Sometimes in works involving animals, an animal will be portrayed by a different species, subspecies, or breed than what it is supposed by in in-universe. A good reason for this may be that the intended species may not be available for acting, so the filmmakers instead use a similar species. This may be because the species is either very rare, extinct, or imaginary. (For example, a unicorn may be portrayed by a horse wearing a fake horn.) Another reason may be that the species meant to be portrayed is too dangerous so the filmmakers instead use a similar species which is easier to handle. Sometimes makeup or prosthetics may be applied to the animal to make it look more like the species meant to be portrayed.
This trope is frequently used for extinct and fictional species, especially if said species is similar enough to a real living species that it can be portrayed by such. (In this case, the trope would obviously be justified since, for obvious reasons, the producers could never find an actual living individual of the species meant to be portrayed.) Otherwise, they would most likely be CGI, stop-motion or animatronic puppets. Or an actor in a rubber suit.
As covered by Slurpasaur, many dinosaurs used in old black and white films have been portrayed by modern reptiles such as alligators and iguanas. The animals alive today that most closely resemble dinosaurs are crocodiles and birds, and few if any of them would actually pass convincingly as dinosaurs no matter the make up or editing, especially now that the public knows that dinosaurs were far more active than lizards are.
This trope would mostly be limited to live-action television and films as opposed to animated (unless you count in-universe examples), since cartoon animals are not actually "played" by real animals.
Could be considered a sister trope to Informed Species (where an animal looks nothing or little like the species it is supposed to be). Incorrect Animal Noise may be in effect if a recording of an animal sound is used for a different species. Compare Ass in a Lion Skin for in-universe examples where an animal is disguised as another species. Contrast Adaptational Species Change where an animal's in-story species is changed for an adaptation.
- A Kleenex tissue commercial has a boy taking in a raggedy stray dog. The dog is a Border Terrier, however it's meant to be a mixed breed in the narrative.
- This is used as a joke in a Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards commercial. A woman refers to Labrador puppy as a Lab/Husky mix to set up a joke about Kirby also being a mix.
- Babe: Pig in the City features a "pit bull" played by a bull terrier.
- The elephants in the Tarzan films are portrayed by Asian elephants, even though the films take place in Africa. Granted, Asian elephants are much easier to train than their African cousins. In the first film, cardboard ears were attached to them to make them look more like African elephants.
- Wolves in a lot of movies are played by wolf-like domestic dog breeds, such as German Shepherds or Huskies. For example, the wolf in Old Yeller was played by a German shepherd made to look like a wolf.
- In Sheena, Sheena rides a "zebra" that is played by a horse with stripes painted on it.
- In a few shots, Gorillas in the Mist used trained chimpanzees wearing gorilla makeup (in most shots they were either actual gorillas filmed in the wild or Rick Baker in a gorilla suit).
- In the 1994 remake of ''The Jungle Book'' Baloo is portrayed by an American black bear rather than a sloth bear. This may be because sloth bears are an endangered species and American black bears are more common in captivity.
- The Ghost and the Darkness: Based on the account of John Henry Patterson, the film follows him as he spends the better part of a year hunting down the infamous Tsavo Man-Eaters, a pair of male lions who were responsible for the deaths of at least twenty to thirty railroad workers, as they endeavored to construct the Kenya-Uganda Railway. While the films heavily tones down a number of the more seemingly fantastical aspects of the real story, as it was deemed the audience wouldn't believe any of it, one of the more bizarre changes was with the lions themselves. Despite the lions being portrayed by, well, real lions, the pair of males the film used have manes. Among Tsavo's lion population, male lions, including the aforementioned Man-Eaters, are unique for being mane-less.
- Mutts and mixed-breed dogs are usually portrayed by purebreds in film, as it's easier to find multiple similar-looking purebreds. One example is the title character in the film adaptation of Because of Winn-Dixie, who's stated to be a mutt but is played by a Berger de Picard.
- In the Marmaduke film the "mutts" are played by a Great Dane, an Australian Shepherd, a Chinese Crested, and a Dachshund.
- In Lady and the Tramp (2019), the mutt Tramp is played by a Miniature Schnauzer. Peg, another mutt, is played by a Pekingese.
- The Killer Shrews: The giant shrews were played by dogs in shrew costumes.
- The Giant Gila Monster: The titular mutant lizard is actually played by a Mexican Beaded Lizard, not a Gila Monster (which looks similar but is more poisonous).
- A prehistoric animals example: Quest for Fire features some saber-toothed cats which are played by trained lionesses with prosthetic saber-teeth, as well as mammoths that are portrayed by their still living cousin species, elephants covered in fur.
- In Cannonball Run 2, one team finds themselves doing the race with a simian. All of the dialogue refers to said simian as a "chimp", but it's actually an orangutan (and is identified as such in the credits).
- The seal in Andre was played by a sea lion. This is because sea lions are easier to train to do tricks, and are more often kept in captivity.
- The Call of the Wild (2020) is the first adaptation to properly make Buck a St. Bernard–Scotch Collie mix (even if he was made through motion capture, the dog used as reference was of that mix!), with previous attempting making him instead a St. Bernard (1935 film), German Shepherd (1972 film) or Husky (both the 2000 TV series and the 2009 film).
- Birds of Prey: Bruce the hyena was played by a German Shepherd interacting with the human actors, who then got replaced by a CGI spotted hyena model.
- The wolves from Man in the Wilderness were played by German Shepherds made up to look like wolves.
- The spectacled bears in The Lost World (1925) appear to be played by black bears.
- The Clan of the Cave Bear has a few justified examples, given the film includes animals that went extinct long ago.
- The European cave lions (Panthera spelaea) are portrayed by African lions (Panthera leo); although related the two are distinct from each other and cave lions were much bigger (around 12% larger than modern lions).
- The cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) is portrayed by Bart the Bear, who was a Kodiak bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi); based on fossil records, it's believed that cave bears were on average around the same size or slightly larger than Kodiak bears, and were closely related to brown bears.
- In The Phantom (1943), the Phantom's animal sidekick, a wolf named Devil, is portrayed by a German Shepherd billed as Ace the Wonder Dog.
- In Animorphs TV series version, Tobias as a red-tailed hawk was played by a Harris' Hawk.
- Walking with Dinosaurs: In the episode "Spirits of the Ice Forest", a coati appears in the role of an unnamed Cretaceous mammal, which is identified in the companion book as a Steropodon, an extinct monotreme.
- In The X-Files episode "Brand X", the Monster of the Week is a mutant species of tobacco beetle (they even call it by its proper scientific name, Lasioderma serricorne), but the show used the much larger (and easier to get large numbers of) mealworm beetle.note
- Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey's Legends show included horses dressed as unicorns and a Pegasus, and an Asian elephant dressed as a woolly mammoth.
- Real Life Example: Some real life places allow guests to interact with "live unicorns", which are usually actually horses wearing prosthetic horns. In former decades, "real" unicorns were also created by transplanting the unfused horn buds of baby goats to the middle of the forehead, where they fused and merged to form a single straight horn. Given that unicorns are imaginary, these are pretty much the closest you can get to seeing one in real life.
- A similar concept involving humans is Weeki Watchee Springs, famous for their mermaid shows (where women swim around wearing fish-tails).
- In Red Dead Redemption II, a side quest involves a traveling circus that has lost its animals. You discover, upon finding them, that the "zebra" is actually a donkey with stripes painted on and that the "tiger" is similarly an artificially-colored cougar, and the "lion" that got eaten by the "tiger" was in fact a dog. In the last mission, you must find the other lion, and Arthur is fully expecting it to be another dog. Nope: that one is a real lion.
- Parodied in The Simpsons episode "Radioactive Man", when a group of Springfield children see a painter on a movie set painting black spots on a horse to make it look like a cow.
Martin: Uh, Sir, why don't you just use real cows?
Painter: Cows don't look like cows on film. You gotta use horses.
Ralph: What do you do if you want something that looks like a horse?
Painter: Ehh, usually we just tape a bunch of cats together.