Small Taxonomy Pools

When it comes to Linnaean taxonomy, few of us outside of the related fields know how many species it covers (for the record, taxonomists estimate there have been hundreds of millions of species of life forms on this planet up to now). The number of species we are familiar with makes up less than 1% of even the known species.

Thus fiction will end up showing a few stock species, due to that familiarity. Some groups of plants and animals can have thousands of known species, and fiction will only mention about two. Often this results in Misplaced Wildlife, as the particular species shown wouldn't live in a certain place, but we wouldn't know of the other species that do (unless the writers are Showing Their Work).

There is also a bit of a sliding scale. On the low end, entire phyla (aka divisions) can have just one or two species represented. On the high end, a single family can have about half a dozen species commonly shown. This is regardless of the actual number of species per group.

Filming on location can produce a fair sampling of the local flora, including the species no one much has heard of, but the plants named will still come from a small pool.

Often this trope is because a particular species is featured in a work that puts that species in the popular consciousness, but there are other causes. Many kinds of creatures are rarely seen in fiction because they are just as rarely seen in real life. (When was the last time you met a caecilian, mantis shrimp, or a tuatara?)

A Sub-Trope of Small Reference Pools

A Super Trope to Stock Dinosaurs.

Contrast Improbable Taxonomy Skills, Seldom-Seen Species.

Examples, split along taxonomic groupings:

Single Cell Organisms Without Nuclei or Membrane-Bound Organelles (domains Bacteria and Archaea):

  • Bacteria are more often known by the diseases they cause than the actual organisms. Some are often confused with viruses. There are more beneficial, non-pathogenic bacteria than pathogenic bacteria, outside and even inside the human body, but this fact is often overlooked.
    • E. coli is particularly prone to this: the dangerous pathogenic strain O157:H7 is the only strain anyone has heard of, but in reality the vast majority of strains are non-pathogenic and the vast majority of pathogenic strains relatively innocuous. The relatively innocuous kind is living inside you right now.
  • Impressively averted in Moyashimon, which name-checks a number of bacteria and viruses, as well as a number of yeasts and other one-celled organisms.
  • Archaea do not exist in fiction. The fact that you need some knowledge of biochemistry to even understand what they arenote  may have something to do with it, as does the fact that they weren't proposed as a seperate Kingdom until 1977 and weren't officially called Archaea until the 90's. Even then they were believed to be Seldom-Seen Species only found in hot springs and hydrothermal vents until being found to make up a large portion of the worlds poorly-studied plankton in the late 90's.
  • Even when prokaryotes are correctly named in visual media, they're usually played by some kind of protist, as these tend to be more photogenic. Wriggling cilia simply look better on-screen than anonymous dots and bacilli.

Organisms With Nuclei or Membrane-Bound Organelles (domain Eukaryota) (plants, animals, fungi listed in separate sections):

  • Algae probably don't even have a specific species mentioned, just the group as a whole.
  • Most protists featured tend to be either some species of Paramecium or Amoeba. Their vast diversity is usually ignored.
  • Good luck finding any creature being called a protist.
  • Seaweed is actually not a plant.
    • The fact that seaweed is photosynthetic and looks like a plant doesn't help. The same tends to go for other algae, depending on how much there is in one spot. The distinction gets blurred even further when you find out that plants evolved from algae...
    • Seaweed are a polyphyletic group; some are plants, some are chromalveolates (such as kelp), and some fall under a phylum without a kingdom, such as the rhodophytes (red algae).
  • Any time microorganisms (of any sort) are shown in visual media, they're guaranteed to be one of the more photogenic members of this group, usually Paramecium, Stentor, or Vorticella. That's assuming it's not a Volvox (plant) or rotifer (animal) that they're passing off as a protist.
  • In general, unless they are anthropomorphic characters, expect most plants, algae and fungi to be treated as objects or scenery. They may get a Macguffin or Companion Cube treatment if they are non-anthropomorphic.

Kingdom Fungi (often thought to be plants, but a different group possibly closer to animals):

  • Mold — Although anyone who's seen food go rotten knows there are several kinds of mold (depending on the color of the rot), no species is known by name. Even Penicillium chrysogenum is just known by the antibiotic based from it, "Penicillin".
    • Slime molds and water molds are polyphyletic and consist of several supergroups, none of which fit in the fungi kingdom.
  • Yeast — Also, no species is known by name. It's just commonly known as one of two things:
    • A fermentation agent, although there are still several different kinds of species for that.
    • Whatever species causes yeast infection, which are the species of the genus Candida.
  • Truffle — Again, just the group known, not any species. And they are only mentioned when someone is making some kind of fancy meal, or getting ingredients for one.
    • Cooking shows will differentiate between black and white truffles. The fact that there is more than one type of black truffle (black Périgord truffle being the good one), or even just more than two types of truffles never gets mentioned. White truffles are rarer than the Périgords and tend to carry a sort of elitist appeal to them... even more than the elitism that plain old Périgords have. Most people can't tell the difference and restaurants have been known to dose the milder white truffles with Périgord oil so the diners taste the distinctive truffle flavor. Scams abound with lesser quality black truffles also being dosed in the same manner and sold for obscene prices.
  • Mushrooms
    • Edible ones might be mentioned by name, such as morels or shiitake. Poisonous ones are invariably called "toadstools" or just "poisonous mushroom" even though there are an awful lot of mycotoxin-containing species. (If one is mentioned, it will probably be the destroying angel simply because it has the most Bad Ass name ever. Not coincidentally it's one of the most toxic and most easily misidentified mushrooms in the wild.)
      • In Dresden Files book "Grave Peril" Jim Butcher gets it exactly right with his description of how eating a destroying angel will kill you. He even gets the antidote spot-on.
    • Kind of justified. Some are ridiculously hard to identify without specialized equipment and even mycologists are known to argue about which are which.
    • This is also very culturally dependent. East European and Asian cuisine uses a lot more mushrooms than Western or American, so people from the former areas are likely to be able to identify a much longer list of edible species and (if they're the type to go mushroom hunting themselves) to be able to recognize poisonous ones. However this can backfire horribly if they move if they move to western countries as several very poisonous varieties native to western countries strongly resemble edible fungi from their original locales.
  • Shelf fungi occasionally rate a mention as scenery.

Plants (kingdom Plantae):

  • Pteridophyta (ferns) are never referred to by species...ever. There are some 12000 current species and countless others that didn't survive much past the Cretaceous. You can bet that if a work references ferns at all, they will either have mystical properties, or the story in question will take place during the Cretaceous period or earlier (these two options are not mutually exclusive). Bonus (negative) points if anyone makes reference to flowers or seeds of a fern. Bonus (positive) points if someone makes reference to fern spores, or mentions a specific species.
  • The conifers are an entire phylum of plant species, yet all fiction seems to mention are "pines" and "firs" (both of which are genera themselves). "Redwoods" (a casual name, not a formal taxonomic designation) and "blue spruce" (a single species) run a distant third and fourth, and there's very rarely a distinction made between Coastal Redwood and Giant Sequoia.
    • Holiday specials sometimes refer to "Christmas trees" as if they're a distinct species of tree, not a purpose for which a number of small, densely-branched conifers (mostly pines or firs) are cultivated.
    • The existence of junipers is sometimes acknowledged, if only because their odor helps set the ambiance for desert scenes.
    • Translations of Scandinavian works invariably refer to conifers as "spruce" — the botanical equivalent of the original gran. This makes the trees more highly "marked" (in the linguistic sense) than if they had been casually rendered as "pine".
  • Cycads are seldom seen outside shows and documentaries set in the Mesozoic.
  • Temperate angiosperm trees are fairly well represented, if only because there aren't that many to choose from. Tropical trees, less so.
  • Flowers are mostly those with well known associations - roses for romance, carnations for buttonholes, poppies for remembrance. Characters will very seldom talk about their geraniums and fuchsias. Except for little old ladies who dabble at gardening: geraniums are the flower of choice then. Rhododendrons are occasionally mentioned, if only to put a name to the ornamental bush which a voyeur or eavesdropper hides behind.
  • There are three types of grass: lawn, cereal, and bamboo. Adventurers in a swamp may encounter sawgrass.
  • With 22,000-25,000 species in the family Orchidaceae, the one on-screen is invariably one of the most common decorative Phalaenopsis. Extra fail points if it's also Misplaced Vegetation and/or being described as an "exotic new species." Extra bonus fail points if it's called a "species" at all since almost any Phal. you will find in cultivation will be a complex hybrid.
  • Carnivorous plants are never represented as anything but pure fantasy with giant man-eating snapping jaws and writhing vines. There are probably close to 1000 different species of insectivorous plants around the world with New World and Asian pitcher plants, sundew, bladderworts, butterworts and others, many of which are perfectly "weird" and photogenic without any fabrication at all. The Venus Flytrap gets extra props for Charles Darwin calling it "the most wonderful plant in the world."
  • Eucalypts are rarely ever distinguished beyond generic 'gum trees' despite covering a truly staggering number of different species. Even in their native Australia you might get the occasional references to blue gums or the stark white ghost gums but that's about it.
  • The only cactus to regularly be named in fiction are saguaro and prickly pear. The latter is actually a genus containing ~200 species, but saying which kind of prickly pear would spoil the Alliterative Name, so never mind.

Animals (kingdom Animalia):

  • The animal kingdom actually includes dozens of phyla, with only one of them covering animals with backbones (or pseudo backbones). We'll try to group them appropriately.
  • Much like plants, algae and fungi above, if an animal is sessile (fixed to one place) or moves very slowly, expect it to be treated as objects, scenery, Macguffins or Companion Cubes rather then as actual characters unless they are anthropomorphic.

Sponges (phylum Porifera):

  • No one species is commonly shown. It's probably because of Spongebob Squarepants that many are even aware sponges are living creatures. We hope.

Cnidarians (phylum Cnidaria):

  • You're unlikely to get a view of the diversity of the jellyfish (or jellies, if you prefer). When they show up, it's likely they'll be either the common, impressive-looking, and easy-to-handle sea nettles or else something entirely fantastical and possibly electric. You're also likely to hear of the infamously-deadly Chironex fleckeri, and it will probably be referred to as the "sea wasp" or "box jellyfish," despite box jellyfish being a whole class of animals.
  • Imagine you had 5000 conjoined twins, but some have only legs, others only mouths/stomachs, others only gonads, and some forming grotesque air bladders. Welcome to the world of siphonophores. If you asked the common man what a Portuguese Man o' War was, 99 out of 100 times he'll say "jellyfish". While Men o' War are jellyfish in the sense that they are in the subphylum Medusozoa, that's where the taxonomic similarities end. Men o' War are part of the order Siphonophora in the class Hydrozoa, while the common man's jellyfish is almost always invoking the cup-shaped jellies of the class Schyphozoa. Men o' War are far, far less common in fiction than true jellyfish.
  • Corals and sea anemones may be seen, but exactly what type they are isn't often specified. However, if brain coral is shown, it will probably referred to as such.
  • You didn't even know hydras are real animals, did you? They kinda look like pinkish-white gummi worms with numerous regenerating tentacles. They're also a freshwater cnidarian: something that only appears in fiction if the writer is hand-waving the issue of fresh vs. salt water, altogether.

Echinoderms (phylum Echinodermata):

  • Sea urchins are fairly uncommon. You might see some of the flashy black-or-purple spiky-ball variety sea urchin, but no attention will be paid to them.
  • Despite there being a large number of sea cucumbers available to choose from, they remain incredibly unpopular, appearing only to produce the occasional gag (being eaten as food on Spongebob Squarepants or spewing sticky white goo on a girl).
  • Sea stars (or starfish) are one of the most underrepresented animals out there. The only type of sea star that ever appears is the generic five-armed pink-or-tan "Patrick Star" kind. In reality, there are thousands of types of sea stars of various colors, sizes, and arm counts. Some have as many as eleven arms, and can be found in practically any color (though grey and tan are pretty common).
    • Starmie from Pokemon has at least ten arms, leaving aside that there's a large faceted gemstone where its anus should be and nothing where its mouth belongs, not to mention the Psychic Powers.
  • The crinoids, or sea lilies, are totally unheard of, except for Video Game/Pokemon's Cradily.

Arthropods (phylum Arthropoda):

  • Includes sea spiders, horseshoe crabs insects, arachnids, crustaceans and myriapods. Except for the aquatic species most arthropods in media tend to be erroneously called insects or bugs.

Insects (class Insecta):

  • Whenever there are butterflies featured in any series, they are almost always the orange and black monarch butterfly. If they aren't monarchs, they're the white cabbage moth, or occasionally a swallowtail.
  • Beetles, there are beetles for practically every environment and are everywhere. The most recognized beetles out there are dung beetles, rhinoceros beetles, stag beetles, ladybugs/ladybirds and fireflies.
  • Cockroaches are common, but we're never told which of the thousands of species. If they're just used for a gross out or scare in a horror movie, they'll always be Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, which are vastly different from cockroaches you'd actually find wherever the setting is, but are available at pet stores.
  • Flies in fiction come in one of three varieties: fruit flies, houseflies, and occasionally huge honkin' biting flies, usually referred to as horseflies.
  • Mosquitos aren't considered flies in fiction.
  • Wasps and hornets are usually called "yellow jackets", build nests like paper wasps, and act like hornets.
  • Bees are honeybees or bumblebees, and have hives resembling those of hornets or paper wasps.
  • Cicadas and locusts destroy everything and are treated like the same creature.
  • A Slaying Mantis will always be Mantis religiosa, the "common" praying mantis, and not any of the hundreds of other mantid species.
  • Even though everyone calls arthropods "bugs", the Hemiptera "true bugs" are largely ignored, unless you see a cicada that's not being treated as a locust. You'll never see a stink bug or an assassin bug, even though some of the latter (like Wheel Bugs) make decent rivals to mantids in terms of cool and frightening appearance.
    • Cicadas in particular are very familiar to the Japanese and show up very frequently in anime, considered an iconic symbol of summer there. Outside of Japan they're rare in fiction.

Arachnids (class Arachnida):

  • Arachnids are not insects, such a common mistake that a character pointing out "You know that spiders are arachnids, and not insects, right?" is almost its own trope.
  • Spiders are usually tarantulas or black widows. The former is most common because they're really large for spiders (which makes them more intimidating to look at), but are also relatively docile for spiders, making them easier to work with (some species do have a painful bite though, and some fling hairs that can cause severe irritation to the skin). Black widows have a nasty bite and a very distinctive appearance. Any spider that isn't one of the two "dangerous" varieties is "generic harmless" and is probably either a garden spider or a harvestman (aka daddy longlegs), the latter of which isn't really a spider.
  • It should be noted that while the harvestman is not a spider, the cellar spider which is also called the daddy longlegs is a true spider. Confusion over the name leads to people claiming the cellar spider is not a true spider (especially in regions where they exist but harvestmen do not.) Their scientific names are Pholcidae and Opilliones.
  • The emperor scorpion is the only scorpion you'll see in fiction, with very few exceptions. That particular species hits the perfect sweet spot of being huge and impressive looking, mildly poisonous, and very docile.
  • You probably won't find pseudoscorpions, whipscorpions, mites, tickspiders, sunspiders, or anything other than spiders, scorpions and maybe ticks featured in fiction. You probably won't even get an acknowledgement that "arachnid" is anything other than a fancy synonym for "eight-legged thing".

Crustaceans (subphylum Crustacea):

  • There are lobsters and crabs. Crabs are almost always one of hermit crabs, blue crabs, or Alaskan king crabs. Lobsters only come in one variety in fiction, and to make matters worse, especially in animation, they're bright red. (Live lobsters are brownish-green; they only turn red when they're cooked.) Shrimps are also often colored either pink or orange in advertising, even if they're supposedly alive.
  • Better off than the mantis shrimp, who despite being the living spineless incarnation of Bad Ass, almost never appears in books or other works of fiction. When it does, it is always in aquarium books demanding that one kill it on sight, with the notable exception of Fragment, where several of Henders Isle's nightmarish inhabitants are distant relatives of mantis shrimp (in fact, at one point the characters theorize that this is looking at it backwards: that mantis shrimp originated on Henders Isle.)
  • In The Deep South or during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, you may encounter crawfish. They will be boiled, bright red and an excellent reason to have a beer (they're very spicy when prepared Cajun-style).
  • Armadillidiids, more commonly known as pill bugs, are fairly common, but you can bet that nobody will actually refer to them as crustaceans.
  • Barnacles are crustaceans as well, but they're usually only shown as "that stuff that covers rocks, ships and whales"
  • Good luck ever finding an ostracod.

Myriapods (subphylum Myriapoda):

  • The most common members of this subphylum are centipedes and millipedes. These are often referenced in media, but are often much larger than they should be. They are never painted in a positive light, and are often referred to (mistakenly) as insects, or just dismissed as "bugs." As if centipedes and millipedes didn't get it bad enough, other classes (Pauropoda, Symphyla) within Myriapoda will NEVER be mentioned.

Phylum Mollusca

  • Gastropods: one snail, one slug.
  • Cephalopods: A generic octopus, or giant squid, with the odd appearance by a generic smaller squid. The ammonite often appears as a generic fossil, but the nautilus is almost never shown.
  • Bivalvia: Alive, they're only occasionally seen, particularly oysters or giant clams; dead, they're lumped together as seashells unless they're oysters, mussels or scallops, in which case they are "food".

Phylum Chordata:

The phylum Chordata contains all vertebrates as well as some more things. It is split into many classes and orders.

Jawless fish (classes Myxini and Hyperoartia):

  • Lampreys and hagfishes, occasionally mentioned for their "ick" value, are always lumped under the generic designation of "fish", even though they're less closely related to the three extant fish classes than you are (although lampreys, unlike hagfish, are at least true vertebrates).

Cartilaginous fishes (class Chondrichthyes):

  • Best known examples being rays (superorder Batoidea) and sharks (superorder Selachimorpha).
    • Sharks are almost always either great whites or hammerheads. Maybe you'll get a tiger shark or mako shark, but that's about it. Megalodon may appear occasionally if the work is set in the Mesozoic (despite having only appeared 28 million years ago).
    • Rays very, very rarely appear. Don't expect more diversity than a manta or stingray.

Ray-finned fishes (class Actinopterygii):

  • What most people think of when they hear the word "fish" - and oftentimes, if a fish is represented in media it will be a generic, very nondescript creature resembling members of this class. Specific varieties of ray-finned fishes common in fiction include:
    • Eels (order Anguilliformes), which come in two flavors: electric (which are actually more related to goldfish and catfish, and are not true eels), and 'other'. Expect 'other' eels to be called "moray eels" even if they are something else (often a rock eel or wolf eel, for ease of handling).
    • Goldfish, and sometimes carp and koi (order Cypriniformes) are common.
    • Piranhas (order Characiformes), always exaggeratedly vicious, of course - and sometimes shown living in the sea!
    • Catfish (order Siluriformes) are well-known but only semi-common in fiction.
    • Trout and salmon (order Salmoniformes), typically the go-to freshwater fish in fiction and usually what you see when characters are fishing.
    • Seahorses (order Syngnathiformes) often act like actual horses in animation. You'll never see a sea dragon or a pipefish, though.
    • Anglerfish (order Lophiiformes) aren't rare.
    • Puffer fish and blowfish (order Tetraodontiformes) appear often, but triggerfish and ocean sunfish have no such luck.
    • 40% of all bony fish are members of the order Perciformes, which includes many familiar varieties. Tropical reef fishes are always members of this order, and usually angelfish and butterflyfish are shown (clownfish and regal tangs are recently popular thanks to Finding Nemo. Bass are always associated with sports fishing. Tuna are more commonly shown in their canned forms, but living ones are a semi-common choice for marine fish that aren't small and colorful. Swordfish/marlins and barracudas are also occasionally seen.

Lobe-finned fishes (class Sarcopterygii):

  • The best known example being the West Indian Ocean coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae).
  • The other extinct classes don't appear in fiction at all, except for the odd documentary.

Amphibians (class Amphibia):

  • Frogs and toads (order Anura) are usually shown as green or brown and bullfrog-like, and sound like chorus frogs (the generic "ribbit"). For a more exotic setting, red-eyed tree frogs are popular.
  • Salamanders (order Caudata or Urodela) and newts are less common than frogs, but when they do appear, they're given any color and pattern.
  • Good luck finding a caecilian (order Gymnophiona or Apoda).
  • Labyrinthodonts get an occasional nod in Lost World adventure-fiction, but that's about it.

Reptiles (obsolete class "Reptilia"):

  • The order Squamata is prevalent in fiction.
    • The most common lizards you'll see on TV/movies are iguanas, chameleons, geckos, the occasional frilled lizard (if it's set in Australia), and the Komodo dragon. Gila monsters show up occasionally. Note that if an iguana does show up, it will almost always be a palette-swapped chameleon or Gila monster, sporting a prehensile tongue, color changing abilities and a taste for bugs and small animals. Herbivorous real world iguanas display none of these traits.
    • Snakes in fiction come in five main styles: cobras, rattlesnakes, constrictors (boas, pythons, and anacondas being the most popular), and "generic deadly" (almost always in fact a false corn snake, which look appropriately poisonous) are the first four. The fifth type of snake is "generic harmless", usually a green garden snake.
      • Somewhat averted in Australian fiction, if only due to the sheer number of venomous snakes available.
      • The cobra species you'll most commonly see is Naja naja, the Indian cobra. That's because it's the "snake-charmer" cobra. The king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) is larger, but because of its size its hood looks disproportionately smaller, thus making it less "evil" in appearance.
    • Amphisbaenians are rarely mentioned even in documentaries.
    • Jurassic World has the only notable appearance of a mosasaur in fiction.
  • If it's a turtle (order Testudines or Chelonia), prepare to see either a cute pond turtle, a sea turtle, or a tortoise. Snappers may show up on occasion.
  • When people think of crocodilians (order Crocodylia), they're most likely going to picture your standard American alligator, estuarine crocodile (also known as the saltwater crocodile), or Nile crocodile. Rarely will you see a gharial or a caiman in non-documentary media.
    • The group containing crocodilians and their prehistoric relatives, Crocodylomorpha, was historically very diverse, with its members ranging from marine taxa with limbs and tails turned into fins, to freshwater forms, to terrestrial and possibly warm-blooded crocs such as sphenosuchians and notosuchians of various size and diet (the latter ranged from carnivores to omnivores and possibly even herbivores). Yet in fiction prehistoric crocodylomorphs are always just oversized versions of living crocodilians, and pretty much the only specific prehistoric crocodylomorph you can expect to see is Deinosuchus. It's possible to find a Sarcosuchus or some other large species in a documentary or two.
  • Tuataras (order Rhynchocephalia) are pretty much only mentioned in documentaries.
  • Triassic basal archosaurs (formerly united as the order Thecodontia, but now scattered across various unranked clades) almost never appear in fiction.
  • Dinosaurs (orders Saurischia & Ornithischia) have likely the widest variety in fiction. Before Jurassic Park, however, works were unlikely to show anything beyond sauropods, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, and ceratopsians.
    • And then that movie added Velociraptor oversized generic dromaeosaurid with the name Velociraptor slapped on it to the stock roster. They almost never get properly depicted with feathers.
    • If you get more specific, the taxonomy pools become smaller:
      • Large theropods are usually T. rex, Allosaurus, or Spinosaurus (rarely Dilophosaurus, Ceratosaurus, or Carnotaurus will appear).
      • Birdlike theropods are mostly represented by deinonychosaurs (Deinonychus, Velociraptor, or Utahraptor), Archaeopteryx, and Ornithomimus. Oviraptor if you're lucky.
      • Non-birdlike small theropods are pretty much unheard of. Coelophysis & Compsognathus, if you're lucky (you might see Ornitholestes in an older work, but don't hold your breath).
      • Sauropods are represented by Brontosaurus, Diplodocus, and Brachiosaurus.
      • "Prosauropods" will always be Plateosaurus, and even that's pushing it.
      • The only stegosaur is Stegosaurus (although Kentrosaurus is semi-common in edutainment works).
      • The only ankylosaur is Ankylosaurus, although older works will sometimes use Euoplocephalus instead (the anatomy of Ankylosaurus itself was poorly known until 2004).
      • There are two ceratopsids: Triceratops and Styracosaurus, while more basal ceratopsians are rarely heard of (except for Protoceratops & Pisttacosaurus, and only in edutainment works).
      • Pachycephalosaurs aren't quite as commonly seen as their ceratopsian cousins; they will basically always be Pachycephalosaurus and use their head to smash everyone they see. Stegoceras occasionally pops up in older works.
      • Hadrosaurs are usually represented by Parasaurolophus or Edmontosaurus (whatever name it's referred to as), and neither is likely to be named (Corythosaurus used to be somewhat common). Non-hadrosaur ornithopods are pretty much only represented by Iguanodon (or, if you're really lucky, Hypsilophodon).
  • Pterosaurs (order Pterosauria) will always be either Pteranodon, Rhamphorhynchus, or a completely fictional blend of the 2. Always. If not, it will be an eagle-like Quetzalcoatlus. They are often erroneously called "flying dinosaurs".
  • Plesiosaurs (order Sauropterygia) will always be Elasmosaurus (if they're even named) or some generic over-sized pliosaur labeled Liopleurodon or Kronosaurus. Similar to pterosaurs, they will usually be called "aquatic dinosaurs".
    • Good luck finding the related nothosaurs and placodonts.
  • Ichthyosaurs (order Ichthyosauria) hardly ever appear.
  • Outside documentaries, you will never ever see someone refer to a non-mammalian synapsid (formerly United as the orders Pelycosauria and Therapsida, but now scattered across various unranked clades; not true reptiles, but placed here for convenience), regardless as to how cool they might be. Until recently the single exception to this was Dimetrodon, though it is frequently shown coexisting with dinosaurs and even labeled as dinosaur itself. Another exception is starting to be made for gorgonopsians, though Primeval is the primary work using them.
  • There were several other extinct groups of reptiles, but most of them were probably never depicted in fiction. Good luck finding a rhynchosaur, choristoderan, drepanosaur, or a procolophonid, among many others.
  • Paleozoic reptiles (true reptiles, not synapsids) do not exist. At all.

Birds (class Aves)

  • Birds are the only living dinosaurs. As such, if there is anything close to a representative of this it will be Archaeopteryx, and even that's doubtful (educational works might throw in Hesperornis, Ichthyornis and/or Confuciusornis, but don't hold your breath). Few extinct birds are ever used - not even the rather awesome elephant bird, the formidable pseudotoothed birds or the incredibly diverse opposite birds. The exception to this is the dodo which is practically a symbol for 'extinction', and has a reputation for being too dumb to live. Occasionally also the terror birds.
  • You will never see a hoatzin in fiction. Nor will you see a sunbittern, chachalaca or other such birds (most people probably don't even know there are such things as a go-away-bird or a puffbird).
  • Among palaeognathous birds, only the ostrich (order Struthioniformes), emu (order Casuariiformes) and occasionally the kiwi (order Apterygiformes) will appear.
  • Gamebirds (order Galliformes) are typically represented by peafowl (always called peacocks, which are the males), chickens and turkeys (which are either being eaten or trying to avoid it). If someone needs an animal sacrifice, it'll probably be either a chicken or some sort of bovine.
  • Ducks (order Anseriformes) will usually be mallards (wild or domestic) and geese will usually either be Canada geese or grey geese (usually domestic). And of course there's swans, which are always mute swans, and always pretty and gentle, even though Mute Swans are very territorial and will chase after and attack a human without hesitation. Black Swans may appear, but just for the sake of the metaphor. Also, when Canada geese show up, they will almost always be called Canadian geese.
  • Loons (order Gaviiformes) are heard more often than seen, while the superficially similar but unrelated grebes (order Podicipediformes) are very rarely acknowledged.
  • Even though Everything's Better with Penguins (order Sphenisciformes), they will usually either be emperor penguins or adelie penguins (better known as big ones that live in Antarctica or little ones that also live in Antarctica). They will almost always be shown desiring a frigid cold environment, despite living up to tropical areas and their defining environment being beaches. They might also be noted for their love of fish.
  • Albatrosses (order Procellariiformes) occasionally show up in maritime-oriented works.
  • Pelicans are easily the most familiar members of the order Pelecaniformes. Boobies will appear solely to invoke Heh Heh, You Said X.
  • Storks (order Ciconiiformes) only ever appear in reference to delivering babies. Herons fare slightly better as background birds in wilderness settings.
  • Flamingos (formerly included in the order Ciconiiformes, but now given their own order Phoenicopteriformes) will usually be plastic, and even if they aren't, will be uniformly bright pink.
  • In fiction, the order Charadriiformes is restricted to gulls, puffins, generic shorebirds and occasionally the Egyptian plover (as "that bird that eats crocodile scraps").
  • Aside from cranes and the extinct terror birds, the loosely-defined order Gruiformes is essentially nonexistent in fiction (things like rails, mesites and kagu being just as elusive in fiction as in real life).
  • Diurnal raptors (order Falconiformes) in fiction tend to be generic vultures (invariably circling over something dead or dying), red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, or very occasionally, ospreys. You will never see a secretarybird, which is a giant eagle on stilts.
  • If an owl (order Strigiformes) appears, expect it to come in either snowy, great horned, or barn owl flavors. More spectacular owls like the burrowing owl or the eagle owl are either ignored or just marketed as up-scaled regular owls.
  • Aside from roadrunners, cuckoos (order Cuculiformes) are almost never seen.
  • Parrots (order Psittaciformes) will always be brightly-coloured, mostly red or commonly green, and will be able to talk fluently. Cockatoos, large white parrots with moveable head crests, are rare; black cockatoos, including the highly intimidating but gentle Palm Cockatoo, aren't seen. There will be no concept of a parrot shorter than your arm unless it's a budgie/budgerigar (UK) or parakeet (US), which will always be yellow and green. And there will never be a mention of the heavy and rare kakapo, nor of the fearless and destructive kea and kaka - all three being New Zealand birds and dark greenish brown. The kakapo is becoming a bit more popular in internet works, but its almost always because it's shagging you. Specifically, the most commonly shown big parrots are Amazons and Macaws, and even then, it's usually Yellow-Headed Amazons, Blue & Gold Macaws, or Scarlet Macaws. The small Hahns and Noble Macaws don't appear at all. When Cockatoos do show up, they're usually the huge white Umbrella or distinctive Sulfur Crested - forget the smaller Goffins, Bare-eyed, Rose, and Major Mitchells varieties. African Grays hold some popularity since Alex and are primarily Congos. Any sufficiently tropical location may have Lorikeets, either Green-Napped or Rainbow. 'Parakeet' actually refers to any bird with long tail feathers, which includes Macaws and a huge variety of other parrot species that even don't blip the radar. Such as Sun Conures and Cockatiels, despite their huge popularity in the pet trade. That's not even mentioning the many hundreds of types of short-tailed parrots. Anyone ever seen a Caique, Hawk Headed Parrot, or a Pionus?
  • Pigeons and doves (order Columbiformes) are limited to rock doves (the species traditionally associated with the term "pigeon"), generic white doves and the extinct dodo (although the passenger pigeon is a staple of non-fiction works on extinct animals). Sandgrouse are scarce even in documentaries.
  • Hummingbirds (order Apodiformes) are somewhat common, but swifts are unheard of. Likewise for the closely related nightjars (order Caprimulgiformes).
  • Mousebirds (order Coliiformes) are never seen even in documentaries.
  • It's a Big Big World is one of the few works to feature a quetzal (order Trogoniformes).
  • The kookaburra (order Coraciiformes) is known for precisely two things: that one children's rhyme and its cry, which is, without exception, attributed to a monkey. The Lion King has the only other notable appearance of a coraciiform in fiction (in this case, a hornbill).
  • The order Piciformes is represented by woodpeckers, toucans and occasionally the honeyguide (the bird that allegedly leads badgers to honey).
  • Corvids (order Passeriformes) will usually be crows, ravens, and occasionally magpies. Other corvids like treepies rarely ever show up. Jays will usually be represented by blue jays, but even those are uncommon in media (with the exception of one notable example). Non-corvid passerines are represented by robins, swallows and sparrows.

Mammals (class Mammalia):

  • Any extinct mammal that's not a woolly mammoth or sabre-toothed "tiger" that show up are simply generic shrew-like creatures that get eaten or crushed by dinosaurs, and that's only if they're lucky. They may also be shown as survivors of the K-Pg extinction.

Monotremes (subclass Prototheria or Yinotheria, order Monotremata)
  • The platypus is the only monotreme showing up in fiction. The hedgehog-like echidnas are rarely (if ever) heard of, even in documentaries. An exception is made for fiction in which Australia is the main location. Or in the Sonic fandom.

Marsupials (infraclass Marsupialia)
  • Marsupials arguably have more diversity in their hundreds of species than any other variety of mammal, yet the amount of species used in fiction could be counted on a few fingers. Kangaroos and koalas are obviously the most popular, and instantly come to mind at the word "marsupial". Opossums (which will probably be referred to as possums, actually a name for a different animal altogether; although possums are still tree-dwelling omnivorous marsupials) are familiar due to being so common in the United States.
  • You will never see a quoll in fiction, even a story set in Australia.
  • There is only one Bandicoot.
  • The only American marsupial ever portrayed in fiction is the Virginia opossum - there are apparently close to 100 opossum species ranging from the semi-aquatic yapok to primate-like woolly opossums to mouse opossums with no pouches. Aside from the true opossums there are two other orders of marsupials in the Americas: the shrew opossums and the Monito del Monte, the latter bizarrely grouped with the Australian marsupials despite its locale...
  • Rarely you might see a thylacine. Although this is rare and it is usually referred to as a Tasmanian tiger or wolf. Can't forget the Tasmanian devil - although, thanks to Bugs Bunny cartoons, most non-Australians apparently believe it isn't real. Of course, those cartoons do inaccurately portray it as bipedal, able to spin in a circle really fast, and capable of muttering semi-intelligible gibberish.

Placentals (infraclass Eutheria)
  • Xenarthrans (order Xenarthra) may occasionally be shown in the form of generic armadillos, three-toed sloths, or giant anteaters. Ground sloths and glyptodonts are popular if the subject matter involves prehistoric mammals. Tamanduas (lesser anteaters), silky anteaters, and two-toed sloths are very rarely shown.
  • Elephants (order Proboscidea) are nearly always African in cartoons, because big ears are funny. They're nearly always Asian in movies or on TV, because they're the only ones you can actually have on set. Outside the Discovery Channel, all extinct proboscideans are mammoths or mastodons and all mammoths are woolly.
  • Good luck finding the rest of Afrotheria in pop culture. Maybe an aardvark (order Tubulidentata) or sirenian (order Sirenia) if you're lucky. Hyraxes (order Hyracoidea), golden moles, tenrecs (order Afrosoricida or Tenrecoidea) and elephant shrews (order Macroscelidea) are nowhere to be seen. Never mind all the extinct afrothere groups...
  • Rodents (order Rodentia) are usually known for mice, rats, squirrels and chipmunks. Less used, but still relatively familiar are beavers and porcupines as wild animals, and hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs as pets. The low ranking is especially odd as the rodents are the largest of the major mammal groups, with 40% of mammal species in it.
    • Almost all rodents seem to be confused or mixed together to form some sort of new creature. Mice and rats are commonly confused, especially wild ones and pests (which are ALWAYS diseased and filthy in fictionland. Even some pet ones are depicted this way). Usually you see a character screeching and screaming or going "YUCK" and calling what is usually a mouse a rat. You also have the people who call every rodent a rat —unless casting requires the opposite, as when the unambiguous rat in Because of Winn-Dixie is repeatedly described as a "mouse". Unfortunately this is Truth in Television for many.
    • Similarly, guinea pigs are constantly confused with hamsters, even though they hardly look alike (Google either and you will eventually see hamsters in the guinea pig search, and guinea pigs in the hamster search). They are usually depicted with running wheels and salt licks and seeds, when all three of these are extremely unhealthy and even dangerous for guinea pigs. They are also often drawn the size and shape of hamsters, and only called guinea pigs for plot reasons (such as they are being experimented on, or the creators thought "guinea pig" sounded cooler/more mature/wanted to avoid being connected to Hamtaro).
    • Don't expect to see capybaras in fiction, even though they are the largest rodents alive and are very closely related to guinea pigs.
    • The chinchilla rates an occasional mention, either as somebody's coat or somebody's faddish pet.
    • It's also not uncommon for chinchillas to be dismissed as a type of rabbit or a type of giant mouse, if they are shown at all, but actually they aren't closely related to either.
  • Rabbits (order Lagomorpha) sometimes get lumped in with rodents, but this is wrong. If you see a lagomorph, it's probably going to either be a cottontail if it's a rabbit or a jackrabbit if it's a hare. No one ever talks about pikas, unless it is joined to a -chu.
  • Primates (order Primates) have a wide variety, even counting humans (since we show up by default). We have gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees, baboons, and a few monkey species. No bonobos, though - except in one Humon comic.
    • If someone has a pet monkey, it will almost always be a capuchin. This particularly stands out in fiction set in Africa or the Middle East, since capuchins (like all monkeys with prehensile tails) are New World monkeys - that is, only native to the Americas.
    • Most primates except for humans and lemurs will be referred to as monkeys. Expect ape, monkey, and chimp to be used interchangeably even within the same sentence.
  • Colugos (order Dermoptera) or tree shrews (order Scandentia) are never shown. Never mind that they're our closest non-primate relatives.
  • Bats (order Chiroptera) usually come in three standard forms in fiction. You've got your standard insect-eating bat, your cute flying fox bat (AKA a fruit bat), and your creepy vampire bat. Don't expect to see a frog-eating bat anytime soon… unless you're watching a nature documentary.
  • The mammals pertaining to the now obsolete order Insectivora tend to be represented by the mole, the shrew and the hedgehog. Moles tend to look always like the European mole (except for the Redwall animated series where they were star-nosed moles, which are not native to England and therefore aren't native to Mossflower either).
    • And the other members of the Insectivora who got booted out? They never appear either. Sorry, tenrecs, elephant shrews and golden moles.
    • Speaking of the hedgehog, Google "baby porcupine" and see what comes up. That's right, hedgehogs, despite the fact they are completely different species. Apparently if it's rodent-like and has spines it's a porcupine. If it's small it's just a baby porcupine.
  • The order Carnivora frequently appears in fiction.
    • Cats. Since the domestic cat is a species (Felis catus), all breeds count. Then we have tigers, lions, pumas, panthers, leopards (or jaguars, which will often be mistaken for the other and vice versa), and cheetahs. The medium-sized cats like the ocelot, lynx and serval are virtually never used. You will never, EVER see a kod-kod or fishing cat. If it's set in prehistory, the only felines are saber-toothed cats, specifically Smilodon fatalis, which is only one of many saber-toothed cats. Among domestic cats, black and white cats and tabbies seem to be favored in film or in animation. Black cats are specifically seen in anything related to Halloween. "Torties" and solid gray/blue cats are more rare. Siamese or white Persians appear when the cat is intended to be glamorous and/or a villain's. Also see Cat Stereotype.
    • Hyenas (which are actually closer to cats than to dogs) will occasionally show up.
    • Dogs have a few shown. There are the domestic dog breeds (all one subspecies of wolf: Canis lupus familiaris), the wolf, the fox, and the coyote. Dingoes may be used if the work is set in Australia. Once in a while jackals will show up. Of all foxes, red foxes are by far the most common in fiction. Even among domestic dogs, only a few breeds show up unless the writers are trying to cram as many breeds in as possible. Most of them are Labs, German Shepherds, Dobermans, English Bulldogs, Beagles, Dachshunds, Poodles (often miniature or toy), Golden Retrievers, Chihuahuas, Great Danes, that sort of thing. When did you ever see a Pharaoh Hound, a Portuguese Water Dog (other than the Obamas' two), or a Boston Terrier (though those are slightly more popular in ads) in literature or television? If the work is about dog sledding, the dogs tend to be Siberian Huskies regardless of the original work or the preferences of the mushers of the time. The only basenji in all of fiction was the one from Goodbye My Lady.note  Borophagine and hesperocyonine dogs are quietly swept under the table. Dire wolves (now extinct) are sometimes used to make a fantasy series seem more archaic, with one notable example. The name is usually used to refer to some sort of undead wolf though.
    • When we think of bears, we think of the grizzly, the black bear, the polar bear, and the giant panda (which, by the way, was found to genetically actually be a bearnote ). Spectacled bears, despite being the only surviving cousins of the Bad Ass short-faced bear, never appear.
    • Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! If they need a large, land-based predator, 90% of the time it will be one of those.
    • Pinnipeds are represented by the walrus and a generic seal/sea lion morph.
    • Regarding smaller carnivorans, among the most familiar seem to be raccoons and skunks. Members of the Mustelidae family aren't seen so often in fiction, but there are a few commonly-used stock species. Smaller varieties will be ferrets when something cute and playful is called for, or weasels if a sinister creature is in order. Next in line are ever-popular otters, followed by less-often-seen badgers, and the occasional wolverine (far less common than the X-Man bearing their name). Expect most of these to be chattering like raccoons as well. Ferrets are lumped with rodents, sometimes. Which is Older Than Feudalism, apparently. The Latin name for such creatures, Mustelidae, roughly translates to "mice as long as spears." Mongooses are essentially known in fiction solely for their cobra-killing reputation, and are sometimes even called weasels. Good luck finding any civet or genet in fiction. Thanks to The Lion King and Animal Planet, meerkats have surpassed other mongoose species in popularity. Now, you seldom see regular mongooses, either. Chances are the only time you'll see a mink or a stoat in fiction is as a coat.
  • Despite being the closest relatives of the carnivorans, pangolins (order Pholidota) never appear.
  • Horses (order Perissodactyla) in fiction come in four types: draft horse (usually a Clydesdale), race horse (almost always a Thoroughbred despite many other breeds being used for racing as well), wild horse (mustang), and Generic Critter-You-Sit-On (all others). Mules appear much more often than donkeys, despite needing the latter to create the former. Zebras are treated as one species and will usually be plains zebras, often wrongly depicted as the size of modern domestic horses. Rhinos, often also treated as one species and almost always African black or hook-lipped rhinos, appear as charging brutes or (rarely) musclebound thugs in media. Tapir? What's that?
  • In fiction, artiodactyls (order Artiodactyla) will be livestock (usually cattle) on farms, deer in temperate climates, antelope (usually gazelle or wildebeest) and hippopotami in the tropics, camels in the desert, or caribou in the arctic. Period pieces might add bison (called buffalo, natch) to the American West. For works set in the North Woods of North America you may see moose. No further description or species distinctions are given or expected, because herbivores are harmless and therefore boring. Of the two extant species of giraffids, the giraffe is all but guaranteed to appear when an African savanna is involved. Meanwhile, you can probably count on one hand the number of fictional works in which you've seen an okapi. Prehistoric documentaries never contain their many extinct relatives, which are actually much more similar to the okapi than the giraffe.
    • Of the cetaceans (formerly given their own order Cetacea, but now regarded as part of Artiodactyla), we have the bottlenose dolphin for dolphins (thanks to Flipper) and for whales we have the orca/killer whale (even though it's actually a dolphin), humpback, sperm (used to be the most common depicted whale likely because its oil made it the most valuable to whalers, so this is an association that dropped due to Values Dissonance), and blue, pretty much in that order.
      • A character pointing out that killer whales aren't whales is a trope in itself. Nevermind that toothed cetaceans (sperm whales, killer whales, bottlenose dolphins) are all more closely related to each other than baleen cetaceans (humpback whales, blue whales), making the "whale/dolphin/porpoise" distinction rather meaningless.
      • Beaked whales are NEVER shown. Not ever, though considering how elusive and poorly-known they are, that's not surprising.
      • Unless you're watching a documentary, don't expect to see the whales' land-based ancestors.
      • Don't expect to see too many freshwater dolphins either, like the pink dolphins of the Amazon River and its tributaries.


  • Hybrid animals tend to be represented exclusively by fictional and usually biologically impossible creations, with the exception of mules and occasionally ligers (the latter of which will usually be treated as a fictional creation anyway). Hybrid plants, despite being far more common than hybrid animals, are never acknowledged as even existing.

Alternative Title(s):

Sliding Scale Of Fictional Taxonomy