting the bivalve chipping away at its prey’s shell. But what does a whelk use for chipping in leu or arms or pincers? Well, its own shell of course. Sinistrofulgur will butt the “lip” of its own shell against Mercenaria to chip away at its prey’s shell, in some cases even fracturing its own shell in the process. Thanks to the fossil record, many artifacts of these predatory encounters are preserved, and scientists can not only track the size and thickness of these shells over evolutionary time, but also observe which attempts by Sinistrofulgur on breaking open Mercenaria shells were successful by examining fossilized chips in ancestral Mercenaria.

Unsuccessful whelk attacks

Examples of unsuccessful whelk attacks preserved in fossilized Mercenaria. From Dietl (2003).

One study5 did exactly that, and found Mercenaria with larger, thicker shells survived more encounters, and thus, shell size and thickness increased over time. Likewise, researchers observed an in increase in shell size in Sinistrofulgur, likely a response to the increases in size and thickness of their prey.

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Mercenaria (above) and predatory Sinistrofulgur (below). From
media-cdn.tripadvisor.com

Indeed, a similar arms race could have occurred millions of years ago in the prehistoric waters of proto-Kanto. A Kingler-like Pokémon preys on a soft-shelled bivalve like modern Cloyster. However, individuals with harder shells survive the assaults of proto-Kingler and are favored by the invisible hand of natural selection. As a result, proto-Kingler who are unable to successfully access the protected flesh of their prey die out, but proto-Kingler who pack a little more punch in their pincers proliferate. Consequently, Cloyster evolves harder shells. Even stronger pincers are favored. This exchange continues for millions of years. Cloyster evolves harder shells to avoid predation, Kingler evolves stronger pincers to prey on Cloyster. A perpetual stalemate with no one side ever achieving lasting victory over the other. Finally, we reach the modern age and the arms race has resulted in a 10,000-horsepower crustacean and a diamond-shelled bivalve.

cloysterkingler

But what evidence is there of this arms race?

Pokémon, admittedly, has a rather sparse fossil record (although to be fair, their paleontologist can revive what few fossil taxa they find, so they have us beat in that respect). However, we are provided with some information that could be used as a starting point.

For starters, an obvious prerequisite for coevolution is occupying the same habitat. In all the main-series entries in the Pokémon franchise, Kingler and Cloyster themselves occupy only one location together, the waters off the coast of Route 13 in Pokémon Black Version and White Version. However, their pre-evolutions can be found together throughout a plethora of games and locations as listed in Table 1.

Table 1 Cloyster

Table 1. Shared locations of Kingler and Cloyster and their respective pre-evolutions.

Furthermore, the games provide us with a quantifiable measure of these traits in the form of base stats. If we compare the base stats of all the Pokémon found on Route 13—the only location where both Cloyster, Kingler, and their respective pre-evolutions are found together—we find in Figure 1 and Figure 2 that not only do Cloyster and Kingler have the highest base defense and attack respectively in this habitat, but their pre-evolutions are not far behind. Moreover, Kingler has comparable base defense and Cloyster comparable base attack, both of which are still greater than the majority of other Pokémon in the same area.

Fig1RealCoevo

Figure 1. Base physical defense for Pokémon found on Route 13 (Black and White Versions) through surfing.

Fig1Coevo

Figure 2. Base physical attack for Pokémon found on Route 13 (Black and White Versions) through surfing.

While confounding variables may exist, this preliminary evidence does suggest there is some relationship between these two Pokémon. However, the extent of that relationship remains to be determined, but in the meanwhile we can at least update the Accurate Pokédex.

Accurate Pokédex Entry (Cloyster): As a result of an evolutionary arms race, it has evolved a shell harder than diamond and can even withstand bomb blast. This durability is required if it wants to survive the crushing claw of its main predator, Kingler.

Accurate Pokédex Entry (Kingler): With a crushing power of 10,000 horsepower, its pincer could theoretically power the Eiffel Tower for eleven days. Such strength is necessary to open the shells of its bivalve prey, Cloyster.

Click the Go Pokémon! button to subscribe and stay up to date on all the latest news in Pokémon Biology, and be sure to follow us on Twitter @PokeBiology and while you’re at it follow the author @JaredIsAWriter.

Works Cited

  1. “Horsepower.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2017.
  2. Marshall Brain “How Horsepower Works” 1 April 2000. HowStuffWorks.com. http://auto.howstuffworks.com/horsepower.htm. 11 February 2017
  3. Lauter, Devorah. “Eiffel Tower Goes Green” 1 August 2000. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/9444530/Eiffel-Tower-goes-green.html
  4. Bergstrom, Carl T., and Lee Alan Dugatkin. Evolution. 2nd ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.
  5. Dietl, Gregory P. 2003. Coevolution of a marine gastropod and its dangerous bivalve prey. Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society 80:409-436.
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Death of a Fan Theory: Why Cubone’s Backstory May Be Even Sadder Than You Think

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The tragic tale of the Lonely Pokémon has persisted throughout the generations (of Pokémon) as one marred in sorrow and wild speculation over its true origins. Ever since its 8-bit debut in Pokémon Red and Blue Versions, Cubone has inspired plethora of fan theories regarding its true parentage which have circulated playgrounds and message boards alike for over two decades.

The basic story goes that Cubone was orphaned by the death of its mother and thus roams the Poké Earth mourning the loss of its mother whilst wearing her abandoned skull for comfort. The Pokédex entry of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire Versions aptly sums up Cubone’s melancholy existence:

Cubone pines for the mother it will never see again. Seeing a likeness of its mother in the full moon, it cries. The stains on the skull the Pokémon wears are made by the tears it sheds.

Indeed, the tale of Cubone is a sad one.

However, it leaves much to be answered. Who is Cubone’s mother? How did she die? How is it that an entire species can proliferate and be sustained with the repeated death of the maternal figure at these most crucial early stages of life?

Over the years, many theories have been cropped up to answer these questions, with two leading theories currently accepted by popular audiences within the fandom—the Orphaned Kangaskhan Theory and the more recent Unlit Charmander Theory.

On the surface, these theories seemingly offer solid evidence for their respective cases, and thus have gained popular acceptance among the community. However, a consensus has yet to be reached. Additionally, upon further scrutiny, the conclusions posited by these theories are not as sound as popularly thought, and though mainstream audiences have resolved that Cubone is the orphan of either a deceased Kangaskhan or Charizard, the available evidence suggests otherwise.

Major incongruities exist within the narratives posited by leading theories and the evidence often presented is, at best, superficial in nature. Moreover, these fan theories fail to answer basic questions of logistics—such as how a population of orphaned individuals is sustained when dependent on a chance and variable outcome such as the sudden death of the maternal figure.

In an analysis of the current evidence, as well as scientific literature from our own world which can serve as an analog to the Pokémon World, we propose a new theory to reconcile these discrepancies and offer an evaluation of current theories.

 

Leading Theories

The Orphaned Kangaskhan Theory

The origins of this theory are difficult to trace as its conception aligns closely with that of the Pokémon franchise itself. The oldest and most persistent of Pokémon fan theories in general, the Orphaned Kangaskhan Theory posits that Cubone is the orphaned offspring of a Kangaskhan.

Aptly named the Parent Pokémon, Kangaskhan is notorious for its fierce protection of its young, this parental ferocity being a central theme in most of its recorded Pokédex entries:

To protect its young, it will never give up during battle, no matter how badly wounded it is. (Pokémon Silver Version)

 Kangaskhan’s maternal love is so deep that it will brave death to protect its offspring. (Pokémon Sun)

Even its ability during so-called Mega Evolution is referred to as “Parental Bond”.

It is this unwavering devotion to the protection of its offspring that compels many to believe that the most likely candidate for Cubone’s mother is a Kangaskhan who perished defending its offspring, thus leaving the orphaned babe to fend for itself, finding comfort in its mother’s bones, particularly its skull, which it dons for added protection, eventually becoming a part of itself upon evolution into Marowak.

Supporters cite an abundance of evidence which, at first glance, seems convincing. First and foremost are the obvious superficial similarities in the sprites of Cubone and the infant Kangaskhan found in adult Kangaskhan’s pouch. An artist’s rendition depicts both sprites side by side removed of their respective covers (i.e. pouch and skull) and the similarities between the design of the two Pokémon become more conspicuous. The image has since circulated the web and has become a posterchild for this fan theory.

baby-kangaskhan

Proponents of this theory also claim the shape of Kangaskhan’s cranium matches with that of Cubone’s skull, attributing the “horns” on the skull to Kangaskhan’s ears.

Furthermore, Kangaskhan and Cubone share an egg group, the Monster group, and in the Generation V and VI games, the two Pokémon are found, exclusively, in the same areas—Route 15 and the Glittering Cave respectively.

However, the most convincing evidences for this theory occur in the earliest and latest Pokémon games.

In Pokémon Red and Blue Versions, under certain circumstances (see Old Man Glitch), players can encounter ‘M—a glitch Pokémon of similar vein to the notorious MissingNo. However, ‘M differs from its sister glitch Pokémon in its ability to evolve. And what does it evolve into but Kangaskhan, a Pokémon without any natural evolutions of its own, allegedly.

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Many fans speculate that early in development, ‘M was in fact a legitimate Pokémon, a pre-evolution to Kangaskhan. Extrapolating further, they theorize Kangaskhan was originally planned to be part of a much larger, more complex, evolution line, one that might have involved an evolutionary divergence such as the one found in the Slowpoke and Tyrogue lines, where the hypothetical Kangaskhan pre-evolution would either evolve into Kangaskhan (possibly requiring a Kangaskhan present in the party upon leveling up), or Cubone (possibly if no Kangaskhan was present in the party) who would then evolve into Marowak. This is further supported, by ‘M’s typing, that of a dual Flying/Normal-Type, the latter of which ‘M shares with Kangaskhan.

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Twenty years later, SOS battles are unveiled in the latest main series games—Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon—in which certain wild Pokémon can call upon ally Pokémon to assist them in battle once their HP falls below 50%. Most of the time, the ally called is either an identical Pokémon, or a later stage or pre-evolution. However, in some cases the Pokémon called is not of the evolution line but bears some association or tangential relation to the caller Pokémon, typically in relation to established lore within the canon. For example, Mareanie can only be encountered as an ally to Corsola, its canonical prey according to the Pokédex, or Sableye who is mentioned in the Pokédex to steal gemstones from Carbink and will attack it if called as an ally.

Cubone also can call upon ally Pokémon, and most of the time a fellow Cubone will spawn. However, on rare occasion, another Pokémon will make an appearance, and oddly enough it’s not Marowak, but Kangaskhan. Unlike the previous two examples, there is no established lore of a predatory relationship between the two Pokémon, however, the prominence of this theory has likely garnered the attention of Game Freak who, as of late, have been paying attention to the greater ecology of the Pokémon World with is most contemporary games and Pokédex entries. And when this feature was reviled, many fan theorists clapped their hands and hailed this encounter as definitive proof of Cubone’s true parentage.

cubone-calls-for-help-from-a-kangaskhan-credit-nintendo-via-eurogamer

Could this be the case? Is Cubone the orphan of a deceased Kangaskhan?

The evidence for the Orphaned Kangaskhan Theory has an illusionary conclusiveness which appeals to lay fans and popular audiences, however, under further scrutiny a number of issues arise with this proposed theory.

Firstly, the oft-cited sprite art depicting a pouchless Kangaskhan and helmetless Cubone is a non-canonical fan creation, and cannot be admitted as valid evidence no more than images of Haunter’s eyes photoshopped onto a Poké Ball prove Voltorb is a possessed Poké Ball. Even if such evidence were admissible, the Kangaskhan babe, in all of its depictions, is clearly purple, not brown like Cubone. Proponents may argue that the brown coloring is acquired post-abandonment, but have yet to propose a mechanism for this sudden phenotypic departure.

Additionally, the skull Cubone wears bears little resemblance to the cranium of Kangaskhan when examined beyond mere superficial similarities. The Kangaskhan skull appears more rounded and dome-like in shape, like Pachycephalosaurs, the inspiration for Pokémon like Cranidos and Rampardos. The “ears” found in Cubone’s skull are likely not ears at all, as most ears are mostly comprised of cartilage, with only a few, if any, ossified structures in the middle ear. These features are most likely horns of some kind, which are noticeably absent on adult Kangaskhan.

In fact, virtually any similarity between the two Pokémon vanish upon Mega Evolution, in which we have, the only canonical instance of Baby Kangaskhan leaving its pouch (aside from the anime, see below image). In both cases, the Kangaskhan bears little resemblance to what we know Cubone to look like (although, a counter to this would be that the Pokédex clearly states no one knows what its face looks like, but this does not explain the purple coloring the baby bears, as well as a conspicuous absence of plating on Cubone).

The case of ‘M being the “lost” pre-evolution to Kangaskhan is weakened by its own typing, Flying/Normal, in addition to the fact that it weighs an entire 704.2 lb. more than the Pokémon it supposedly evolves into.

Lastly, while the SOS encounter provides the greatest support for this theory, it to crumbles under critical analysis. Such inclusion could just as easily be chalked up as an Easter egg placed by the developers, who could have easily made Cubone’s parentage canon if so they chose to in the PokéDex entries for Sun and Moon if that were their true intent. Additionally, non-related Pokémon showing up during SOS battles is hardly unique to Cubone. Riolu can summon Chansey, Tentacruel can summon Lumineon, and Pichu can summon Happiny.

Kangaskhan appearing beside Cubone is at best fan service and at worse conincidence.

Furthermore, there is an incongruity between the gender ratios of Cubone/Marowak and their proposed mother—Cubone and Marowak each having a fifty-fifty split of male-female, while Kangaskhan is a 100% female species.

Now, it could be the case that Kangaskhan is parthenogenic—capable of producing fertilized eggs without male fertilization—but parthenogenic organisms typically do not produce male offspring, and on the occasion that they do, it is often part of a mictic cycle in which the males are there simply to mate with females to create additional female eggs, and as of the latest generation of games there are no male Kangaskhan to be encountered (For more on Kangakhan and Parthenogenesis, check out Kangaskhan—Parental Bond and Parthenogenesis. Be warned, it’s one of the earlier entries and needs an update).

Lastly, and most simply, the act of losing a mother does not a new species create.

 

The Unlit Charmander Theory

This theory has gained recent popularity as a competitor to the ever-persistent Orphaned Kangaskhan Theory. Popularized by Gnoggin/Lockstin and ProtoMario on their respective YouTube Channels (link here), the Unlit Charmander Theory attempts to reconcile the failings of the prevailing fan theory and argues Charizard as the better candidate for the mother of Cubone.

The theory posits a nest of Charizard eggs is abandoned following the death of the mother during a violent encounter. Proponents cite the tendency for aggression in animals when their young are threatened, as well as numerous circumstances in the anime where Charizards are shown to be particularly belligerent. Without their mother, most of the eggs perish, save for a lone survivor buried underneath the rest and thus insulated from the elements. The orphaned Charmander, upon hatching, dons the skull of its deceased mother—assumed to have died within reasonable proximity to the nest. As multiple Pokédex entries suggest, the flame on Charmander’s tail is heavily connected with its life force and health:

The flame on its tail shows the strength of its life force. If it is weak, the flame also burns weakly. (Pokémon Gold Version)

The flame on its tail indicates Charmander’s life force. If it is healthy, the flame burns brightly. (Pokémon Silver Version)

The Unlit Charmander Theory proposes that the flame is acquired post-hatching from the mother Charizard, whose fire organs ignite the initial life-giving flame which Charmander will carry for the duration of its lifetime.

However, the orphaned hatchling, lacking a mother to bestow that initial flame, subsequently fails to develop properly—fire-breathing organs never grow, its pigmentation never brightens to Charmander’s characteristic fiery orange, and the bones that would have grown into wings in later evolution stages stagnate and grow into abnormal spinal deformities along its back like the ridges found on Cubone.

curious_bone_syndrome_by_haretrinity-d3z5fya

Lacking fire-breathing organs, the orphaned and malformed Charmander defends itself with and procures prey using the only tools at its disposal—bones. Upon evolution, whereas normally it would evolve into Charmeleon, because its development was stunted from hatching, it retains most of its abnormalities and fuses with its mother’s skull to become Marowak. No further evolution occurs due to the accumulation of malformities.

Essentially, Cubone is the product of a corrupted infancy in which development is halted and its life destiny irreparably changed.

The cited evidence makes for a considerably stronger case than the Orphaned Kangaskhan Theory. For starters, the skull of Charizard is a much better match. Coloring is also similar between these two species, the difference being only a few shades rather than entire hues such as with the Baby Kangaskhan.

In addition to these superficial similarities, the reasoning has precedent in nature. The earliest stages of life are crucial to development and changes early on can have a cascading effect later in life. Also, it is not unheard of for an animal to require a, for lack of better words, catalyst to kickstart development.

For example, when needed, certain bee larvae are fed a special substance called royal jelly which triggers epigenetic changes in the larvae’s genome, causing it to develop sex organs, the beginnings of a new queen bee. Even more remarkable, experiments with royal jelly have shown to have effects not only on bee larvae, but with the larvae of entirely separate species as well. When scientists feed fruit fly larvae royal jelly, they found that the larvae displayed increased body size upon further development into adult flies similar to the increase in body size found in treated bees (Morgan et al. 2016).

Lastly, a soft piece of evidence comes again from the most recent games, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, with the introduction of Alolan Forms, and in particular, Alolan Marowak, a dual Ghost-Fire Type whose Pokémon entry states:

The bones it possesses were once its mother’s. Its mother’s regrets have become like a vengeful spirit protecting this Pokémon. (Pokémon Sun)

Many fans speculate that the “spirit” which protects this Pokémon is that of Charizard, which is why it is a dual Ghost/Fire Type instead of a Ghost/Ground Type if its mother was Marowak, or, alternatively, Ghost/Normal if it were Kangaskhan.

So, how does the Unlit Charmander Theory hold under similar critical scrutiny?

While definitely more plausible than the prevailing fan theory, similar oversights and contradictions plague the Unlit Charmander theory as well.

Firstly, while embryonic development and the stages which immediately follow are crucial in determining an organism’s life projection, such drastic changes at so early of a time are often deleterious, if not fatal. The more likely outcome of Charmander failing to obtain its initial flame would be death rather than a drawn-out series of malformities. This is further supported by Pokédex entries:

From the time it is born, a flame burns at the tip of its tail. Its life would end if the flame were to go out. (Pokémon FireRed Version)

Even the newborns have flaming tails. Unfamiliar with fire, babies are said to accidentally burn themselves. (Pokémon Stadium)

Here, the tail flame is a trait Charmander is born with rather than one acquired later from its mother. Additionally, the necessity of this flame for life heavily implies a fatal outcome for any offspring unfortunate enough to fail to obtain this life-giving flame.

Incongruent gender ratios also remain an issue—Cubone and Marowak being 50:50 split male-female, while Charmander and its evolutions 87.5:12.5, skewing heavily towards male.

All in all, the Unlit Charmandder Theory suffers from the same issues and incongruities as its sister fan theory.

 

Assumptions and Hypothetical Restraints

Considering the myriad of conditions which would have to align to yield a single viable Cubone, nonetheless, multiple breeding Cubone individuals, it is unlikely that an entire population could be sustained by either of the leading fan theories. However, most of the aforementioned problems are resolved if we accept the following two assumptions:

  1. Only Marowak beget Cubone.
  2. Marowak and Cubone exist on their own as an entirely unique species.

To support the first assumption, we can apply Occam’s Razor—that among competing hypotheses, the one which makes the fewest assumptions should be accepted—to the question of Cubone’s maternal lineage. When we apply Occam’s Razor, the most parsimonious explanation results in a Marowak mother, as both the Kangaskhan and Charizard theories requires several extraordinary circumstances to be true. Additionally, Marowak maternity also resolves many of the issues that affect both leading theories, namely, the issues of skull structure and gender ratio. Marowak is a better fit for the Cubone skull helmet than Kangaskhan and involves fewer convoluted steps than Charizard, and the two Pokémon share the same gender ratio (50:50 split male: female).

Regarding our second assumption, Occam’s Razor can once again be applied to give us the explanation with the fewest leaps, namely that Marowak and Cubone existing as their own species requires fewer complications than the leading theories which rely on not only the chance tragedy of offspring being abandoned, but for this to happen so frequently as to sustain a stable population of Pokémon in addition to the population of the “base” species.

Furthermore, the majority of documented Pokémon, excluding Legendary Pokémon, abide by some variant of these two assumptions, as it typically assumed that each Pokémon exists entirely as its own species and begets its own kind.

Given what we do know for certain, we can define some criteria which are to be required of any future theory on the origins of Cubone. We define the criteria as follows:

  1. The mother of Cubone must perish prior to offspring hatching.
  2. The cranium of the mother must be in proximity of the site of hatching.
  3. The maternal cranium must be removed of all flesh within a relatively short time following the offspring’s hatching, if not immediately available.

Additionally, any such explanation must propose some adaptive advantage which would allow such frequent maternal death to persist generation to generation.

Thus, we propose a theory which accounts for the three criteria and gives a clear evolutionary advantage, which shall be known collectively as the Semelparous Marowak Theory.

 

The Semelparous Marowak Theory (or Sacrificial Birth Theory)

The tale of the Lonely Pokémon becomes considerably more macabre under the proposed Semelparous Marowak Theory, or, alternatively, the Sacrificial Birth Theory. However, we first must define a few terms of importance—semelparity and matriphagy.

Semelparity describes one of two possible reproduction strategies in which an organism experiences only one reproductive episode before succumbing to an impromptu death. This contrasts with iteroparity, where an organism reproduces multiple times throughout its lifetime*. Either mode of reproduction is used to the benefit of an organism’s offspring. Specifically, as a trade-off against other factors to provide the best chance of survival for the next generation. Essentially, organisms make a gamble when they reproduce and must decide which wager is worth their wild—to divvy up their reproductive resources throughout multiple reproductive cycles (as reproduction can be a costly endeavor) hoping that most offspring survival till a reproductive age, or, in the case of semelparity, reproduce once but invest all their resources into that single reproductive episode.

Matriphagy is another example of a reproductive strategy that, like semelparity, is used to maximize the overall survival of offspring. In the case of matriphagy, the mother sacrifices itself to be cannibalized by its offspring, or, as one paper so poignantly puts it, “an unusual self-sacrificial form in which young eat their mother at the end of the care period.” (Toyama 2001).

Coming from the perspective of iteroparous organisms who scoff at the general idea of cannibalism, one may ask what purpose these seemingly self-defeating strategies serve in the evolutionary arms race. However, both adaptations can yield great advantage in the reproductive arena.

For species in which females regulate sexually selective pressures (i.e. are the “gatekeepers” of sex), males often compete for the opportunity to spread their seed—a biological imperative so pressing that many organisms will perish pursuing this objective, often at the hands of another competing male. Additionally, reproducing is taxing—both energy and timewise—and from the male perspective, is a gamble where even if they secure a viable mate, they are betting that their chosen female will survive from the time of mating to siring offspring, or in some cases, even beyond that until the offspring are of an age where they can survive without maternal aid. What a pity it would be to invest so much time and energy in a female mate only for them to befall a tragic demise whilst carrying your progeny.

That is why, in species with high rates of female mortality, males will often implement semelparous strategies, as is the case with dasyurid marsupials such as Antechinus agilis, one of the few mammals which display semelparity. This strategy is meant to give the males the best possible chance at siring offspring, a sort of “hedge-betting” against the high mortality rates of their mates in contrast to their iteroparous cousins which have significantly lower rates of female mortality among their populations (Kraaijeveld et al. 2003). This behavior is also easily selected for:

Males are likely to face a trade-off between mating effort and post-reproductive survival. If high female mortality rates select for increased male promiscuity, as argued above, there might be a threshold beyond which males must invest all their mating effort in a single season. In other words, a male that invests resources into survival after the first mating season instead of in mating may fertilize insufficient females during his lifetime to ensure his genes are passed on to the next generation. This predicts that species with male semelparity should have higher levels of female mortality. (Kraaijeveld et al. 2003).

Essentially, rather than spread reproductive energies throughout a lifetime and risk not impregnating enough females to overcome the probability that his mates will befall an unfortunate fate, male A. agilis put all the cards on the table and forgo their own survival—nourishment, rest, hydration—to maximize their reproductive potential, or, in even fewer words, they play the numbers game.

Similarly, matriphagy is also a trade-off, one of post-reproductive survival and offspring survival. For example, for Chiracanthium japonicum—foliage spider—matriphagy increases the size of the spiderlings threefold, as well as delays their dispersal, allowing for increased survivability as solidary hunting predators. Additionally, matriphagy prevents sibling cannibalism, thus raising the overall survivability of the entire brood (Toyama 2001).

Here, the benefits of self-sacrifice outweigh the costs, and personal survival is secondary to the overall goal of propagating the species, and more specifically, the genes.

With precedent established in our world, we theorize that a combination of semelparity and matriphagy is responsible for the orphaned state for Cubone, and our ideas can be summed up in the following hypothetical scenario:

A mother Marowak lays a single egg and henceforth foregoes its own dietary needs and abandons all sense of self-preservation in an extreme act of self-sacrifice, fending off Mandibuzz and shielding its egg from the cold. Thanks to fat reserves built up prior to egg-laying, Marowak is able to sustain itself long enough to witness the first cracks of Cubone’s eggshell. However, with its fat reserves depleted, Marowak succumbs to starvation and expires. The young hatchling, a Cubone, emerges from its egg and proceeds to consume the fresh corpse of its mother. Even in death, its mother continues to provide for it. This first meal will sustain Cubone for an ample amount of time as it gets its bearings together in the safety of the nest, while also hastening its development for when it wanders into the greater Pokémon wilderness. When the skeleton has been picked clean, Cubone arms itself with its mother’s bones as primitive tools and dons Marowak’s skull which serves to insulate the tender cranium of newborn Cubone until its cranial plates fuse upon evolution into its final form, Marowak. Soon it finds a mate, copulates, and prepares to make the same sacrifice its own mother made so many years ago, for the sake of its offspring and the greater species.

Not only does Marowak’s death serve to provide reproductive advantage of Cubone, but this theory also aligns with much of the lore establish through the collection of Cubone and Marowak Pokédex entries, namely, references in which Cubone/Marowak utilizes its mother’s bones as defensive and offensive tools, as well as references to Cubone’s memories of its mother’s face, implying that it did at one point view its mother prior to decomposition:

A Marowak is the evolved form of a Cubone that has grown tough by overcoming the grief of losing its mother. Its tempered and hardened spirit is not easily broken. (Pokémon Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald Versions)

From its birth, this savage Pokémon constantly holds bones. It is skilled in using them as weapons. (Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum Versions)

Cubone pines for the mother it will never see again. Seeing a likeness of its mother in the full moon, it cries. The stains on the skull the Pokémon wears are made by the tears it sheds. (Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire Versions)

When it thinks of its deceased mother, it weeps loudly. Mandibuzz that hear its cries will attack it from the air. (Pokémon Sun)

However, like with previous theories, the Semelparous Marowak Theory is not free of problems. Firstly, the strategies of semelparity and matriphagy are used to maximize reproductive output, however, this theory postulates, or rather, requires, that Marowak only produce a single egg, a wasteful use of semelparity and matriphagy. These extreme strategies appear to serve no other advantage than to prop up a single offspring on which the genetic legacies of two individuals now depend upon (only children know that feeling all too well). Additionally, this theory, dependent on females having a high mortality rate, requires for males to be semelparous which we have no current evidence of yet.

While issues remain unresolved with fan theories regarding the origins of Cubone and its true parentage, and further inquiry on the subject should be encouraged, the Semelparous Marowak Theory explores the potential for a darker underbelly to the Pokémon World that goes beyond the occasional creepy Pokédex entry or mysterious ghost girl, one where evolutionary forces drive populations to extreme strategies for survival and where the interactions between Pokémon can result in life or death.

The enigma of Cubone will forever continue to resonate in the minds of the Pokémon fandom, as its tale evokes feelings mutually shared by most of humanity, those of longing for lost figures, of grief for those we once knew, and a clinging to things left behind. It is good to keep the tragic tale of Cubone close to our hearts, whatever the truth may be, as it serves as a reminder to not let the work and sacrifices of those before us to go to waste, that we should rise and arm ourselves with the tools they left behind and fortify ourselves for the tribulations of a world indifferent to our suffering, and, hopefully, come out on the other side, tougher and stronger than before.

“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

– A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin

Accurate Pokédex Entry: Cubone weeps for a mother it knew all too well, as she offered herself up as a first meal to her offspring to maximize its survivability. Cubone wears its mother’s skull to protect its soft cranium and arms itself with her bones so that no part of her carcass is wasted.

What do you think? Does the Semelparous Marowak Hypothesis hold up? Did we leave anything out about the two leading fan theories? Do you have a different theory about who the mother of Cubone is? Leave it down in the comments, and be sure to join us for more bits of Pokémon-inspired biology by hitting that GO POKEMON button! We post new blogs every week. To stay updated on all things Pokémon Biology related, follow The Biology of Pokémon on Twitter @PokeBiology and, while you’re at it, follow the author, @JaredIsAWriter.

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.

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.

Mew vs. Arceus: Why Evolution is a Fact in Our World and the Pokémon World (10th Post Special)

“It is said to have emerged from an egg in a place where there was nothing, then shaped the world.” – Arceus entry, Pokémon Platinum Version

“Because it can learn any move, some people began research to see if it is the ancestor of all Pokémon.” – Mew entry, Pokémon Crystal Version

In the beginning, the explanation for the great diversity of life in the Pokémon World was answered upon the discovery of Mew, a rare Psychic-type once thought to be extinct that was found inhabiting the rainforests of South American. Research on the Pokémon, including several attempts at cloning, revealed that Mew contained the genetic code for all Pokémon and could learn every move. This evidence led many researchers and players to believe that Mew was the ancestor of all Pokémon and therefore the first Pokémon. While larger questions still went unanswered, such as the origin of life on the Pokémon World, as well as the Universe itself, descent from the common ancestor of Mew prevailed as the dominant theory in the scientific community (of Pokémon).

Fast forward to Generation IV, where the reason and rationalism of the previous generations is replaced by myth and legend. It is in these games we encounter the Foreign Building in Hearthome City, for all intents and purposes a church, the first we’ve seen in the Pokémon franchise. Moreover, there are whispers of a Pokémon that shaped the universe with its thousand arms, a creature that existed before time and space. Local legend refers to him as the Original One, most know him by his other name—Arceus.

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A great debate ensued. This new revelation contradicted the current scientific understanding of the origin of Pokémon. Whereas genetics suggested that all Pokémon descended from Mew, Sinnoh myths claimed that Arceus existed before the Universe, subsequently making it impossible for it to have descended from Mew. How was it possible that a Pokémon created the Universe yet escaped the necessity of creation itself? Was Mew really the ancestor of all Pokémon, and if so, did that rule out the existence of the Original One?

Similar questions were asked in our own world when Charles Darwin unleashed The Origin of Species to a deeply religious public in 1859. Even today, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, the Theory of Evolution is still challenged by major segments of the population and is frequently the subject of many pointless debates. I call them pointless because they often operate on the faulty premise that both sides are of equal consideration. They are not. Comparing evolution to creationism/intelligence design/ [insert whatever new creationism euphemism is currently in use] is akin to comparing the heliocentric model to geocentricism. There simply is no debate to be had. The very idea of the Sun revolving around the earth is daft and should not be entertained, lest you give the two geocentrist still left the validation they need to spread this false idea.

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However, being a person who derives strange pleasure from applying biological concepts to the fictional universe of Pokémon, I was always destined (or rather, obligated) to cover the topic of Pokémon Evolution and explain the subject that’s been explained ad nauseum since its inception—that Pokémon Evolution is not evolution.

Now, I could repeat what you’ve surely heard a thousand times. Pokémon evolution is not representative of real life evolution and is more akin to metamorphosis than anything else and actual evolution takes place over the course of millions of years, etcetera. But there is so much more to the discussion. Where does Arceus fit into all of this? Is there a scientific explanation for Pokémon evolution? And does Darwinian evolution have its place in the Pokémon World after all?

These are the questions we will seek to answer in this tenth post special. Brace yourself, a whole lot of knowledge is coming your way.

 

Arceus, God, and Creation Myths

Warning: There is a disturbing lack of biology in the following section. Reader discretion is advised.

One of the first questions a child asks their parents is “Where do babies come from?”. It is also one of the first questions that a child doesn’t always receive a direct or clear answer to. Our parents will often hand us a dumbed down version of the true story if we are lucky, if not that, the origin of infants is chalked up to storks, secret supermarket aisles, or divine gifts from above.

Earlier peoples were infantile in that they also asked similar questions but on a much grander scale. Where did I come from? What is my purpose? How should I live my life? Many men have cried out to the heavens only to receive silence, and in that silence they often made best with the information they had and constructed narratives that could offer explanations to these burning questions.

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The Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions defines a creation myth as a “symbolic narrative of the beginning of the world as understood in a particular tradition and community.” It continues, “Creation myths are of central importance for the valuation of the world, for the orientation of humans in the universe, and for basic patterns of life and culture.”

In essence, creation myths provide the answers that the Universe—indifferent to our existence­­­—does not. In that sense, the purpose of creation myths does that differ much from that of science in that they both try to make order out of the chaos of this world we’ve been thrust into. Granted, science does it considerably better.

In the Western World, the prevailing creation myth of our day and age comes from the biblical account of creation found in the Book of Genesis. These scriptures make up the foundations on which modern creationism stands upon, yet nearly every word conflicts directly with our current understanding of biology. The Bible claims that Adam and Eve were the first humans and the ancestors of our entire species, yet modern science tells us that not only did various other hominids exist at the same time as anatomically modern humans, but a single male and female couple does not contain enough genetic diversity to sustain a stable healthy population. For Christians in particular, this conflict has great ramifications. If there was no Adam and Eve then there was no Original Sin, and if there was no Original Sin then there was no need for Jesus of Nazareth to die on the cross, thus effectively rendering the entirety of Christianity pointless in one fell swoop.

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Here lies the main dilemma—believe in the godless scientist and their big Satanic words, or believe in God. It should be no surprise that when faced with this dilemma, many choose to cling to their faith rather than facts.

Similarly, in the case of Mew vs. Arceus, both claims cannot be true. Arceus cannot be the creator of the Universe if Mew is the ancestor of all Pokémon, as Mew would by definition have to exist prior to Arceus who we have already mentioned, hatched from an egg before the universe even existed.

However, there is a solution to both of these dilemmas.

It is true that a literal interpretation of Genesis cannot be reconciled with the Theory of Evolution, in fact I’ll even be bold and flat out say that the Book of Genesis is completely incorrect in regards to anything remotely scientific. From God removing a rib from Adam to create woman, to the Great Flood leaving no geological evidence of its occurrence, to Jacob’s version of “artificial selection”, the entirety of Genesis offers nothing but ludicrous claims with little to no evidence backing them up and no rational person should even consider using it as a guide for anything near the realm of science.

Bad Genetics

But that was never the intended purpose of the creation accounts.

As I mentioned earlier, creation myths not only served to explain what could not be explained at the time, but they also played a central role in providing purpose for humans. What the Book of Genesis lacks in actual science it makes up for in its humanity. Within its pages are examples of how humans should and should not live, what their place in the world is, and a comprehensible explanation for the chaos they find themselves surrounded by.

The Bible

Likewise, in the case of Arceus and the Sinnoh myths they provide explanations for the relationship between humans and Pokémon, as well as the origins of human emotions from the Lake Trio.

Additionally, upon closer examination of the Sinnoh Creation Myth, we’ll find that it shares many of the basic themes of other creation myths. For starters, there is an aspect of primordiality, in which the ingredients of creation are present in some form of undifferentiated matter. In the case of Arceus, the primordial matter can be interpreted as the Unown, which many theorize are what the PokéDex entries described as the “thousand arms” that Arceus used to shape the universe.

Also present in many creation myths is an aspect of dualism, usually presented as a form of antagonism between two forces. This conflict can be found between Arceus, an analog for God in this universe, and Giratina, who is often thought to represent Satan, as it was banished by Arceus for being too destructive.

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Lastly, there is often an element of sacrifice involved. This can sometimes include the dismemberment of a primordial being, such is the case with China’s P’an Ku, who by the way, hatched from an 18,000-year old egg, much like a certain other Pokémon who hatched from a primordial egg. After P’an Ku hatched, his shell and body became parts of the world. His limbs became the mountains, his blood formed the rivers. While there is no information from the games of this sacrifice from Arceus, in the anime movie Arceus and the Jewel of Life, Arceus gives up the Splash, Meadow, Earth, Zap, and Draco Plates (which grant him immunity to these respective types) in order to create the Jewel of Life and bring life to the world.

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Furthermore, if we compare the PokéDex entries of Arceus and Mew, we’ll find that Arceus is described in a more mythical sense:

  • It is described in mythology as the Pokémon that shaped the universe with its 1,000 arms.
  • It is told in mythology that this Pokémon was born before the universe even existed.
  • It is said to have emerged from an egg in a place where there was nothing, then shaped the world.

Meanwhile, Mew’s entries, while referring to its mythical status, is written in a more scientific fashion, including evidence which the scientific community has used to hypothesize that Mew is the ancestor of all Pokémon:

  • Its DNA is said to contain the genetic codes of all Pokémon, so it can use all kinds of techniques.
  • Because it can learn any move, some people began research to see if it is the ancestor of all Pokémon.
  • A mythical Pokémon of South America which had been thought extinct. A growing number of people have seen it recently.

It is abundantly clear that the Sinnoh Creation Myths, much like the Biblical Accounts of Creation found in Genesis, are not intended to be interpreted as a literal step-by-step process for how the universe came into existence. These creation myths are just that—myths. They are not to be taken literally, nor do they necessarily conflict with current scientific understanding.

Whether or not you believe in the existence of a god (or Arceus) does not negate the fact of the evolution, both in our world and in the Pokémon World. In that way, the title is a bit misleading because this is not a matter of one being correct or a better explanation, but rather they answer two very different questions. Science answers how, while creation myths answer why.

 

Pokémon Evolution ≠ Darwinian Evolution (or any evolution at all)

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As mentioned in the introduction, the process of evolution as depicted in the main-series games is not an accurate portrayal of Darwinian evolution. The Pokémon Company is not entirely at fault. Over the years, evolution, much like theory, has become a part of everyday vernacular and as a result of its colloquial use has gained additional definitions beyond its intended scientific use.

Quite simply, evolution is the process through which organisms change over time. When I say organisms, I’m referring to a population, not an individual. Individuals do not evolve. A chicken will remain a chicken until the day it dies. Yes, it may grow from a chick into a chicken but it is still a chicken. Nothing the chicken does in its life will affect its offspring*.

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*However, recent research into genetics suggest that this may not be entirely true. The budding field of epigenetics is starting to reshape the way we think about how traits are passed and expressed from parent to offspring. The more we research into this issue, the more it appears that parents can influence their offspring through the choices they make in their life. For more check out this TED-Ed video on the matter, as well as my own take on Epigenetics and Eeveelutions.

This is just one of the many misconceptions about evolution being perpetuated by the opposed and ignorant alike. Here are a few more:

Evolution is a belief/faith/religion/cult/worldview/ “just a theory”.

Evolution is a fact. Despite what many opponents will claim we can observe evolution in real time under controlled laboratory conditions just like any other science. That is in addition to the mountains of evidence from genetics, comparative anatomy, the fossil record, geographic distribution and much, much more. Theory when used in a scientific sense is not synonymous with hypothesis, which is what most people mean when they use theory casually. A scientific theory is essentially an explanation drawn from repeated testing and observation through the scientific method. It is a conclusion that uses current knowledge and is open to change when further knowledge is acquired.

Evolution is concerned with the origins of life and the Universe.

The Theory of Evolution gives an explanation for the vast diversity of life on Earth. Nothing more. That is all it ever sought to explain. The origin of life is a nonissue. The explanation could be God, aliens, abiogenesis, or even panspermia, but evolution would still be true. As for the origin of the Universe, that’s not even biology. If you want to dispute the Big Bang go find an astrophysicist.

Evolution happens to individuals.

If you ever sat in a biology class and looked to the wall and saw a poster of a fish walking out of water or a diagram of an ape transforming into a man and thought that was how evolution worked, then you have been grossly misinformed. Not only are these depictions inaccurate, they are comical in their inaccuracy. Unless that fish is a mudskipper or lungfish it will never see terra firma in its life. An ape will remain never start walking upright permanently nor suffer extreme hair loss. As stated earlier, individuals do not evolve. For a better visual representation look at a phylogenetic tree, however even those can be misleading if one does not know how to properly interpret one.

And lastly…

Evolution is guided or goal-oriented toward progress.

This one is mostly likely due to our tendency toward anthropomorphism (attributing human characteristics, personalities, and desires to nonhumans). Organisms do not choose to evolve. There is no endgame of evolution. Humans are not the pinnacle of evolution. Matt Ridley put it nicely in his book The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, “Evolution is something that happens to organisms. It is a directionless process that sometimes makes an animal’s descendants more complicated, sometimes simpler, and sometimes changes them not at all.”

Another misconception that opponents of evolution like to throw around is claiming that while microevolution is possible, macroevolution is just ludicrous. What they fail to understand is that there is no difference between the two other than time. To set the record straight, microevolution is evolution that happens in a short time scale which usually yields small changes. Macroevolution occurs over long periods of time and usually, but not always, results in major changes. Again, there is no difference except for time.

What probably throws most people off about macroevolution is the concept of speciation, when one species branches off into a new one. For some reason, certain people cannot fathom the idea of an organism accumulating many small changes over millions of years to gradually become something entirely different. To better understand, imagine that you have a pile of Legos in various shapes, sizes, and colors. You begin with a single red brick. Let’s say a hundred years pass, not very long in evolutionary terms, and you add another brick. Its slightly different but still similar to what it was. Another century passes and you add a third brick. Still different but still similar to the previous model. You continue to add a single brick every hundred years for, let’s say, ten million years. At the end of this ten million-year process the structure that you have is unrecognizable when compared to the starting brick, or any of the earlier permutations. The changes at the time may seem trivial but in the long run they add up.

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Granted, my Lego example is a simplified (and somewhat inaccurate) version of what actually takes place. Moreover, it does not take into account the four main evolutionary forces which drive these changes—mutation, gene flow, genetic drift, and natural selection.

To understand these mechanisms of change, let us construct a scenario using Pokémon. For the following scenarios, my Pokémon of choice will be one of my favorites—Shuckle.

Mutation

Mutations are simply random changes in an organism’s DNA. These changes can be caused by mistakes in DNA replication or by external factors such as exposure to radiation or certain chemicals. Most mutations are harmless, a few are deleterious, but on occasion they can turn out to be beneficial. In our scenario, a mutation arises in an individual that causes its shell to be blue instead of red.

Mutation

Natural Selection

Now suppose that in this instance, the Shuckle with a blue shell is able to hide from predators better because its new color provides camouflage in the blue mountains it inhabits. That individual is able to survive until it reaches an age where it can reproduce and pass on its mutation to its offspring. This is called natural selection. After a few successive generations, selective forces of the environment cause the mutation to become fixed in the population since those blue-shelled individuals have an increased chance at reproducing. This increased survivability is called fitness.

Natural Selection

Genetic Drift

However, selective forces are not the only factors in play. Life is full of unexpected events that happen by chance. In this instance, suppose that a horde of ravenous Pokémon trainers sweep through the area and randomly capture a decent portion of the Shuckle population. By pure chance, the catching spree disproportionally affects the blue-shelled individuals. For that generation, those blue-shelled Shuckle are not able to reproduce and therefore the following generation will have fewer individuals with this particular genotype. These random changes that vary from generation to generation are referred to as genetic drift.

Genetic Drift

Gene Flow

Lastly, suppose that the current population of Shuckle contains mostly red-shelled individuals, when suddenly there is an influx of Shuckle migrating from the forests at the base of the mountain where blue-shelled individuals are dominant. This influx of blue-shelled individuals increases the frequency of the blue shell gene in this population. This moving of populations is referred to as gene flow.

Gene Flow

Together, these forces over time can result in many possibilities. Selective forces could continue to favor blue-shelled Shuckle until the mutation becomes fixed in the population, a natural disaster could strike causing a bottleneck effect in which a few remaining individuals determine the look of future generations, additional mutations could arise and in a few thousand years, a speciation event could occur.

This is how true evolution would take place in the Pokémon World. That is not to discount the process depicted in the games, in fact, there are a few possible scientific explanations for the in-game process of evolution.

The first is that Pokémon, upon leveling up, undergo metamorphosis, a process in which an organism undergoes a transformation from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct stages.

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There are two types of metamorphosis–complete and incomplete. Complete metamorphosis is perhaps one most are familiar with, a prime example often used is the life cycle of a butterfly. During complete metamorphosis, the organism, usually an insect, goes through the distinct stages of egg, larvae, pupa, and adult or imago. Three-stage evolution lines could in fact be the process of complete metamorphosis, especially in cases where the Pokémon in question go through these said stages. All Pokémon hatch from eggs after all, and most Bug-Types follow a similar life cycle. This is not exclusive to Bug-Types either, the Larvitar line for example is also based around a cycle of complete metamorphosis, as is the Bagon line.

Tyranitar

Likewise, incomplete metamorphosis could be represented in the games as two-stage evolutions. During incomplete metamorphosis, the individual goes through several immature stages as nymphs, essentially smaller forms of their adult selves. They continue to molt until they reach adult size. Pokémon such as Krabby or Kricketot would most likely “evolve” in this manner, as their real-life counterparts are also prone to molting.

However, not all Pokémon evolution can be explained by metamorphosis. In our own world, few creatures besides insects undergo metamorphosis, and there are additional ways Pokémon can “evolve” besides through leveling up. Elemental stones also play a huge role in transforming Pokémon, as do a number of other factors.

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Enter epigenetics.

As stated in Mew’s PokéDex entries, Pokémon do in fact have DNA and it is reasonable to assume that it operates in the same manner as it does on earth. Quite simply, current genetic material can be modified by external sources, i.e. elemental stones, friendless, time of day, other Pokémon in their party, etc., resulting in a changed organism. This is the case with Eevee who exhibits a special type of phenotypic plasticity called polyphenism. (For more, check out Eevee Epigenetics)

Despite being an inaccurate representation of the process it seeks to imitate, Pokémon “Evolution” is fascinating nonetheless. But even though this in-game process can be explained away by other processes, there is still an abundance of evidence supporting evolution does take place in the Pokémon World, as it does in our own.

The Evidence for Pokémon Evolution

Genetics

Perhaps the most convincing evidence of common descent is that found through comparative sequence analysis. Through this process, DNA of different organisms is compared. Essentially, the greater the similarity in DNA, the closer two organisms are phylogenetically. If there are fewer similarities, they are phylogenetically distant.

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Similarly, through DNA evidence it can be concluded that Mew is indeed the common ancestor of all Pokémon because:

  1. Mew contains the genetic code of every Pokémon.
  2. Mew is one of a small handful of Pokémon that can learn every move, the only others being Arceus (whom we’ve established is part of a larger mythos) and Ditto (whom for there is significant evidence suggesting that it is a botched attempt at cloning Mew).
  3. Through Pokémon breeding we know that moves have a genetic component and thus can be passed down to offspring as egg moves.

Additionally, all Pokémon share a key aspect in their development—they all hatch from eggs. Even the myth of Arceus cites the Original One hatching from an egg that existed before the Universe. The fact that all Pokémon enter the world through the same means suggests that at one point their original common ancestor also hatched from an egg, and thus all its descendants hatch from eggs. And that common ancestor is most likely Mew.

Artificial Selection and Experimental Evolution

While forming his Theory of Evolution, Charles Darwin derived his idea of natural selection from recognizing how breeders selected certain traits and allowed those individuals to breed and pass on those selected traits to their offspring. This was essentially the same principle he hypothesized occurred in nature, only guided by human will and desire instead of what best allowed for the dog to survive.

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Without knowledge of the genetics behind it, Darwin realized that dynamic diversity could spawn from a common ancestor.

Animal breeders of all kinds have been artificially selecting certain traits over others. Domestication is probably the pinnacle of artificial selection, completely transforming a wild animal to suit our own needs.

Many opponents of evolution love to cry out that evolution is not “real science” because you can’t observe it taking place, but we do. Everyday scientist study and observe the evolution of populations in real time. Thanks to advancements in genetics, we can sequence DNA and track the evolution of populations under laboratory conditions just like any supposed “real science”.

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Some of the largest breakthroughs in these fields have been through studying creatures such as drosophila (fruit flies), guppies, microbes, and typically other small organisms with short lifespans and that reproduce quickly.

Likewise, the Pokémon World has its own form of artificial selection in which tens of thousands of trainers conduct their own experiments in everyday—Pokémon Breeding.

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Pokémon Breeders go to extreme lengths to obtain desired individual values (IVs), natures, and egg moves. Serious breeders can go through hundreds of eggs until they hatch a desired outcome, only to continue the process through further inbreeding until they have the perfect Pokémon. Furthermore, the species of the offspring is matrilineal, passed on by the mother. This is similar to mitochondrial DNA which replicates separately from the nucleus and is only passed onto offspring through the mother. Because of this, we are able to trace all our ancestry back to a Mitochondrial Eve. Similarly, a Pokémon’s ancestry can be traced through analyzing its maternal side, which we know to always be the same species as itself.

Every time a trainer pedals down their respective egg hatching route, they are unknowingly participating in the act of artificial selection, and therefore furthering the evidence of evolution in their world.

Geographic Distribution

How certain species are distributed across continents and islands can offer valuable insight into their origins. One of the clearest examples in our world is found in the similarity between organisms in South America and Africa.

As any child knows from studying a globe, the eastern half of South America seems to perfectly fit in with the western part of Africa, as if were part of a grand puzzle. We now know from plate tectonics that this childhood hypothesis is correct, however, there is more evidence suggesting these two landmasses were once connected which can be found by studying the organisms of past and present. South America has monkeys, Africa also has monkeys. South America has big cats such as cougars and jaguars, Africa has big cats such as leopards and lions. South America has toucans, Africa has hornbills. South America as caimans, Africa has crocodiles. At one point in its history, South America (and the Americas in general) were home to huge megafauna such as giant sloths, while Africa still retains most of its megafauna such as elephants and giraffes.

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The similarities suggest that at one point when the two continents were connected, these species probably shared a common ancestor that underwent speciation once the landmasses separated and there was a physical block between populations, resulting in species that mirror each other across the ocean.

Likewise, a similar phenomenon can be found through the various regions of the Pokémon World. Every region has its own bird Pokémon, fish Pokémon, rodent Pokémon, dragon Pokémon, and perhaps most notoriously, its own Pikaclone. Additionally, each reiteration is specifically suited for its region’s environment.

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Take for example, the starting bird Pokémon for each region. Kanto is a temperate region with a mostly urban environment. As such, it is only natural that small sparrow-like birds such as Pidgey and Sparrow evolve there. Johto shares these bird Pokémon with Kanto, as well as a number of Pokémon, will still having its own native bird, Hoothoot, which would thrive in the more rural region of Johto. Tailow of Hoenn is equipped with a massive wingspan in proportion to its body length and is clearly built for lengthy flights, which makes sense since the majority of Hoenn is made up of islands separated by great lengths of ocean. Over in Sinnoh, a colder more northern region, Starly has evolved bulkier down for colder weather. Pidove lives in the urban center of Unova, so its feathers match the grey of the city. Lastly, Fletchinder of the Kalos region has evolved with a Fire-Typing in order to better resist the attacks of the Fairies that run rampant throughout the region.

The Fossil Record

When an organism dies, most of the time its body decomposes and becomes part of the earth once again leaving no trace of its existence. However, under certain circumstances, a process known as fossilization will occur in which the bones of an organism are replaced with rock and preserved over a long period of time. Today, we can use the fossil record to track the evolution of a particular group of species.

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Fossils are found in sedimentary rock which is often arranged in layers of silt and other sediments from the time it first settled. These layers are referred to as strata and can be used to decipher the chronological order of fossils. The lowest strata contain the oldest rock and hence the earliest fossils, while the highest strata contain the youngest rock and therefore the most recent fossils. To determine a more specific age, scientists use a process known as radiometric dating. Specifically, the amount of naturally occurring isotopes, variations of an element with a different number of neutrons, is compared to its decay products, resulting in a constant rate of decay which can be used to date a wide variety of materials.

Surprisingly, paleontology is one field that the Pokémon World has us beat on. Despite the fact that Pokémon scientist have yet to crack the elusive mystery of where Pokémon Eggs come from, they have achieved the technology possible to revive fossils back to their past selves, allowing for a level of unprecedented study that modern-day paleontologist and evolutionary biologist have wet dreams about. There is no ambiguity on what color their dinosaurs were or what their behavior patterns were like, they can observe them all in real time.

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Furthermore, when compared to their modern-day contemporaries, it is clear that some fossil Pokémon are perhaps the direct ancestors of the Pokémon we see today. Take for example Kabutops and Scyther. They both have razors for hands, similar body design, and while they may not share any typing, it is certainly not unprecedented for an aquatic species to evolve into a terrestrial one. In our own world, arthropods which both of these Pokémon take inspiration from, were some of the first pioneers of the land as their lungs easily adapted to receiving oxygen from the air rather than diffusing it in its dissolved form through the water.

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Another example is Archeops, a proto-bird Pokémon based off the real life Archaeopteryx which is thought to be one of the earliest birds. The PokéDex even refers to Archeops as the “First Bird” Pokémon. It is highly possible that most, if not all, Bird Pokémon are descended from Archeops or are at least close on the phylogenetic tree.

Archeops and fossils

There are many more possible lineages. It is a popular fan theory that Aerodactyl is an ancestor of Crobat due to similar coloring, while it is more probable that Aerodactyl is more closely related to dragons. Carracosta and Blastoise certainly share characteristics, their water typing being just one of them. And who’s to say that Omastar isn’t a distant predecessor to Gastrodon?

Like our own fossil record, there are limitations. We may never discover some organisms because their bodies were too soft to be fossilized or they lived in an environment not conducive to fossilization. Fossils that we might have discovered may have been lost to shifting tectonic plates or erosion. However, we continue to study the best we can using the knowledge that we do have, and when we uncover new information it only betters our understanding of the world.

In regards to Pokémon, every new generation is likely to bring with in new fossils that will also increase our understanding of this vast and complex world. Who knows what we will learn from this next generation. Time will only tell.

Sexual Dimorphism in the Pokémon World

First introduced with Nidoran in Generation I, and later expanded to other Pokémon in Generation IV, gender differences have greatly enriched the playing experience of both casual and hardcore players alike. Of The 720 Pokémon currently in existence, 109 exhibit some form of variation between the sexes, ranging from subtle differences in design such as female Pikachu’s heart-shaped tail, to more obvious differences like male and female Meowstic of the current generation.

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The inclusion of such differences is a nod to the real-life phenomenon of sexual dimorphism, which describes the differences in appearance between males and females of the same species. These differences can include color, shape, size, secondary sex characteristics, and even certain behaviors.

Perhaps the most well-known example of sexual dimorphism is of the peacock and peahen. Male peacocks exhibit spectacular coloration and ornamentation with their elaborate tails and colorful plumage, while female peahens are rather plain and inconspicuous. However, the astute biologist (or PokéBiologist) will point out an important detail, that while the male’s tail may be great for attracting a mate, from an evolutionary perspective, it appears to be of great hindrance, not only inhibiting its ability for flight but also making it a clear target for predators. So the question is, how did such a trait arise if it puts the male at a disadvantage and how does it remain fixated in the current gene pool?

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The answer, my friend, is sexual selection, the primary cause for sexual dimorphism. In a way, sexual dimorphism itself is a byproduct of these sexually selective pressures, which favor certain traits over others in the mating process. In his book The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, Matt Ridley remarks that, “Sexual selection theory suggests that much of the behavior and some of the appearance of an animal is adapted not to help it survive but to help it acquire the best or most mates.”

For birds and mammals, the burden of reproduction usually falls more heavily on the female than the male. For a female, reproducing comes with many upfront costs such as expending time and energy guarding an egg or carrying a developing organism for an entire gestation, in addition to the care that said offspring requires after birth/hatching. Males on the other hand, typically are not as involved and can indiscriminately disperse their seed without worry. Thus, females must be more selective with whom they mate with, resulting in a dynamic where it is often the males that are colorful and ornamented while the females remain plain, as this pressure does not apply to them.

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This principle even extends to the Pokémon World, such as with Unfezant of the Unova Region.

 

Returning back to the example of the peacock, while the tail may not aid in its survival, it does have the major benefit of attracting a mate. A male that wasn’t as flamboyant may be able to evade predators more easily, but it ultimately means nothing if they can’t reproduce. Ridley likens this to a student with testing anxiety, stating, “If a student is brilliant but terrible in examinations – if, say, she simply collapses with nervousness at the very thought of an exam – then her brilliance will count for nothing in a course that is tested by a single examination at the end of the term.”

But not all forms of sexual dimorphism follow these “traditional” gender norms. Females can often be larger than their male counterparts. This often pairs nicely with sexual cannibalism, common in arachnids such as spiders, in which the female eats her mate following copulation.

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Female and male black widow.

 

One particularly extreme example of this size disparity can be found in the anglerfish. For the longest time, scientist doubted the very existence of a male angler fish until it was discovered that the males they were looking for were most likely right in front of them the whole time. You see, male anglerfish are much smaller than their female counterparts. These little lads are destined to become no more than a sperm-filled wart on the side of a larger female angler fish, as they bite down on a prospective mate and gradually merge circulatory systems giving up all sense of bodily autonomy in the process.

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In the Pokémon World, most cases are nowhere near as extreme as the angler fish. In fact, most seem to be on the subtler side, at least in regards to the earlier generations of Pokémon. The later generations however, appear to show more obvious dimorphism than previous ones. Unfezant, much like the real-life pheasant it was based on, displays clear dimorphism from sexual selection, with the male bearing a pink mask and bright green plumage, while the female is simpler and has plain brown plumage instead. Pyroar also takes a hint from our world, copying the dimorphism displayed between male and female lions.

However, the Pokémon that displays the most differences is hands-down Meowstic, not only having different physical features but also learning different moves. In a reversal of traditional gender norms, the female is mainly for offensive purposes, learning more attack-based moves, while the male plays a more supportive role. This dimorphism even extends to their Hidden Abilities; females have the Competitive ability while males have the Prankster ability.

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“When in danger, it raises its ears and releases enough psychic power to grind a 10-ton truck to dust.” – Pokémon X Version PokéDex

 

The complexity of the Pokémon World never ceases to amaze me, and this added feature makes the biology of this fictional world seem all the more real. With a new generation of Pokémon on its way, there’s no telling what types of sexual dimorphism will be presented to us next.

What’s your favorite Pokémon that displays sexual dimorphism? Leave it in the comments, and if you’re interested in learning more about sexual selection and evolution in general, I highly recommend checking out Matt Ridley’s book The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature. It’s a great read if you’re a biology nerd like me, and even if you’re not it still has some fascinating insight on the evolution of human sexuality, and who doesn’t like sex?

Slowbro and Shellder – Mutualism, Commensalism, or Parasitism (Symbiotic Relationships)

One day you’re walking along a beach  and you stumble across a docile Slowpoke fishing with its tail, a common method of hunting as it allows slowpoke to sit around lazily will its food comes to it. The sweet juices found in its tail is a tasty treat to other Pokémon (as well as humans according to the events of Generation II). Suddenly the Slowpoke flinches, you watch as it hauls its tail to find not a fish but a bivalve locked into its flesh – a Shellder. The Slowpoke gives you a blank look of surprise before its body disappears in a glow and before your eyes it evolves into Slowbro, who now stands upright and appears more aware than before. The Shellder too has also undergone physiological transformation, its color has changed to a dull grey and its shell resembles that of a mollusk more than a bivalve, outfitted with spikes for added protection.

You, the astute Pokébiologist, recall that many Pokémon group together in order to evolve – Magnemite form groups of three in order to become a Magneton, two Beldum fuse together to form a Metang, and two Metang combine to form a Metagross. But those instances only involved Pokémon of the same species, here we have one Pokémon interacting with a completely different Pokémon to trigger a dramatic transformation for both creatures. Moreover, each Pokémon retains its own consciousness as far as you can tell, they remain separate entities that are merely working in unison. The geneticist side of you suspects the work of epigenetics (see Eevee Epigenetics), but you are an ecologist at heart and recognize immediately the symbiotic relationship between the two organisms.

In nature, organisms will often interact with each other, as it is difficult to avoid contact with other living things even if you tried. Something as seemingly innocuous as stepping on a blade of grass is a interacting with another organism. We often classify these various interactions by how the organisms involved are affected. Predation, for example, involves the consumption of one organism by another organism, providing nourishment to one while ending the life of the other. However, not all interactions are as grim. In some circumstances, organisms will interact to the benefit of one or more parties, usually. This close and long-term relationship between two organisms is referred to as symbiosis, and can come in three forms, in which the organisms in questions either work harmoniously together (mutualism), harmlessly mooch off the other (commensalism), or completely exploit one to its detriment (parasitism).

In regards to Slowbro and Shellder, defining their relationship is a matter of determining which parties benefit, and which are harmed. This may seem a simple task but when dealing with the world of Pokémon things can become complicated quickly. In our own world, nature has a bad habit of not falling into the cookie-cutter labels we create in order to organize its chaos, and that is perhaps even more true for the Pokémon World.

 

An Honorable Mention: Amensalism

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No organism is an island, even an act as simple as walking across a field counts as an interspecies interaction.

Amensalistic relationships are present throughout the natural world, and it is perhaps because of its prevalence that it is often left out of most textbook discussions on symbiosis. Amensalism can be defined as a relationship in which one party is unaffected while the other is harmed and somethings straight up obliterated. In truth, its classification is merely a technicality of the relatively broad definition used for symbiosis, which at one point was strictly limited to mutualistic relationships. Essentially, every organism is involved in an amensalistic relationship, and thereby kind of negates any purpose in highlighting it as its own relationship. Refer back to my previous example of you stepping on a blade of grass. That is an amensalistic relationship, the grass you crush is greatly inhibited, perhaps even killed, while you continue unaffected and unaware of the interaction you’ve just had. Obviously, Slowpoke and Shellder are both greatly affected, which immediately rules out amensalism, but I thought it warranted mentioning.

 

Commensalism: The Boring One

Commensalistic relationships are basically a step up from amensalism, one party benefits while the other remains relatively unaffected, neither helped nor harmed. These relationships are rather uneventful (hence the title), and are usually limited to interactions where one organism use another for transportation or housing. For example, mites will often occupy different organisms such as flies for transport, never feeding off of them or causing bodily harm. Some organisms will even use the body of another postmortem for housing, such as when hermits use the shells of deceased gastropods for homes.

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Free rides are hard to find, both in life and in nature.

Returning back to the Slowbro-Shellder Interaction, it’s fairly clear that Slowbro is indeed being harmed by Shellder biting down and remaining attached to its tail. Although, one could argue that Slowbro isn’t being harmed since, according to the Pokémon Silver Version PokéDex, “Naturally dull to begin with, it lost its ability to feel pain due to Shellder’s seeping poison.” However, just because an organism cannot feel the harm being inflicted upon it, does not mean it is not being harmed. Leeches release an anesthetic when they feed, allowing them to feed unnoticed by the host for hours until full. If I were to inject my sleeping roommate with an anesthetic, then stab him repeatedly in the gut as I tried to remove his kidney to sell on the black market, you would say I was harming even if he didn’t feel a thing. Not that I would ever do such a thing…

So case closed then. Slowpoke is very clearly being harmed. Shellder is a parasite. So we can completely rule out mutualism as well, right? Well, things are more complicated than that.

 

Parasitism: Violent Exploitation in the Natural World

Contrary to popular belief, parasites do not kill their host, or at least they do not intend to kill their host. You see, the parasites are locked in a special kind of symbiotic relationship, in which they derive sustenance from their host and thus will do everything in their power to keep them alive. If the host dies, the parasite will die most likely unless they can find a new body to mooch off of. That’s not to say that parasites won’t give the host a rough time, often the presence of a parasite can be debilitating to the host, perhaps killing them slowly rather than right then and there. This can be done through a number of methods – depriving the host of nutriments to feed itself, releasing waste products that can have deleterious effects to the host’s body, physically burrowing into and altering the structure of organs and tissues. In short, the fitness (survivability) of the host is sacrificed in order to advance the fitness of the parasite. The host could be on the brink of death but as long as the parasite can continue to survive, the relationship will continue.

Often when a parasite does kill its host it is either to fulfill a reproductive need, such as the lancet liver fluke which infects ants and compels them to hang to the ends of grass to be eaten by rabbits so to continue their life cycle, or it has accidently infected the wrong organism, one that has not evolved the immune defenses to keep it alive and functioning, as is the case with most fatal diseases that make the jump from animals to humans.

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Ants are not the only victims of mind control, liver flukes influence the behavior of other organisms, including snails.

As we determined earlier, Slowbro is indeed harmed by the presence of Shellder, and Shellder does increase its fitness significantly attaching itself to Slowpoke, not only giving it free transportation, but also free food from feeding off of Slowbro’s scrapes, as well as the juices that run from its tail. Even the Bulbapedia page that I’ve pulled the PokéDex entries from states in the origins that “Its parasitic relationship to Slowpoke may be inspired by leeches.” So there you have it, confirmation from the top source of Pokémon information.

However, I have come to a different conclusion.

We must recognize that nature will not always fit so easily into the boxes we’ve constructed for it. Scientist often find trouble correctly labeling symbiotic relationships, perhaps at first seeing one as purely commensalistic only to later find that the other organism is being helped in some way. This gets even messier when trying to apply real-world logic to a videogame, a videogame that isn’t even consistent with its own rules and logic, as despite its various PokéDex entries, Slowpoke’s in-game evolution into Slowbro is completely independent of any interaction with Shellder.

Yes, Slowbro is harmed by Shellder, but I would argue that it is also helped, that Slowbro’s fitness increases when “infected” by Shellder.

 

If Ticks Gave Us Superpowers: Mutualism

The faint glimmer of hope that the natural world isn’t all doom and gloom is mutualistic symbiosis, an interaction between two organisms in which both parties benefit from the relationship. This reciprocal altruism often increases the overall fitness of both individuals, a great example can be found with the mutualistic relationship of sea anemones and hermit crabs – which are also an inspiration for Slowbro’s design. In the wild, certain species of hermit crabs attach sea anemones to their shells. In this relationship, hermit crab’s fitness increases by having an additional defense against predators – an array of stinging tentacles protruding from its back. Likewise, the sea anemone’s fitness also increases, as it is not only mobile (a great advantage for a normally sedentary species), but can also feed off the scraps if the hermit crab’s food (much like a certain grey-shelled Pokémon we know).

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The sea anemone gets a free ride, the hermit gets added protection. Everybody wins!

In the previous section we have already accepted that Shellder is harming Slowbro, that part is indisputable. But I would argue that Slowbro is helped more than it is harmed in its relationship with Shellder.

Firstly, Slowbro’s stats improve significantly upon evolution via Shellder, even more so when Mega-Evolved. Now, one could chalk thus up to simple game mechanics and claim that this increase in stats is not unique to Slowbro, and they would be right. However, Slowbro does undergo additional changes in its physiology and behavior. As Slowpoke, it walked on all fours, but now with Shellder attached it can stand upright. Additionally, it receive additional powers from Shellder’s attachment, as the Black and White PokéDex states, “Though usually dim witted, it seems to become inspired if the Shellder on its tail bites down.”

Lastly, I point to my final piece of evidence – Slowking. This often forgotten secondary evolution of this docile Pokémon also falls victim to Shellder’s parasitism. However, Slowpoke only evolves into Slowking when Shellder bites down on its head, giving the once seemingly senile Pokémon an ability few Pokémon outside of legendries have – speech. In fact, Slowking gains full human-levels of intelligence by simply donning a Shellder cap.

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“Slowking undertakes research every day in an effort to solve the mysteries of the world. However, this Pokémon apparently forgets everything it has learned if the Shellder on its head comes off.” – Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire Versions

Slowking undertakes research every day in an effort to solve the mysteries of the world. However, this Pokémon apparently forgets everything it has learned if the Shellder on its head comes off.

Classified as the Royal Pokémon, Slowking also stands upright, and has intelligence comparable to award-winning scientist, even conducting scientific research. Think about it, a Pokémon is doing scientific research and publishing papers. A small reminder that moments ago this same Pokémon was sitting by a body of water, too lazy to hunt for prey and merely fishing with its tail hoping that it something will bite.

The secret seems to lie within Shellder’s venom, whose effects increase the mental abilities of Slowpoke, producing a moderately more adept yet still docile organism in Slowbro when just attached to the tail, and an intelligent being when latched directly above the brain as is the case with Slowking. Either way, the overall fitness of Slowpoke is increased significantly, ranging from just being able to obtain food more easily to literally becoming self-aware.

Thus, while Shellder may harm Slowbro initially, the perhaps unintentional effects of its venom on its host indeed brings a plethora of benefits to Slowbro and Slowking. It is neither strictly a mutualistic nor parasitic relationship, but an odd hybrid of the two. In our world, it would be like if ticks gave us superpowers when they feed on you, instead of Lyme disease.

The Slowpoke line is a fascinating line to study, and provides great insight on the various interactions between Pokémon species that the games don’t often shed much light into. But with a little over analysis and speculation, we can make some sense of this, at times often, senseless world.