Tag Archives: zoology

Why UB-01 Might Change Everything We Know About Pokémon Forever

Two new “Pokémon” have garnered quite a bit of attention following the release of the latest trailer for Pokémon Sun and Moon. Within seconds of release the Internet was abuzz with speculation. What is Type: Null? Are Ultra Beasts even Pokémon? Is UB-01 Lillie?

I considered waiting until more information was released, possibly even until the games themselves came out, to write about synthetic biology throughout the Pokémon Games, but as I was reading through my daily Reddit feed I had a revelation of sorts and I couldn’t contain myself. I will still write a more extensive post on synthetic biology in the future, probably after I’ve had a chance to play through the game and familiarize myself with all its details. But for now, I will focus on the two new “Pokémon” we’ve been introduced to.

Let’s start with Type: Null. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one scratching their heads once it was revealed. It’s typing was Normal yet it said Type: Null above? Weird? Even after rewinding the trailer I believed that it was a massive flop on some poor video editor’s part for leaving in the working name for this new Pokémon. But I eventually realized that in fact the Pokémon Company had thrown us yet another curve ball.

As many people have pointed out, Type: Null appears to be a chimera. However, most of the fans that brought up this point seemed to be referring to the mythical beast. While Type: Null does appear to draw inspiration from the mythical part-lion part-goat part-snake beast, I would argue that Type: Null is very clearly a botched attempt at creating a tetragametic chimera. In biology, a chimera is an organism composed of cells originating from different zygotes, or fertilized eggs. This is different from a hybrid, which is often the result of two different species crossbreeding to create a single zygote.

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In animals, a chimera can typically be achieved through one of two ways. The first is by combining multiple zygotes. This can occur naturally in the womb in rare occasions, allowing the resultant organism to be its own twin in a sense. The second involves the transplant of cells or organs from one organism to another. For example, heart cells could be implanted inside of a pig in order to grow functioning heart tissue. This may seem like science fiction but there are currently efforts to do this exact thing. And despite a recent ban in the funding of such experiments by the National Institutes of Health, researchers are still pursuing human-animal chimeras1. This will come into play later, so keep that in mind.

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Most chimeras are not visibly identifiable, in fact you could a chimera (or even be one yourself) and never know. However, resulting organisms on occasion exhibit unique traits, such as hermaphroditism, having both male and female genitalia. Pigmentation and fur color are also common changes.

But the games obviously have links to alchemy.

Well, that may be well a true. There is a great deal of alchemy references scattered throughout the games. But there has also been quite a number of biology references as well. Oricorio (Darwin’s finches), Alola forms (divergent evolution), and let us not forget the themes of invasion, particularly in respect to introduced species such as Rattata, Meowth, and Yungoos. While alchemy does play a role in the game’s lore, this particular region seems to have a lot more going on just from an ecological and biological viewpoint than previous installments. Look at this blog’s archive for evidence. I haven’t been able to write a non-Sun and Moon article in ages due to this constant stream of new information.

Additionally, what is alchemy but a proto-science of sorts? It is essentially the precursor to chemistry in an age before scientific knowledge became widespread. And chemistry often plays a huge role in many fields of biology, including genetics and the budding field of synthetic biology.

So Type: Null is a chimera, perhaps both in a mythical sense and a genetic one. But what about UB-01?

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We know little about Ultra Beasts except for that they possess mighty powers and could pose a threat to humans and Pokémon. Additionally, we are told that the newly revealed Aether Foundation is performing extensive research on these mysterious creatures and that there may be more than one of them.

Very clearly, it is implied that Ultra Beasts are not Pokémon. The description choses its words carefully, deciding to say that they pose a threat to humans and Pokémon rather than humans and other Pokémon. Additionally, UB-01 is not even listed with the other Pokémon on the website but instead with the characters. Weird.

Moreover, UB-01’s description tells that evidence of a survival instinct has been observed in this creature and that it’s movements resemble that of a girl. And UB-01 just so happens to have a striking resemblance to a certain female character who is described first and foremost as mysterious. That is no coincidence.

In light in this evidence, many have concluded that UB-01 must be Lillie. And in the context of alchemical themes already present, such a transformation seems likely. However, I don’t think that Lille is UB-01, and this is why I believe Ultra Beasts might change the Pokémon World forever.

UB-01 is a Human-Pokémon chimera.

Or, possibly, a hybrid, depending on how it was made. But the core concept is the same. UB-01 shares the genetic material of a Pokémon (possibly many Pokémon) and a human. That human is likely Lillie.

Moreover, I believe that there is some connection between the Ultra Beasts and the Aether Foundation. It is possible that this organization may have created the Ultra Beasts in an attempt to create a creature with the mind of a human but the powers of a Pokémon. One might say that this could be the ultimate being.

This may sound farfetched, but there is precedent in the Pokémon World for these types of experiments. As early as the first generation we have Porygon, the Virtual Pokémon, an entirely manmade Pokémon. Then we have Mewtwo, a botched attempt at creating the most powerful Pokémon from the genetic template of the very first Pokémon. In Generation V we have Genesect, an ancient Pokémon modified by Team Plasma. What’s more, we already know from several PokéDex entries that Pokémon do in fact have DNA it appears to operate in the same manner as it does in our world. And considering that there is an extensive history of experimental testing concerning Pokémon, is it really too much of a stretch to assume that someone would attempt to bring the two creatures together as one. Many already speculate that humans are in fact Pokémon themselves, or at least descended from them similar to how humans are descended from a common primate ancestor. And in our own world there have been attempts to reunite our kinds.

The Humanzee, a hypothetical hybrid of human and chimpanzee, has been the inspiration of many science fiction stories and internet legends. However, there is at least one documented attempt at creating such a creature in the 1920s by scientist  Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov, who conducted experiments to impregnate female chimps with human sperm. His attempts failed, but many still believe that such a hybrid is genetically possible under right conditions.

There is appears to be a consensus across fan forums that the Aether Foundation is not as benevolent as they seem, but what if it goes further than some simple Shyamalan twist? Why do you think they have their ow artificial island in the Alola region? Perhaps to perform experiments which would otherwise be illegal or at the very least frowned upon if they took place on the land. Maybe their intentions started out as pure, perhaps creating the chimeras in the hope of providing needed human tissues and organs in Pokémon, only to later turn toward more morally ambiguous intentions.

One final thought. Back to the humanzees. A big ethical questions which has prevented many researchers from attempting this has been whether or not this result being would have, for lack of better words, a soul. Many predict that such a creature would at best come out mentally retarded, and thus it would be immoral to knowingly bring a being who may or may not have a soul into the world only to suffer out what would probably be a short and agonizing life.

The website mentions a curious detail about UB-01. No one knows whether it has a will of its own or any emotions.

Just a thought.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Azurill – The Hermaphrodite Pokémon

At first glance, Azurill may seem like another forgettable baby Pokémon. This poor water mouse is easily overshadowed by its evolved forms – Marill for igniting the myth that became Pikablu, and Azumarill for its use in competitive play. Indeed, the only memorable characteristic about this Pokémon is its frowning sprite, probably begging to be put out of its misery for being relegated to Gen II dex filler. However, do not let that incredibly heart-wrenching face fool you, because Azuril does have one thing that sets it apart from the other 721 Pokémon currently in existence. Azurill, upon evolution, can change its gender. Azurill is a hermaphrodite.

Until Generation VI when this was fixed, Azurill had a gender ratio of 75% female and 25% male, while both Marill and Azumarill had an even 50:50 split between male and male. Thus, upon evolution into Marill, female Azurills actually had a one in three chance of swapping gender and evolving into a male Marill. Imagine the surprise of the unsuspecting player to find out the female Azurill they had raised and probably given a gender-appropriate name was now a male.

In biology, this phenomenon is referred to as hermaphroditism, and an organism that has both the reproductive organs of both the male and female sexes is a hermaphrodite. This trait is most common in invertebrates such as gastropods, earthworms, and jellyfish, as well as flowering plants.

Hermaphrodites fall into two categories – simultaneous and sequential. Simultaneous hermaphrodites continuously bear male and female reproductive organs throughout their lives. Garden snails are a well-known example of simultaneous hermaphroditism. The snails still mate and produce offspring that are genetically unique, however self-fertilization is not uncommon for simultaneous hermaphrodites, as plants often self-fertilize in the absence of pollinators. Some organisms such as earthworms have defenses in place to prevent self-pollination.

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Snails exchanging sexual material. The longer you stare at it the less disturbing it becomes.

 

The world of simultaneous hermaphroditism is a fascinating if not strange place, as evident by the unsettling number of photos of invertebrates in various stages of copulation I’ve been forced to shuffle through in order to write this blog post. But personally, I find the sequential hermaphrodites more interesting, in that they are born as one sex but later switch later in life.

A creature such as Azurill, would be classified as a protogynous hermaphrodite, an organism that was born female but changes to a male. Protogyny is common among fish, some of the few vertebrates that exhibit hermaphroditism. Female wrasses, for example, may change into males upon a shortage of the opposite sex, developing testes in place of ovaries. However, this change is irreversible, and only females can make the change, although, under laboratory conditions, males have been known to also swap genders.

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Wrasses often organize into “harems” in which mating typically takes place.

 

Azuril appears to fall into the same boat of the wrasse, with females being the only ones able to change gender, as well as it being an irreversible process. While the in-game cause of this phenomenon may lie in perhaps an oversight on the game designer’s part, from a pure evolutionary viewpoint, Azuril’s hermaphroditism could provide a similar benefit as the wrasse, balancing out the gender ratios when they fall out of whack. But that’s just me applying real world logic to a videogame, again.

Eevee Epigenetics – A Tale of Phenotypic Plasticity

The term Eeveelution bugs me. Scratch that. The term Eeveelution makes my blood boil, the very utterance of its syllables causes every brain cell in my body to go into apoptosis. I already have issues with the fact that the in-game process known as Pokémon “evolution” is nothing of the sorts and is actually closer to metamorphosis in most cases. But this word that the Pokémon fandom has adopted for Eevee is even more misleading.

Eevee does not evolve.

In fact Eevee hardly changes at all.

At a very fundamental level, your dear Vaporeon is still an Eevee, granted, with some obvious differences. But these additions to your Pokémon’s physiology are not due to evolution, but to the power of phenotypic plasticity.

All life (as we know it) speaks the same language, the complex yet elegantly simple language of deoxyribonucleic acid, know more commonly as DNA. Its alphabet is composed of only four letters – adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine. Together these four nitrogenous bases order themselves in countless sequences to form the instructions for life. First, DNA is transcribed into messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). From there, the mRNA is delivered to a sort of protein factory called a ribosome where – to greatly oversimplify things – the mRNA is used to code for various proteins which are what do the real magic. Thus is the way life continues – from DNA to RNA to protein, the Central Dogma of Biology.

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The Central Dogma of Biology

 

However, in some organisms there lay regions of “silent” DNA that are highly methylated, or in other words, are wound up too tightly to be transcribed, and thus remain quiet and unused. But, there are ways for this silent DNA, or heterochromatin, to unravel and be transcribed.

Without altering any of the nucleotides, an organism’s phenotype can change dramatically through epigenetics, the external modification of DNA. Once that silent heterochromatin is demethylated, the DNA can transcribed and the central dogma can continue, the resulting proteins being expressed as a new phenotype.

A great example can be found in bees. All bees essentially are born with the same genotype, with the vast majority destined to become workers as long as no external forces act on them. But a select few during the larval stage are fed a special food called royal jelly, which demethylates the silenced DNA in the bee larvae and allows transcription of the once silent region to begin. This particular gene sequence happens to be especially important, for it allows for the development of ovaries in place of the normal pollen sacs that a worker would grow. The larvae raised on royal jelly unsurprisingly grow to become fertile queens and allow for the continuation of the species.

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Honey and beeswax are not the only bee products that humans can use, royal jelly actually has nutritional benefits as well.

 

A similar phenomenon appears to occur in Eevee. Regions of Eevee’s genome remain silent until otherwise activated upon the right external stimuli. For the Generation I species, the phenotype is dependent on exposure to a specific elemental stone – Water Stone yields a Vaporeon phenotype, Fire Stone Flareon, and Thunder Stone Jolteon. In Generation II such epigenetic change is dependent on two factors, friendship and the time of the day. Night gives you an Eevee with an Umbreon phenotype, and day produces an Espeon one. Leafeon and Glaceon work similarly to Gen I, with exposure to a specific rock being the determining factor. And lastly Sylveon, who requires great affection to achieve its phenotype, an act similar to how rat mothers lick their pups in order to activate the genes that boost their immune system.

At the end of the day, it’s still an Eevee, despite what those other fallacious Pokémon “professors” claim, rather, each variation of Eevee is simply displaying a different phenotype triggered by the demethylation and subsequent transcription of once silent regions of DNA. After all, the PokéDex constantly repeats how irregular and plastic Eevee’s genes are. Perhaps those irregularities are due to all the regions of silent heterochromatin lying hidden in Eevee’s genome.

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Who is your favorite Eeveelution Eevee phenotype? As a swimmer, mine is Vaporeon. Post yours below!

Exeggutor: A True Freak of Nature

The Pokémon World and our own world are similar in that the natural processes that govern life produce some strange creatures. Perhaps one of the most odd (and unsettling) is Exeggutor, the dual Grass Psychic-type that wanders around with its three grinning coconut heads resembling some unholy hybrid between a palm tree and several stoners. Yet our anthropomorphic palm tree friend is quite the interesting specimen when put under the lens of real-world biology.

 

A Free-Thinker of Many Heads

The most obvious abnormality of Exeggutor at first glance are its three heads, each with their own distinct and unsettling facial expression. According to the PokéDex entry in Pokémon Gold Version, “Its three heads think independently. However, they are friendly and never appear to squabble.”

This leads to quite the impressive nervous system, especially for a plant. But quips about plants not having any neurons aside, it is not unfounded in nature for animals to have multiple “brains” per say. For instance, octopi have nine brains, the main brain being located in its head with eight auxiliary brains in each of its eight tentacles. When an octopus desires to operate one of its arms, the main brain sends a single message to the nerves located in its arms, and then the arm “brain” proceeds to carry out the order all on its own. Even when severed, an octopus arm will still respond and react to stimuli the same way it would if it were attached to the complete organism and main brain1.

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Due to the complexity of their nervous systems, many people have a moral objection to the consumption of cephalopods.

 

However, unlike Exeggutor, the auxiliary brains of an octopus do not have their own consciousness. A severed octopi arm does not a new octopus make.

A particularly fascinating condition is that of polycephaly. A polycephalic organism is born with two or more heads, either as a supernumerary body part or as completely separate beings sharing a body, as the case is with Exeggutor. Usually the result of faulty twinning, polycephaly never results in more than three heads (tricephalic), with two being the norm (dicephalic). Unfortunately, in both humans and animals, dicephalic organisms rarely survive, as the two heads will often fight with each other for control over the body, often becoming disoriented, which makes for difficulty in fleeing predators. Polycephalic snakes have been known to even attack and consume their other head. Thankfully, Exeggutor appears to be a peaceful organism and its heads are very cooperative, as “they never appear to squabble”.

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Those that handler polycephalic organisms often report having to place a barrier between heads in order to prevent one from eating the other during a feeding.

As deleterious as this condition may be in our world, the trait seems to be of advantage in the Pokémon World. In the Crystal Version PokéDex, “Living in a good environment makes it grow lots of heads.” Apparently the selection pressures of the Exeggutor’s ecosystem make it so that having multiple heads is an advantage, running completely counter to our world which usually follows a general rule of the more appendages an organism has to manage the more energy required to maintain them all. In the game of evolution it’s all about the costs and rewards, having an extra head or two is just too taxing and hardly reaps any benefits.

While selection of polycephalic individuals may seem paradoxical at first, there is good reason for the Coconut Pokémon to expend energy growing its extra heads, and the answer lies with the endgame of survival, arguably the purpose of life – reproduction.

 

Dropping Heads: Clonal Fragmentation

Counter to what is portrayed in the videogames, Exeggutor does not need another Exeggutor (or any Pokémon of its egg group) to reproduce. In its natural environment, when not forcibly bred by overanxious trainers eager to create an IV master race, Exeggutor can reproduce asexually simply by parting with one of its heads.

250px-103Exeggutor

“If a head grows too big, it falls off and becomes an Exeggcute.” – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum PokeDex

More specifically, Exeggutor appears to reproduce through clonal fragmentation, a form of asexual reproduction most common in flatworms, sponges, annelids, sea stars, as well as mold, lichens, types of cyanobacteria, and many plants.

The process of fragmentation involves a piece of the organism splitting off to regenerate into a complete organism that is also able to reproduce. For example, tapeworms live in the digestive tracks of mammals, usually dogs and sometimes humans (either intentionally or, depending on the type of person, on purpose). As you can imagine finding a mate in the middle of a dog’s small intestine can prove troublesome, but all a tapeworm has to do is release an end segment of its own body down the track, and with some time Rover will have an infestation of new tapeworms, grown from the end bits of the original pioneer that first ventured into his bowels.

D. caninum ex dog.  Given by Peter Schantz

If you find one of these segments in your pet’s feces (or your own), seek medical attention.

As is common in binary fission, this often results in the regenerated fragment being genetically identical to that parent, making all Exeggutors clones of each other, the regenerated offspring of past Exeggutors whose heads grew too large to support. However, this process, as is the case with most forms of asexual reproduction, does have one major drawback, in that since all organisms are effectively clones of each other, there is no variation, and as any good biologist (or PokéBiologist) knows, genetic variation is the driving force of natural selection and therefore evolution. But this shouldn’t be a problem for Exeggutor, they seem to be plentiful enough, and pending an Exeggutor superbug, they will continue to endure for many generations to come.

Of course, there is the unique caveat that with Exeggutor, a single fallen head does not a new Exeggutor make, rather the individual Exeggcute have to swarm together, usually in groups of six in order to eventually “evolve” into an Exeggcute. Communicating telepathically, these eggs seem to form somewhat of a superorganism…but that is a topic for another day.

 

Cited Sources

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/09/0907_octoarm.html