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     Animals 
  • When Carl von Linné published his first edition of Systema Naturae, he felt it important to add a section listing down the species that he would not be classifying, on the grounds that they weren't real. This makes sense given that bestiaries at the time would typically feature many mythological species as if they actually existed, so Linné wanted his readers to be well-informed. Some of the species he mentions as being made-up include dragons, unicorns, phoenixes... and pelicansnote 
  • Surprisingly, there's people out there that don't realize reindeer are real animals. Though obviously they don't really fly or have red noses, they can be trained to pull sleds.
    • Most artists have no idea what reindeer look like, so they draw Rudolph to look like Bambi. Actual reindeer have gray or muted brown fur with pale neck-ruffs in winter, flat and wide muzzles, large hooves and an entirely white short tail. (For reference, Bambi is a white-tailed deer, a relatively small species that is essentially a pest animal that lives significantly south of the caribou/red deer latitudes).
    • Strangely enough, people should know about the real species of deer because they go by another name in North America: caribou. Most people don't know that they're the same animal.
  • Some people are unaware that a wolverine is a real animal, and not just an X-Men character. It is, in fact, the largest member of the mustelidae family (that includes weasels, ferrets, and otters).
  • Many people are shocked to learn that narwhals are real and not some type of mythical creature on par with unicorns. Just check the comments on this clip or this hilarous blog post.
  • There are also people who believe that Tigons and Ligers are fictitious, and that photographs of them are actually fake.
  • Snipes are real. Well, there is a type of bird called a snipe. The thing you're sent hunting for might or might not be it, if it's anything at all (the trope/term comes from the difficulty of shooting or catching them, as does the word "sniper").
  • Some people don't realize Tasmanian devils exist until they look it up (they look very little like the cartoon character, though they can be similarly aggressive).
    • Australian fauna in general is a major offender, because of how weird it may appear and how little-known it is outside of Australia itself. Historically, most people didn't believe platypuses existed because the idea was too-farfetched. The bandicoot is a real animal too (and looks nothing like the video game character). In fact, Australian fauna was so weird for westerners that the Bunyip is an inversion.
  • Some people apparently believe that dinosaurs were made up by Steven Spielberg, and/or claim that they "grew up" and stopped believing in them, conflating them with dragons. Some Young-Earth creationists don't believe in dinosaurs either, for religious reasons (though most creationists are fine with dinosaurs being real things that existed, they just have doubts as to when and how they lived and died).
  • Similar to the Tasmanian devil example above, some people are unaware that roadrunners are real birds, and not just a fictional character created by Looney Tunes. This belief is especially strange when held by people in the southwestern US, since many of them would just have to take a nature walk outside to find out they exist. Granted, real roadrunners have little in common with their cartoon counterpart, being much smaller and possessing a different coloration. (And being vicious little predators.)
  • The giant squid was generally thought to be a fictional animal until one was found in 1880 foundered at Newfoundland shore. Then they found a species of squid that was even bigger and had to call it the "colossal squid".
  • Many people think that hedgehogs are fictional creatures too, due to the fact that they only live in certain parts of the world and are common in those places but rare elsewhere (and they are often more often found as roadkill). The American media were not sure Sonic the Hedgehog would take off in the US due to the obscurity of the animal — Sega had to clarify with them that hedgehogs are indeed common in Japan. To this day, many people automatically think 'Sonic' when they think of a hedgehog.
  • Some Americans have been surprised to find out that storks actually exist. They only know storks as the bird who delivers the babies, and since babies obviously aren't delivered by birds, they think the bird itself is fictional too. Storks don't naturally live in most of North America, with only the wood stork being a rare breeder in a couple of the southern states, and since the typical "baby delivery stork" is the white stork which doesn't live in America at all, they'll never see a real stork to disprove their assumptions (unless they go to a zoo with white storks, of course).
  • Some people don't believe in zedonks, the zebra-donkey hybrid. But, believe it or not, zedonks are real.
  • Vampire bats are real. Since vampires are already heavily associated with bat motifs, many people think that the idea was easily made up and something too obvious to be true, when in fact real vampire bats likely influenced the association of vampires with bats.
    • Some people make the opposite mistake and think all bats are Vampire bats. In truth, there are at least 950-1,200 species of bat, and only 3 feed on blood. Most of the rest eat insects, fruit and nectar, and small animals such as lizards and mice. Some even eat fish and birds.
  • Electric eels are real (though they're not really eels). Some people treat them as legendary creatures.
  • Britons are prone to this misunderstanding about bluebirds- probably because of their genuinely incorrect appearance in the iconic 1940s hit There'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover. This is a case of Misplaced Wildlife: the lyricist was an American who didn't realise bluebirds don't exist in Britain, but they do in America (they were a fashionable motif in songwriting at the time for peace and joy.).
  • Gorillas were believed to be a local myth until European explorers actually encountered them.

     Historical people and events 
  • The Moon Flight Skepticism could well be the Trope Codifier.
  • Or Holocaust denial, unfortunately. Of course, attempted genocides and politically-motivated mass murders have a nasty habit of getting forcefully swept under the rug. There are many people around the world still unaware of the murders committed under Stalin or Mao. And it took the U.S. generations to even start to come to terms with its history regarding Native Americans. Some people still have problems with said history.
  • Santa Claus. Most people cannot see the name is an alteration of St. Nicholas, a Christian saint, who most definitely has been a historical character (Bishop Nikolaos of Myrna) and whose grave, containing his earthly remains, is in Bari, Italy. That said, the image of the jolly old man in red everyone knows is still fabrication, though the red fur-trimmed hat has some basis in reality.
  • This also often applies to many historical figures who have attained an almost mythological status in popular culture, such as Blackbeard (real name Edward Teach), Attila the Hun, Jack the Ripper, and (Grigori Yefimovich) Rasputin.
  • Jan Rogozinski's "Pirates" lists "Blackbeard" as a fictional character separate from Edward Teach on the grounds that he's been mythologised beyond recognition... but also lists Grace O'Malley as straight-up fictional. (She's been mythologised too, but she did exist.)
  • It may be because of this trope that historians still can't agree on whether Robin Hood was a real person or not.
  • Or King Arthur, for that matter. While nobody disputes that the legend as it now exists is the result of centuries upon centuries of wild embellishment, there is some written evidence that a local ruler named Arthur or something close to it did live in post-Roman Wales and won several important battles against the Saxons, including the Battle of Badon Hill. How authoritative those old documents are is disputable, of course.
  • Macbeth was certainly a real guy, although he didn't hang out with witches. Ditto for Richard III and most of the subjects of Shakespeare's historicals. Others like Hamlet and King Lear were legends in Shakespeare's day that may or may not be based on truth.
  • Count Vlad "Dracula" Țepe&#537, aka Vlad the Impaler was definitely a real guy, albeit not a vampire.
  • There was a real historical figure named Hiawatha. He was a peacemaker among the tribes of what would become the Eastern U.S. and the founder of the Iroquois Confederation. He has absolutely nothing to do with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Narrative Poem "The Song of Hiawatha," though. Longfellow just liked the name.
  • Quite a few people just cannot accept that 15th century London really did have a Lord Mayor called Richard Whittington, and he was indeed elected three times (although he probably didn't have a cat of any note).
  • Twitter reaction to the media coverage of the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic disaster revealed that a disturbing number of people apparently believed that James Cameron made up the whole story from scratch.
    • In fact, there are two Italian cartoon mockbusters of James Cameron's Titanic (1997), both of which are presented as being new takes on a fanciful story, instead of stories based on a real tragedy.
    • In the same vein, the Costa Concordia disaster which took place in early 2012 was described by several news outlets such as Entertainment Tonight as being like a "Real-Life Titanic".
  • Pirates still exist.
    • Likewise, cowboys (and -girls) still exist. Depending where you are, they may well be "Indians", since a lot of Native Americans took to ranching as a means of subsistence. Not having got their expectations for their own existence from Hollywood, they're unlikely to consider it ironic.
  • The samurai effectively lost their status in 1876, but many samurai held onto parts of the tradition well into the 20th century. To this day, many Japanese families maintain their claim to the title "shizoku", which originally meant "ex-samurai" but has come to mean "would have the inherited right to be a samurai if there were still samurai". There is a lot of subversion associated with the samurai, however. A lot of alleged samurai traditions came to be enforced only after the victory of the Tokugawa clan effectively ended feudal warfare of the Sengoku Era. Samurai traditions were emphasized again in the early 20th century, as part of political propaganda in an era of ultranationalism and militarism, decades after the samurai class was abolished.
  • There's some evidence that Japanese intelligence during the Imperialist period (from the Meiji Restoration till the end of World War II) was partly set up by former members of the O-Niwa Banshu, the Tokugawa shogun's bodyguard-spies. At least some O-Niwa Banshu methods were inherited from the ninja of Koga and Iga. That's well under 200 years ago that there were people you might call "ninja" in Real Life.
  • The Mafia. Members of the organization historically claim it doesn't exist rather than they are not members. It still exists today even though it doesn't have the power it used to.
  • A lot of people think Chef Boyardee was fictional and Betty Crocker was real. It's actually the other way around.
  • As the Trope Namer indicates, there are people out there who don't believe that the Eskimos (a.k.a. the Inuit people of North America) exist. Some people don't believe that American Indians in general still exist (despite the existence of reservations and casinos, along with millions of Indians living independently).note 
  • You'd be surprised how many people believe that Romani people — that is, "gypsies" — are either entirely fanciful and fictional, like swarthy, fortune-telling leprechauns, or no longer exist. This is particularly the case in America; in many places in Europe active antiziganism, or prejudice against Romani people, is still going strong and they're seen as quite real, just subhuman social pests. Even some people who believe in "gypsies" have the impression that they consist of a volitive subculture akin to hippies or metalheads rather than a distinct ethnic group.
  • Despite historical evidence to the contrary, you'll find some Japanese people claiming the Shinsengumi and all of its most famous members were the product of Jidai Geki epics.
  • Some clips on YouTube of Colonel Sanders making appearances on tv shows such as "What's My Line?" have quite a few comments from people who are surprised to find he was an actual person, and not just a company mascot.
  • Captain Beefheart's late 60s co-lyricist, Herb Bermann, was so reclusive that many fans assumed he didn't exist. This was compounded by Beefheart apparently introducing band members to different people who he claimed were Bermann. Bermann resurfaced in the 2000s after fan effort to track him down, and released a book "The Mystery Man From The Magic Band".
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     Places 

  • The Tokyo neighborhood Nerima does exist. However, because Ranma doesn't, some people think the neighborhood itself doesn't exist either. For that matter, the Bāyánkālā Mountain Range in China also exists.
  • Azabu-juban (home of Sailor Moon) also exists. Likewise the Hikawa Shrine is real, though Rei obviously doesn't live there (and it uses the kanji for ice rather than fire in its name). Crown Game Center also used to be real, but was shut down and replaced with a McDonald's.
    • Similarly some people don't believe Scranton exists because of the American version of The Office (US). Or its UK counterpart Slough, for that matter.
  • According to a now deleted Facebook post, Australia doesn't exist. People are actually being sent to an island off the coast of South America and anyone who says they are from Australia is a paid actor. Many conspiracy theorists saw this post and immediately believed it. Though it's quite possible that the person who made said post was joking and some took it too seriously.
  • The Italian town of Narni is also known as Narnia, the same name as C. S. Lewis' enchanted country; he was possibly inspired by the real town for the name. Another explanation, though, is that C. S. Lewis used bits of Tolkien's early Elvish, in which "narn" means "tale": Thus,"Narnia" would mean "land of tales".
  • There is a humorous notion about in Germany that the town of Bielefeld does not actually exist, but is simply a conspiracy. There's also the Bielefeld-conspiracy-conspiracy, a conspiracy that the Bielefeld-conspiracy doesn't exist. Looks like we have entered an endless recursion of time.
  • Brazilians also joke about the non-existence of the state of Acre, a small and distant part of The Amazon annexed after a war with Bolivia (or according to Bolivian president Evo Morales, traded in exchange for a horse).
  • People who watch El Chavo del ocho might be surprised to learn that Tangamandapio, birthplace of Jaimito el Cartero, is a real town in Mexico. In fact, the town has erected a statue of Jaimito because "he helped to put them in the map".
  • The former president of Mongolia, Nambaryn Enkhbayar, recounted how he was detained by an immigration official when visiting England as a young man. The immigration official apparently thought that Mongolia was a fictional country, until finding it in an atlas.
  • Timbuktu has been used as shorthand for "far away" and/or "middle of nowhere" for so long some people assume it's merely made up instead of a real town in Africa (Mali to be precise, and it was a very important city back in the the Middle Ages). A surprising amount of people in the UK thought it didn't actually exist (due in good part to people referring to it as part of an And I'm the Queen of Sheba snark). Roger Hargeaves's Timbuktoo books probably didn't help either.
    • Kathmandu (Nepal, the capital, no less, and the heart of a metropolis of nearly 3 million people), Kalamazoo (Michigan), and Uryupinsk, Volgograd Oblast fare a little better.
    • The stone cities of Zimbabwe inspired so many fantastical Lost World stories about Darkest Africa that many people have no idea that the cities themselves exist.
    • Plus Abu Dhabi (capital and second-largest city in the United Arab Emirates) for fans of Garfield.
  • If Plutarch is to be believed, many Romans believed Britain wasn't real until Julius Caesar invaded it.
  • Many ancient Europeans believed that Asia and Africa were fictional places.
  • Some people believe that Greenland and Iceland are fairytale places, like Mordor.
  • Star Wars: Tatooine is a real place, although it's not another planet; it's a city in Tunisia.
  • Some Shakespearean scholars — usually the ones afraid of research — believe that Twelfth Night's setting of Illyria is a mythical land of Shakespeare's own invention. It's actually the Greco-Roman name for the eastern shores of the Adriatic Sea — what is now Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia — and a perfectly reasonable place for an Italian ship to run aground, as happens at the beginning of the play.
  • Played with by Dave Barry in his 1987 year-in-review column: "Libya is defeated by some place called Chad in some kind of war. This really happened." There have been multiple comedic expressions of disbelief that there is a country called "Chad".
  • Madagascar is a real country and was not made up by Dreamworks. In fact, everything that appeared in the Madagascar of the films are real, including the lemurs, the cat-like fossas, and the tall, fat, finger-like trees (Grandidier's baobab). The only unreal thing is the films depicting it as a human-less nature paradise (in reality there are nearly 26 million people, though considering the total area it is admittedly not a very crowded place. Still, there is got to be at least a coast guard around...).
  • A man in Alaska is reported to have stated in public that Aragon never existed. (Hint: It's a country that is now part of Spain.)
  • A running joke that started in the early '90s in Chile and just won't die is that Combarbalá (a small town in northern Chile) doesn't actually exist and it's on the map because of a conspiracy/propaganda campaign by the State's tourism department; people from the place hate this. Made doubly hilarious because the town is known mainly for its artisanal figures made out of combarbalita (an ornamental rock that is available in abundance in close-by mountains and pretty much nowhere else). Combarbalita is even the country's "national stone", having replaced lapis lazuli in 1993... which only adds fodder to the "conspiracy" angle.
    • In America, people have tried to kick off a similar joke around Wyoming, though it hasn't gained as much traction.
  • It apparently started out as an anecdote on Reddit, with a single poster complaining about their weird family and their weird beliefs, but then the thread exploded, the idea spread, and now there are people out there who honestly believe that Finland (as in, the actual country) never existed.
    • To elaborate: according to the conspiracy theory, after WWII Japan had their fishing rights restricted and Russia needed more food. So, to solve these issues, they created a false landmass on the maps, "hiding" the sea where the Japanese could fish without any international restrictions, and the Russians in turn would receive part of the catch for being accomplices. Also, they named the fake country Finland, because fishes have fins. Why Russians would make up a name based on an English word when the Russian word for fin sounds nothing like Finland is anyone's guess.
  • According to interviews during a retrospective, even some of the cast of The Good Life were surprised to learn that the London borough of Surbiton was a real place, only finding out when they started location shooting. Although to be fair, the fact that its name sounds like it should be a fictional Stepford Suburbia might well have influenced the decision to set the series there.

     Miscellaneous 
  • Whataburger, because of its appearance in King of the Hill, is thought to be a fictional fast food chain by many who have never been to Texas, but it's not only real, it's even expanded across the American southeast.
    • Similarly there are people who are astonished that saguaro cacti and tumbleweeds are real and not just cartoon props (being shorthand for "desert", including deserts that aren't part of the southwestern United States, probably doesn't help).
  • Many outside of America find it hard to believe that Chuck E. Cheese-style restaurants are a real thing.
  • Apparently some people don't realize American two dollar bills are a real thing and not just a mistake made by clueless counterfeiters. This page lists some examples.
    • Likewise, young or forgetful Americans often mistake Susan B. Anthony or Sacagawea dollar coins for foreign coinage, not realizing they're actual (albeit not successful) U.S. currency.
  • Thomas Jefferson expressed disbelief that an entire species could go extinct or that falling meteorites might be real. In fairness, they were both very new ideas at the time.
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