Flint: You mean flamingos!
Brent: There's a bunch of shrimp!
Manny: They look like chimpanzees.
When it comes to World Building, writers often want to populate their world with a fantastic fauna different from our own. However, at the same time they want this fauna to be somewhat believable and/or familiar to the viewers. One way to achieve this is to make some of the fantasy species the exact counterparts of a real-world animal. Thus, we end up with things like giant insects flocking like pigeons, giant reptiles hunting in packs and howling like wolves, or tentacled creatures swinging from trees like monkeys. In a sense, each species acts like an Expy or a Suspiciously Similar Substitute of a different species.
The trope has two main variants. In one version, a number of fantasy/alien/prehistoric species are presented as counterparts to mundane, modern species. In the other version, the animals are mundane species, but clearly fill the role of other, more familiar species — for example, an underwater setting where fish and other sea creatures act like mammals and birds, a Mouse World where insects and other invertebrates are counterparts to larger animals, or a World of Mammals where there are other classes of animals replacing non-sapient mammals. A World of Funny Animals setting can use this trope to avoid Furry Confusion — if certain species are anthropomorphised, their original niche is filled in by a different species.
To qualify for this trope, it is not a requirement for every species in the setting to have a real-world counterpart. For example, the setting can have giant monsters or magical beasts which, naturally, don't have any real-life equivalent. Regular, mundane animals can also appear in the setting (even if they might have different names). As long as there is at least one species that plays the role of an obviously different real-life species, it counts - but of course, the more such species there are, the better. If the only fantastic species like this is the counterpart to a dog or a horse, add the example to the respective subtropes instead.
This phenomenon, to an extent, exists in Real Life and is called convergent evolution. On different parts of the world and/or in different time periods, species largely unrelated to each other but filling the same ecological role (niche) will evolve similar anatomical and behavioral traits. However, these similarities will usually be superficial. But fiction likes to exaggerate this, with the fantastic species acting virtually identical to their real-world counterpart.
Common in fantasy and science fiction as well as in Speculative Biology. Specific variants include All Animals Are Dogs, All Flyers Are Birds, Seahorse Steed, and Horse of a Different Color. When these are counterparts to pest animals specifically, this will likely overlap with Fantastic Vermin. If the animals are even named after their real-world counterparts, that's Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit". Compare Animalistic Abomination, where an Eldritch Abomination shows resemblance to a mundane animal; Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp", where the fantastic species is identical to the mundane species apart from its name and small cosmetic differences; and Informed Species, when an animal is intended to be a mundane species but doesn't look much like it. Also compare Fantasy Counterpart Culture and Fantasy Counterpart Religion, where fictional cultures and religions replace real-life ones in a similar manner.
- A Bug's Life: The Ant Queen keeps an aphid as a lapdog, while P.T. Flea uses millipedes as oxen to pull his circus train.
- Cars: In this world of living vehicles, farming machines take place of cattle — tractors act like cows, gently grazing on wheat fields and tipping over when someone honks at them, and Frank the combine harvester acts like an aggressive bull, attacking cars who enter his field. There are also tiny VW Beetles that take the place of insects, and the credits use submarines in place of whales and sea monsters show on old maps.
- Onward: In this Urban Fantasy story, dragons are the equivalents of dogs, whereas unicorns, out of all things, are garbage-eating, hissing pests in the vein of raccoons. There is also a reference to a dish called "griffin nuggets", indicating that griffins are the equivalent of chickens.
- Rango takes place in a Mouse World inhabited by Funny Animals, but some species, rather than being anthropomorphic, take the place of domestic animals. Roadrunners are the counterparts to horses, and javelinas (small wild pigs) are draft beasts filling the role of oxen. Then it becomes weirder when one background character, a blacksmith, is an anthropomorphic javelina...
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2: Flint Lockwood and his friends discover that the FLDSMDFR has created an entire ecosystem of sentient food ("foodimals") that often resemble real-world animals, mostly with Punny Names. There are flamingo-like mangos ("flamangos"), chimpanzee-like shrimps ("shrimpanzees"), elephant-like watermelons ("watermelophants"), hippopotamus-like potatoes ("hippotatomuses") and so forth.
- Avatar: Pandora's wildlife has a number of species that have a clear counterpart on Earth. The Na'vi are humans, of course, but the thanator is essentially a panther, the titanothere is a rhinoceros, the prolemuris are monkeys, the direhorses are horses, etc. The extended cut also features sturmbeest, which for all intents and purposes are essentially buffalo (even being hunted by the Na'vi on horseback to further their resemblance to Native American hunters).
- In The Dark Crystal (and by extension, the prequel TV series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance), some of Thra's native fauna fit the bill. The long-legged Landstriders are the equivalents of horses, the round fuzzy Fizzgigs are barking pets similar to dogs, the Nerbies are large, tame animals farmed for their meat, skin and milk similarly to cows. The armaligs could be seen as the equivalents of armadillos, but they have a very unusual role as the wheels of the Skeksis' carriages.
- Star Wars has quite a few examples, such as banthas (shaggy yak-like creatures) and dewbacks (reptilian dinosaur-like beasts) being the camel-analogues on the desert planet of Tatooine, or the Wampa (a yeti-like furry beast) being the equivalent of a polar bear on the ice planet Hoth. The Last Jedi also has fathiers, large creatures resembling a cross of llama and jackrabbit that are used as gambling racehorses on the casino-like planet Finn and Rose visit.
- The Brightest Shadow: Monstrous aurochs seem to fill the role of cattle, cockatrices are raised like chickens, and bicorns are similar to goats.
- Dougal Dixon's Speculative Biology books love this.
- After Man: A Zoology of the Future has so many examples that it has its own page.
- Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future has the descendants of humans taking on these niches. There are grazing ape-like humans, sabertoothed carnivorous humans, manatee-like aquatic humans and small parasitic humans to name a few, with tons of Uncanny Valley to boot.
- The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution has giraffe-pterosaurs (even with giraffe colors), penguin-pterosaurs, koala-dinosaurs (yes, they live in Australia), manatee-dinosaurs, pangolin-dinosaurs (called pangaloons), and even naked mole rat-dinosaurs to name a few. There is also a bird, called the Tromble, that filled the niche of a wooly mammoth in the absence of large mammals.
- Expedition: Darwin IV's fauna has a number of species resembling either extant or extinct Earth species. Gyrosprinters are fast, antelope-like herbivores, unths are large tusked arctic beasts similarly to mammoths, prismalopes are the equivalents of rodents, arrowtongues are large predators resembling a Tyrannosaurus rex, prongheads are pack-hunters similarly to wolves while physically resembling velociraptors, etc. In a bizarre version of this trope, the Emperor Sea Strider is a hundred-foot-tall bipedal creature that inhabits a region of Darwin IV called the Amoebic Sea, walking about on the gelatinous surface and feeding off of it from enormous mouths on the bottoms of its feet. As it's a giant microorganism-eating creature, the largest animal on the world, and restricted to the planet's closest analogue to an ocean, this essentially makes the Sea Strider the Darwin IV equivalent of a whale.
- John Carter of Mars: Some of the fauna of Barsoom (Mars) have clear counterparts on Earth. The Banth is clearly a ten-legged lion, the Thoats are eight-legged reptilian horses and the Calot are stocky pets similar to bulldogs. The White Apes, despite their name, only look like white, four-armed gorillas, but their ecological role is more similar to large predators like bears.
- In The Stormlight Archive several animals native to Roshar play the role of real-world animals. Chulls are beasts of burden like oxen, axehounds are, well, hounds, songlings are similar to singing birds and cremlings are very much like crabs.
- The snouters in The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades generally avert this, as they evolve truly bizarre adaptations unlike any other vertebrate alive today. The Mamontops, however, is a large, shaggy herbivore with prehensile trunks to obtain food, essentially making it a counterpart of a woolly mammoth.
- The Future Is Wild: Some species fit the bill. Shagrats are the rodent equivalents of musk ox, the snowstalker is a mustelid resembling both a polar bear and a saber-toothed cat, the gannetwhales (despite their name) are seal- or walrus-like birds. The deathgleaner is a giant day-flying bat filling the role of a desert vulture. The flish are flying fish behaving like birds, and the squibbons are squids living in trees like gibbons, with monkey-like social behavior.
- Some examples are less straightforward, such as the Megasquid, which behaves much like an elephant but is also a part-time predator that occasionally eats Squibbons, or the swamp-dwelling Lurkfish which can be seen as an alligator analogue in a way but has much more in common with monkfish and electric eels.
- And surprisingly, 200 million years in the future, the niche of sharks is filled by...sharks. Every bit as efficient and deadly as they were 500 million years prior, they now hunt in packs and glow to communicate.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has Cardassian voles, which act like generic vermin such as rats.
- Walking with Dinosaurs: The franchise uses this to some extent when characterizing prehistoric animals.
- Walking with Beasts: The examples here are slightly more justified, as wooly mammoths and Deinotherium are actually related to elephants and so are Australopithecus to chimpanzees, so it makes sense that the series treats them as the prehistoric counterparts of these species. Smilodon, however, is portrayed with a social structure identical to modern African lions, which is very unlikely. The most extreme example in the series is Ambulocetus, which is portrayed as a mammalian crocodile.
- In Walking with Dinosaurs, one species of Iguanodon is given zebra stripes, and makes a zebra-like whinny at one point. Utahraptor, a stealthy and fast predator, is given a cheetah-like coloration with black dots on a yellow base, complete with tear stripes. Anurognathus is treated as the Jurassic equivalent of tickbirds, flying on the bodies of sauropods and hunting insects on their skin.
- Walking With Monsters is especially guilty of this. The prehistoric fish Hyneria beaches to hunt amphibians like an orca hunting for seals; Cephalaspis migrates from the ocean to freshwater like salmon, where Brontoscorpio try to catch them like grizzly bears; Diictodon burrow like reptilian gophersnote ; Lystrosaurus migrate in large herds like wildebeest, crossing rivers where they are hunted by primitive crocodylians.
- Ironclaw takes place in a World of Funny Animals that avoids Carnivore Confusion with several species of "lizard" (read: Domesticated Dinosaurs) and Planimal taking the place of fauna. This allows, for instance, boar PC to go on a tusk-melon hunt. There are also constrictor snake gourds, bull-like aurochs radishes, and many more.
- In Bug Fables, pillbugs serve as a stand-in for dogs and cats, as they are commonly kept as pets by other sentient bugs, aphids are a stand-in for cows and chickens, as they are commonly farmed for their eggs and dew (which serves as a substitute for milk), weevils are akin to wolves, being vicious, predatory quadrupedal beasts that even know how to howl, and the travelling caravan uses the snail as a stand-in for mules, having it carry their wares during their travels.
- Pokémon naturally goes off this trope, with many Pokemon filling niches of real-world animals, though of course All Animals Are Domesticated is in play, with even large powerful creatures being kept as companions by people.
- Warframe, the bat-nosed egg-laying Kubrows serve as a stand-in for dogs while the long-legged Kavats are the equivalent to cats. Both of them can be brought into combat to attack foes and provide numerous bonuses like increased radar range with the right mods.
- In No Evil, jackalopes are used as beasts of burden, treated as the counterpart of oxen or donkeys. Chupacabras, meanwhile, are large, bear- or wolf-like predators.
- Amphiterra, being an alternate Earth where frogs, instead of reptiles and mammals, became the dominant species of the planet, has frog versions of many different animals of our timeline, such as the gibbon-like Tree Frixel, the tyrannosaur-like Catastrophic Fraggon, or the mammoth-like Foaming Squander.
- Many of the evolved descendants of canaries become analogues of other birds (such as the falcon-like falconary or the moa-like serestriders), of mammals (the viviparous canaribou or the quadrupedal grazing serezelles) and of non-avian dinosaurs (such as the pseudornithopods or the T. rex-sized tyrant serins). Eventually, some of the more derived birds cease to resemble avians at all, such as the gill-breathing fishlike pikebird or the botfly-like squicks with parasitic larval young.
- Aside from the birds, there are also the tribbets, land-dwelling fish descended from guppies. Most of them occupy the niches of lizards, frogs and snakes, though one group, the furry warm-blooded tribbetheres, become three-legged mammal-analogues resembling rodents, canids and ungulates.
- Snaiad has shades of these among its creatures: the Kahydrons are akin to canids, the Fuckers are ambush predators like big cats, and the Allotaurs are akin to rhinos and elephants. However, as the author repeatedly states, all these similarities are only skin-deep, and many vertebrates on Snaiad have no close Earth analog, such as the tiny insect-sized vertebrates called Picotheres. There are also no flying vertebrates: the niche of birds is instead occupied by invertebrate organisms similar to flying slugs.
- Alien Biospheres has enough to gain its own page.
- In Amphibia, the Frog Men keep spiders as dog-like pets, ride giant snails similarly to horses or donkeys, and farm giant worms with cow-like colorations for dairy (i.e. it's implied, though not explicitly stated, that they create cheese from the worms' mucus). Meanwhile, there are flies that act like birds (actual birds also exist, but they are monstrous predators), and hedgehogs that hunt in packs and cackle like hyenas. Also, an entire episode revolves around a caterpillar acting and looking like a cat.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra's fauna is a combination of real-world animals (penguins, octopi) and Mix-and-Match Critters made from real-life animals. The latter often stands in for their real-world counterparts — turtleducks (ducks with turtle shells) inhabit ponds, polar bear dogs are fearsome predators, et cetera. In one humorous scene, Team Avatar was very confused that the Earth King's pet bear was a regular bear and not a Mix-and-Match Critter.
- The Flintstones: The eponymous family has a sauropod dinosaur acting like a dog and a saber-toothed cat acting like a house moggy. Other prehistoric animals replace objects, such as vehicles and household appliances.
- Futurama: In the 31st Century, owls have taken over the niche once filled by vermin like mice and raccoons, and can often be seen coming out of holes in walls. Cattle, which are stated to be extinct, have been replaced by giant beetle-like, black-and-white spotted alien creatures called buggalo.
- OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes: Miniature dinosaurs are the main fauna of the show's world. Pterodactyls soar the skies like sparrows or pigeons, while small sauropods and ceratopsians skitter around like squirrels. Gar's Bodega even has a baby T. rex as a pet.
- Silly Symphonies: "Merbabies" has a circus parade scene where aquatic animals appear in the roles of typical circus animals. There are carriage-pulling seahorses, octopuses lumbering like elephants (with one tentacle acting as their trunk), crabs swinging in a cage like apes, a tigerfish with black and yellow stripes roaring like an actual tiger, and snails resembling seals, balancing pearls like balls on their noses.
- Spongebob Squarepants uses this mostly for comedic effect. There are worms in place of dogs, snails in place of cats (although there is also a breath-holding Funny Animal Superhero cat named Kenny in one episode), seahorses in place of horses, scallops are birds, (they even chirp!) and jellyfish in place of bees, out of all things.
- This is somewhat Truth in Television, given that convergent evolution can have completely unrelated species in environments separated in space or time, evolving to become very similar as they occupy the same niches:
- The most common large, herding plains herbivores in Africa are antelopes. In Australia, however, this niche is instead filled by kangaroos.
- Antelopes can also be seen as a "stand-in" for deer given their similarities, though antlers and horns are actually not considered the same thing scientifically.
- The aye-aye lemur is in a way a Madagascan equivalent of a woodpecker, as it bores through bark with its sharp incisors to feed on grubs and insects that tunnel in the wood.
- Hummingbirds fill the niche of flying nectar-feeders in the American continent, which is filled by large insects, primarily moths in other parts of the world.
- Certain prehistoric animals filled niches that modern animals now occupy. A notable case are the pterosaurs, who convergently evolved many similarities with birds of today, such as ones that sieve food from water like a flamingo, or had throat pouches like pelicans for catching fish.
- This trope particularly became a major cliche in artistic portrayals of dinosaurs: Pteranodon was often depicted hanging upside down like a bat, Deinonychus was usually portrayed hunting large prey in packs similar to modern-day wolves, and sauropods were often represented as essentially being reptilian elephants, to name a few. Many of these artistic tropes have since been debunked by new discoveries, but many of them still persist in popular culture and the public imagination.
- Prionosuchus, a large Triassic amphibian, greatly resembled a crocodile and likely filled their niche as aquatic ambush hunters ages before the true crocodiles evolved.
- African wild dogs can be seen as an African equivalent to gray wolves note . They are both intelligent social canines with rivalries with big cats (mountain lions for wolves, lions for African wild dogs.) They have similarities in pack structure, with packs being centered around a monogamous pair, and older offspring either dispersing or staying to help raise younger siblings. African wild dogs hunt antelope, which are superficially similar to the deer wolves hunt.
- You can also argue that spotted hyenas have some similarities to wolves, especially the extinct dire wolf, although they are not actually canines.
- The most common large, herding plains herbivores in Africa are antelopes. In Australia, however, this niche is instead filled by kangaroos.