The Pokéverse may have had some natural inspiration when it came to creating bat Pokémon.


By Alyson Brokaw

In the magical universe of Pokémon, creatures harness elemental powers to engage in grand battles and adventures. Pikachu can command electricity while others like Squirtle shoot water, powers that seem like fantasy. Yet, real-life fish are known to communicate with electrical signals and pistol shrimp shoot bubbles with forces strong enough to break glass. Many of the over one thousand Pokémon appear to take inspiration from real-world wildlife, from common animals like cats and dogs to more obscure critters like barnacles and tapirs. But what about the bats of the Pokémon universe?

Zubat: The most abundant bat-like Pokémon, Zubats can be encountered almost everywhere in the Pokémon universe. Introduced in Generation 1, Zubat mimics several characteristics observed in real-life bats, including large colonies, preference for caves and ultrasonic cries to navigate in the dark.

When it comes to real-life counterparts, the long distinctive tails and narrow wings of Zubat most closely resemble that of the free-tailed bats (Genus Molossidae). Free-tailed bats form enormous cave colonies around the world, including wrinkle-lipped bats in Thailand and Mexican free-tailed bats in the United States.

One major difference? Unlike Zubats, who don’t have eyes and are blind, all real world bats can see! Mexican free-tailed bats and other cave dwelling bats use light cues to both remember the location of cave exits and know when to leave the cave for the evening.

Woobat: Round and wooly with an adorable heart-shaped noses, it’shard not to fall in love with Woobat! These charming Pokémon were introduced in Pokémon Black (5th generation), said to inhabit dark caves and forests.

Depicted as cream-colored fluffs with black wings, at first glance Woobat most closely resembles the fruit-eating Honduran white bats known for making tents of large jungle leaves. However, according to the Shield Pokédex, Woobat uses ultrasonic waves produced from its nose to detect its prey: bug Pokémon. This makes Woobat an insectivore, not a fruit bat!

Another bat with fluffy, greyish brown fur, pointy ears and a noseleaf? The Trefoil horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus trifoliatus). Found in lowland forests of southeast Asia, these insect-eating bats roost among leaves. In the Pokémon universe, the heart-shaped mark left by roosting Woobats brings good fortune. Similarly, some in Malaysia (where the trefoil horseshoe bat is found) believe a bat entering a home is a good omen, conferring protection from harm.

Swoobat: The evolved form of Woobat- Swoobat- retains the heart-shaped nose and fluffy collar, but grows larger with tall, pointed ears. They also emit sound waves of various frequencies from their nose and these ultrasonic frequencies from courting males can result in positive mood shifts.

The African heart-nosed bat (Cardioderma cor) is almost a perfect match for this psychic flying type Pokémon. Aptly named, the heart-nosed bat has a flattened, heart-shaped nose leaf. Males of this species sing loud, complex songs from their nighttime perches. Instead of leaving the listener with feelings of euphoria, the songs are part of how the heart-nosed bat defends its hunting territory.

Noibat: While Noibat is technically a dragon-type Pokémon, it has enough bat-like features that it deserves a mention. These pale purple “sound wave” species have large ears that produce sounds up to 200 kilohertz and that can cause even “a robust wrestler to feel dizzy”. They live in pitch black caves and also use their sound wave-producing talents to hunt down their favorite food: fruit.

The Pok

In addition to their large ears, Noibat also have a leaf-shaped nose suggesting that a New World leaf-nosed bat might be a good match. Bats in this family don’t produce echolocation calls from their ears, instead calling from their nose. While none make calls quite as high-pitched as Noibat, the calls of the little big-eyed bat (Chiroderma trinitatum) can reach around 138 kHz. These cave-roosting fruit bats use a combination of echolocation calls and smell to track down and choose ripe fruit.

There may only be 10 bat-like creatures in the Pokémon universe, but there are over 1,400 bat species currently described by science (with more added every year). There are bats that can detect infrared heat (common vampire bats), are immune to venom (pallid bats), and can live 10 times longer than expected for their size (Brandt’s myotis). Pokémon may be magic, but when it comes to bats, real life is more fantastical and wonderful than fiction!

Literature Cited:

Mistry, S. (1990). Characteristics of the visually guided escape response of the Mexican free-tailed bat, Tadarida brasiliensis mexicana. Animal behaviour, 39(2), 314-320.

Low, M. R., Hoong, W. Z., Shen, Z., Murugavel, B., Mariner, N., Paguntalan, L. M., … & Aziz, S. A. (2021). Bane or blessing? Reviewing cultural values of bats across the Asia-Pacific region. Journal of Ethnobiology, 41(1), 18-34.

Smarsh, G. C., Long, A. M., & Smotherman, M. (2022). Singing strategies are linked to perch use on foraging territories in heart‐nosed bats. Ecology and evolution, 12(2), e8519.

Yoh, N., Syme, P., Rocha, R., Meyer, C. F., & López-Baucells, A. (2020). Echolocation of Central Amazonian ‘whispering’phyllostomid bats: call design and interspecific variation. Mammal Research, 65(3), 583-597.

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