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Small Taxonomy Pools

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When it comes to Linnaean taxonomy, few of us outside of the related fields know how many species it covers (taxonomists estimate there have been hundreds of millions of species of life forms on this planet up to now, an estimated 8.7 million of which are alive today). 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 in botany) can have just one or two species represented. On the high end, a single family can have more than 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 (properly known as Escherichia coli) is particularly prone to this: Everyone talks about it like it's a dangerous pathogen, when actually only one strain (O157:H7) is what they're referring to. 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 '90s. 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 '90s.
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  • 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 not actually 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 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 actually more closely related 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, and as 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.
  • Edible mushrooms 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 badass 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, which is 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 12,000 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 rarely represented as anything but pure fantasy with giant man-eating snapping jaws and writhing vines. If they are a real species, they'll almost always be Venus flytraps. 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.
  • Plants that produce edible things are far more well known by what they produce than the plants themselves. For example, an apple tree and an orange tree will be depicted as exactly the same aside from what fruit is growing on them. Even then, expect to find made-up ones alongside more familiar fruit.
  • Palm trees are almost always just scenery, in which role any photogenic species will do. If it has to be something specific, it's usually because the characters are relying on it for food, in which case it's most often a coconut, maybe date or sago palm. (The name "sago palm" also refers to certain cycads.)

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 an object, scenery, Macguffins or Companion Cube rather than as an actual character 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. Expect to never see a freshwater sponge. Ever.

Cnidarians (phylum Cnidaria):

  • You're unlikely to get a view of the diversity of the jellyfish (or jellies, if you prefer, class Scyphozoa). 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 having their own class, Cubozoa.
  • 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'd 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 (class Anthozoa) 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 (order Anthomedusae) 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.

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.

Chelicerates (subphylum Chelicerata):

  • Arachnids are not insects; this is 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 (order Araneae) 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 (a.k.a. daddy longlegs), the latter of which isn't really a spider.
  • It should be noted that while the harvestman (order Opiliones) 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).
  • The only spider webs seen in media are either the beautiful round nets typical of orb weaver species, or else look suspiciously like stretched-out cotton batting. Some spiders do produce webs that look like that, but it's hardly the only other option.
  • The emperor scorpion is the only scorpion (order Scorpiones) 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 horseshoe crabs (class Merostomata), sea spiders (class Pycnogonida), pseudoscorpions (order Pseudoscorpiones), whip scorpions (order Thelyphonida), mites (order Acari), tickspiders (order Ricinulei), sun spiders (order Solifugae), 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".

Insects (subphylum Mandibulata, class Insecta):

  • Whenever there are butterflies (order Lepidoptera) 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.
  • There are beetles (order Coleoptera) for practically every environment and are everywhere. The most recognized beetles out there are dung beetles, rhinoceros beetles, stag beetles, ladybugs/ladybirds and fireflies. If a TV show mentions dermestid beetles, they will almost undoubtedly get it wrong. First, they are never called dermestids - they are generally referred to as "flesh-eating beetles", which is honestly too much of a mouthful for something you work with extremely often in museums or forensic science. Secondly, their species is never identified. There are around 600 species worldwide, but only one is generally useful to museums or forensic scientists: Dermestes maculatus, or the hide beetle. This assumes that you're lucky enough to even see dermestids, and that they haven't subbed them out for the more charismatic Madagascar hissing cockroach.
  • Cockroaches (order Dictyoptera) are common, but we're never told which of the thousands of species is portrayed. If they're just used for a gross-out or scare in a horror movie, they'll always be Madagascan hissing cockroaches, which are vastly different from cockroaches you'd actually find wherever the setting is, but are available at pet stores. A Slaying Mantis will always be Mantis religiosa, the "common" praying mantis, and not any of the hundreds of other mantis species. On the rare occasion termites are mentioned, they are invariably confused with ants.
  • Flies (order Diptera) in fiction come in one of three varieties: fruit flies, houseflies, and occasionally huge honkin' biting flies, usually referred to as horseflies. Mosquitoes aren't thought of as flies in fiction.
  • Wasps and hornets (order Hymenoptera) 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. Ants are common but almost never identified as a specific species. If the ants are a threat to humans, they'll probably be called "fire ants" or "killer ants" (of which there are several species). Parasitic wasps (of which there are thousands of species) are occasionally brought up in horror stories because of their Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong life cycle, but they'll never be identified as a particular species. Tarantula hawk wasps also may occasionally rate a mention thanks to their impressive size and habit of preying on tarantulas.
  • Even though everyone calls arthropods "bugs", the order Hemiptera (true bugs) is poorly represented in fiction. The most common ones are cicadas, which are often portrayed as a symbol of summer, especially in Japan and in The Deep South. Aphids occasionally appear as "those little green things that get farmed by ants", and you may get a stink bug as the insect equivalent of a Smelly Skunk. You'll never see, for example, an assassin bug, even though some of the latter (like wheel bugs) make decent rivals to mantises in terms of cool and frightening appearance.
  • Fleas (order Siphonaptera) and lice (order Phthiraptera) are often treated as a single species each, but both are made up of a wide variety of species evolved specifically to infest a particular sort of animal, or even particular parts of animals (human head lice and human pubic lice are two different species). The only occasional exception might be if an example is named as a carrier of a specific disease, such as the oriental rat flea for bubonic plague.
  • From the order Orthoptera, we have grasshoppers, locusts and true crickets, but only generic ones with no species given. If you're really lucky, you might see a katydid, but that's about it.
  • Caddisflies, dobsonflies, and stoneflies (orders Trichoptera, Megaloptera, and Plecoptera) are virtually nonexistent. The exception is stories involving fly-fishing, where the larvae of these insects are often used as lures. In such works, certain types may get mentioned by name, such as salmonflies, fishflies, and hellgrammites. The adults, on the other hand, will never be seen.
  • Despite having a trope named after them, mayflies (order Ephemeroptera) are very rare in fiction, and they're never identified to the species or even family level.
  • Antlions and lacewings (order Neuroptera) are both uncommon, but antlions— and creatures inspired by them —appear in fiction far more frequently than lacewings do. However, pretty much all pop-culture depictions of antlions are based on their burrowing, predatory larvae, as opposed to the winged adults.

Crustaceans (subphylum Mandibulata, class Crustacea):

  • There are lobsters, crabs and shrimp (order Decapoda). 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. 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).
  • Decapods are better off than the mantis shrimp (order Stomatopoda), who despite being the living spineless incarnation of badass, 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.)
  • Armadillidiids, more commonly known as pill bugs (order Isopoda), are fairly common, but you can bet that nobody will actually refer to them as crustaceans.
  • Barnacles (subclass Maxillopoda) are crustaceans as well, but they're usually only shown as "that stuff that covers rocks, ships and whales". Or as being so ugly that everyone died. Speaking of maxillopods in SpongeBob SquarePants, Plankton is likely the only copepod you will ever find in fiction.
  • Good luck ever finding an ostracod (subclass Ostracoda).

Myriapods (subphylum Mandibulata, class Myriapoda):

  • The most common members of this subphylum are centipedes (subclass Chilopoda) and millipedes (subclass Diplopoda). 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 subclasses (Pauropoda, Symphyla) within Myriapoda will NEVER be mentioned.

Phylum Annelida

  • The most common annelids in fiction are earthworms and leeches (class Clitellata). Polychaete worms don't seem to exist.

Phylum Mollusca

  • Gastropods: one snail, one slug.
  • Cephalopods (class Cephalopoda):
    • Subclass Coleoidea: Octopuses (order Octopoda) are the most used members of this class, but they are almost always the "generic octopus" with a big mantle and no fins. The absolutely adorable finned octopuses (suborder Cirrina) have no representation other than Pearl from Finding Nemo. Squids (order Teuthida) are represented by the giant squid, with the odd appearance by a generic smaller squid. Cuttlefish (order Sepiida) are common in documentaries, but nonexistent in other works. The vampire squid (order Vampyromorphida) is often used as an example of "creepy deep-sea animal", but is never shown in fiction (other than partially inspiring Malamar from Pokémon and appearing hybridized with an Anglerfish in Pi's hallucination in the film adaption of Life of Pi). Ram's Horn squid (order Spirulida) are never shown, though this is not surprising as very little is known about them due to them living extremely deep underwater. Bobtail squid (order Sepiida) are also never shown, even though at least some of them live in shallow water.
    • Subclass Ammonoidea: The ammonite often appears as a generic fossil, but it is almost always has a typical spiral-shelled shape. The cone shaped ammonoids such as Baculites, or the extremely weird looking ones such as Oxybeloceras are never shown.
    • Subclass Nautiloidea: While they look very much like relics of days gone by with their spiral shells, Nautilus and Allonautilus (the only surviving members of this subclass) are almost never shown. The extinct species of nautiloid such as Orthoceras don't get much luck either.
  • 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".

Echinoderms (phylum Echinodermata):

  • Sea urchins (class Echinoidea) 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 (class Holothuroidea) available to choose from, they remain incredibly unpopular, appearing only to produce the occasional gag (being literal cucumbers on Spongebob Squarepants or spewing sticky white goo on a girl).
  • Sea stars (or starfish; class Asteroidea) 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).
  • The crinoids, or sea lilies (class Crinoidea), are totally unheard of, except for Pokémon's Cradily.

Flatworms (phylum Platyhelminthes) and Roundworms (phylum Nematoda):

  • Pretty much the only members of these phylums seen in fiction are the infamous parasitic worms, notably the tapeworms. They are yet still rare and will only show for Squick or Body Horror purposes (Orifice Evacuation, anyone?).

Phylum Chordata:

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

Jawless fish (obsolete class Agnatha):

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

Cartilaginous fishes (class Chondrichthyes):

  • Sharks (orders Heterodontiformes, Lamniformes, Hexanchiformes and Squaliformes) 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 (order Rajiformes) very, very rarely appear. Don't expect more diversity than a manta or stingray.
  • Ratfish (order Chimaeriformes)? What’s that?

Bony fishes (class Osteichthyes):

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 bony fishes common in fiction include:
  • Sturgeons (order Acipenseriformes) hardly ever appear in fiction, at least not as eggs which are considered a delicacy for wealthy people. Paddlefish are never shown.
  • Eels (order Anguilliformes) 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, which are also not true eels, for ease of handling). Besides anglers, gulpers are probably the most common deep-sea fish — which isn't saying much.
  • At best, herring (order Clupeiformes) will be generic background fish.
  • 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! They will usually be red-bellied piranhas.
  • Catfish (order Siluriformes) are well-known but only semi-common in fiction.
  • Trout and salmon (order Salmoniformes) are typically the go-to freshwater fish in fiction and usually what you see when characters are fishing.
  • Cod (order Gadiformes) are more common as food than as living fish.
  • Anglerfish (order Lophiiformes) are by far the most common deep-sea fish (although several species live in shallow water). Good luck looking for a frogfish or batfish, though.
  • Seahorses (order Gasterosteiformes) often act like actual horses in animation. You'll never see a sea dragon, pipefish, sea moth, trumpetfish or stickleback, though. Most people probably don’t even know there’s a fish called the paradox fish.
  • Pufferfish and blowfish (order Tetraodontiformes) appear often, but triggerfish, boxfish and cowfish have no such luck. The largest of all bony fish, the ocean sunfish, will only appear in Japanese media - it's long been considered a delicacy there, and is also a popular aquarium exhibit.
  • The lionfish is by far the best-known member of the order Scorpaeniformes, although the blobfish will occasionally be noted for its unfortunate appearance.
  • 40% of all bony fish (that's over 11,000 species — more than any tetrapod class) 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 (and, more rarely, parrotfish) are shown (clownfish and regal tangs are recently popular thanks to Finding Nemo). Bass are always associated with sport 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. Billfish and barracudas are also occasionally seen. Mudskippers are quite common in educational works but rare elsewhere. Groupers and mahi-mahis are more common as food than as animals.
  • The best known sarcopterygian is the West Indian Ocean coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae, order Coelacanthiformes). However, it rarely shows up in fiction.
  • Pikes (order Esociformes) are sometimes seen, but mudminnows never show up.

Amphibians (class Amphibia):

  • Basal tetrapods (obsolete order Ichthyostegalia; not true amphibians but traditionally placed in this class for convenience) are common in educational works but otherwise rare.
  • Temnospondyls (order Temnospondyli) get an occasional nod in Lost World adventure-fiction, but that's about it. On the rare occasion that a specific taxon is mentioned, it’ll invariably be Eryops. Diplocaulus may show up as well thanks to how weird it looks, but it's unlikely to be mentioned by name.
  • Good luck finding a caecilian (order Gymnophiona).
  • Salamanders and newts (order Urodela) are less common than frogs, but when they do appear, they're given any color and pattern. The axolotl, a Mexican salamander with external gills, has gained some popularity in recent years, and it will always be leucistic.
  • Frogs and toads (order Anura): Frogs will usually be green and look like bullfrogs but go "ribbit" like Pacific tree frogs. Toads will be generically brown, squat, warty, and unidentifiable by species. For a more exotic setting, red-eyed tree frogs are popular.

Reptiles (obsolete class "Reptilia"):

  • 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. The single exception to this has been 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.
  • Paleozoic reptiles (orders Captorhinida, Mesosauria and Araeoscelidia) do not exist. At all.
  • There were several bizarre 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.
  • If it's a turtle (order Testudines), prepare to see either a cute pond turtle, a sea turtle, or a tortoise. Snappers may show up on occasion. They're also likely to be called amphibians.
  • Ichthyosaurs (order Ichthyosauria) hardly ever appear. When they do, they are treated as the prehistoric equivalent of dolphins. Interestingly, Ichthyosaurs used to be much more common in fiction in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before being upstaged as the most iconic prehistoric animals by other marine reptiles as well as 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 a nothosaur, pachypleurosaur or placodont.
  • Tuataras (order Rhynchocephalia) are pretty much only mentioned in documentaries.
  • The order Squamata is common in fiction.
    • The most common lizards you'll see on TV/movies are iguanas, chameleons, geckos, and the occasional frilled lizard (if it's set in Australia). You might see a monitor lizard every now and then, particularly 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 projectile 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 (pythons, anacondas, and smaller boas 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 or a garter snake (you might see a kingsnake every now and then). 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 (although they are common in paleo-documentaries). Aigialosaurs and dolichosaurs, on the other hand…
  • Tanystropheus (order Protorosauria) occasionally appears in documentaries as "that Triassic reptile with a ridiculously long neck".
  • Basal archosaurs (obsolete order Thecodontia) are unheard of in fiction. Besides Postosuchus in Walking with Dinosaurs, the only one you might see in a documentary is Euparkeria due to its historical status as “the ancestor of the later archosaurs”.
  • When people think of crocodylians (order Crocodylia), they're most likely going to picture your standard American alligator (usually looking more like a crocodile in cartoons), 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 crocodylians 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 crocodylians, and pretty much the only specific prehistoric crocodylomorph you can expect to see is Deinosuchus (which is a true crocodylian). It's possible to find Sarcosuchus or some other large species in a documentary or two.
  • Pterosaurs (order Pterosauria) will always be either Pteranodon, Rhamphorhynchus, or a completely fictional blend of the two. Always. If not, it will be an eagle-like Quetzalcoatlus. Pterodactylus and Dimorphodon may show in educational works, although the latter recently made its way into Jurassic World. They are often erroneously called "flying dinosaurs".
  • Dinosaurs (orders Saurischia & Ornithischia) likely have the widest variety in fiction. Before Jurassic Park, however, works were unlikely to show anything beyond sauropods, Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, Tyrannosaurus re}, ceratopsians, and hadrosaurs. And then that movie added Velociraptor (or rather an oversized generic dromaeosaurid with the name Velociraptor slapped on it) to the stock roster. They almost never get properly depicted with feathers. The third movie made Spinosaurus a household name as "dinosaur more badass than Tyrannosaurus rex". Please quietly ignore the fact it was mainly a fish eater and had fairly wimpy jaws, as well as the palaeontologist quietly sobbing in the corner… If you get more specific, the taxonomy pools become smaller:
    • Basal saurischians (order Saurischia) are limited to Herrerasaurus and Eoraptor.
    • Large theropods (order Saurischia, suborder Theropoda) are usually T. rex, Allosaurus, Spinosaurus, or sometimes Dilophosaurus. Occasionally, Ceratosaurus, Megalosaurus, Albertosaurus, Gorgosaurus, Tarbosaurus, Giganotosaurus, Carcharodontosaurus, Baryonyx, Suchomimus, or Carnotaurus will appear. Yutyrannus has been recently gaining some popularity due to being the largest known dinosaur to have preserved direct evidence of feathers. Birdlike theropods are mostly represented by dromaeosaurs (namely Deinonychus or Velociraptor, though Dromaeosaurus, Utahraptor, and Microraptor show up occasionally), Archaeopteryx, and ornithomimids (Ornithomimus, Struthiomimus, or Gallimimus, with Dromiceiomimus [possibly synonymous with Ornithomimus] occasionally appearing in older works). Oviraptor and Troodon if you're lucky (Stenonychosaurus used to appear in older works). Therizinosaurus is getting popular due to its Wolverine Claws as well being a theropod that's herbivorous as opposed to carnivorous, though it's still not quite common in media. Non-birdlike small theropods are pretty much unheard of. Coelophysis and Compsognathus, if you're lucky (you might see Ornitholestes in an older work, but don't hold your breath).
    • Sauropods (order Saurischia, suborder Sauropodomorpha) are represented by Brontosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and Brachiosaurus. Camarasaurus, Saltasaurus, Amargasaurus, Barosaurus, Mamenchisaurus, Argentinosaurus, Alamosaurus, and Supersaurus if you're lucky. "Prosauropods" will always be Plateosaurus, and even that's pushing it.
    • The only basal ornithischians (order Ornithischia) you might see are Lesothosaurus and Heterodontosaurus, but even those are rare.
    • The only stegosaur (order Ornithischia, suborder Stegosauria) is Stegosaurus (although Kentrosaurus is semi-common in edutainment works).
    • The only ankylosaur (order Ornithischia, suborder Ankylosauria) is Ankylosaurus, although older works will sometimes use Euoplocephalus or Scolosaurusnote  instead (the anatomy of Ankylosaurus itself was poorly known until 2004). Nodosaurs, which are practically unheard of, will usually be Nodosaurus, Edmontonia, Polacanthus, Sauropelta, or Gastonia.
    • There are two ceratopsids (order Ornithischia, suborder Ceratopsia): Triceratops and Styracosaurus (although older works will sometimes use Centrosaurus). Rarely, Torosaurus, Chasmosaurus, and Pachyrhinosaurus may show up. More basal ceratopsians are rarely heard of (Protoceratops and Psittacosaurus, and only in edutainment works).
    • Pachycephalosaurs (order Ornithischia, suborder Pachycephalosauria) 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 (order Ornithischia, suborder Ornithopoda) are usually represented by Parasaurolophus or Edmontosaurus/Anatosaurus (whatever name it's referred to as), and neither is likely to be named (Corythosaurus and Lambeosaurus used to be somewhat common, and Maiasaura will occasionally appear in modern works). Non-hadrosaur ornithopods are pretty much only represented by Iguanodon (you might see Camptosaurus, Dryosaurus, Hypsilophodon, Muttaburrasaurus, Ouranosaurus, and Orodromeus if you're really lucky). The only exception is Tenontosaurus, which frequently appears in educational works as the prey of Deinonychus.

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, namely Phorusrhacos or Titanis. Gastornis may show up as well. Educational works might throw in the great auk, passenger pigeon and/or moas.
  • 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 ratites (order Struthioniformes), only the ostrich, emu and occasionally the kiwi will appear. Cassowaries, despite their badass look that resembles non-avian dinosaurs, are very rare. Tinamou (order Tinamiformes)? What’s that?
  • Gamebirds (order Galliformes) are typically represented by peafowl (always called peacocks, which are the males, and always the Indian peafowl as opposed to the less sexually dimorphic green peafowl), 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. Megapode? Curassow? What are those?
  • 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. The great diversity of fossil anseriforms (including the giant ratite-like dromornithids that coexisted with early Australian Aboriginals) is never acknowledged.
  • 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). Assuming, that is, they're shown as a specific species rather than the generic cartoon version. Every now and then you will see a macaroni or rockhopper penguin, due to their distinctive head tufts. 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". The shoebill has become famous in Japan since its debut in zoos there, due to its comically menacing appearance, and in recent years has made several appearances in anime and games.
  • Storks (order Ciconiiformes) only ever appear in reference to delivering babies. Herons fare slightly better as background birds in wilderness settings. Don't ever expect to see an ibis or spoonbill, even though scarlet ibises are actually very common and popular in real-life zoos for their bright colors. An exception can be made for works made in Australia, where the white ibis has found its way into local popular culture and received the nickname "bin chicken" for its habit of feeding on garbage.
  • 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. They tend to be treated as one species in fiction.
  • 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). The most baffling case would have to be seriemas, as you'd think being the only surviving relatives of the famous terror birds would give them at least a bit of media attention.
  • 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. All of them, invariably, will sound like red-tailed hawks. 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.
  • Thanks to Looney Tunes, the roadrunner is the only cuckoo (order Cuculiformes) that often appears in fiction (other than cuckoo clocks, that is).
  • Parrots (order Psittaciformes) will always be brightly-coloured, either red or 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 parrot with long tail feathers, which technically 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 (usually represented by the ruby-throated hummingbird, the species best known by North American audiences), but swifts are unheard of. Likewise for the closely related nightjars (order Caprimulgiformes).
  • Mousebirds (order Coliiformes) are never seen even in documentaries.
  • The quetzal (order Trogoniformes) is a common background bird in tropical settings, but it's never identified.
  • 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 (1994) has the only other notable appearance of a coraciiform in fiction (Zazu the 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, magpies, and occasionally the blue jay. Other corvids like treepies rarely ever show up. Non-corvid passerines are represented by robins, swallows, sparrows, bluebirds and wrens, with an occasional mockingbird or cardinal. Domesticated passerines will inevitably be canaries.

Mammals (class Mammalia):

  • While all groups of organisms are prone to this trope, mammals seem to have one of the greatest diversities in fiction, which may have something to do with the fact that they include humans.
  • Any extinct mammal that's not a woolly mammoth or sabre-toothed "tiger" that show up are simply generic shrew-like creatures (orders Docodonta, Triconodonta, Multituberculata, Symmetrodonta and Eupantotheria) that get eaten or crushed by dinosaurs, and that's only if they're lucky. They may also be shown as survivors of the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction. Except in the Japan-only predecessor to E.V.O.: Search for Eden, they are never distinguished by name. Ever.

Monotremes (subclass Prototheria or Yinotheria)

  • The platypus (order Monotremata) 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 (subclass Theria, infraclass Metatheria)

  • Despite having more than 300 species, the amount of Marsupials used in fiction could be counted on a few fingers. Kangaroos and koalas (order Diprotodontia) are obviously the most popular, and instantly come to mind at the word "marsupial". Every now and then, you'll see a wombat. Don't expect to see the awesome prehistoric members of the order, such as the giant short-faced walking kangaroo Procoptodon, the rhino-sized wombat-like Diprotodon, and the carnivorous cat-like "marsupial lion" Thylacoleo, outside of documentaries.
  • There is only one bandicoot (order Peramelemorphia).
  • The only American marsupial ever portrayed in fiction is the Virginia opossum (order Didelphimorphia) - 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 (order Paucituberculata) and the Monito del Monte (order Microbiotheria), the latter bizarrely grouped with the Australian marsupials despite its locale…
  • You will never see a quoll (order Dasyuromorphia) in fiction, not even in a story set in Australia. Rarely, you might see a thylacine, 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 (subclass Theria, infraclass Eutheria)

  • Xenarthrans (usually considered a single order Xenarthra, but sometimes split into the orders Cingulata & Pilosa) may occasionally be shown in the form of generic armadillos (usually based on the nine-banded armadillo), 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 (you might see a Columbian mammoth in every now and then). Deinotherium, Platybelodon, and Moeritherium are the only other extinct proboscideans prevalent in works about extinct Cenozoic mammals, and even then that's pushing it. Expect elephants (and only elephants) to be called “pachyderms” even though this has been obsolete for a century, and contained more than just elephants.
  • Other than elephants, aardvarks (order Tubulidentata) are probably the most commonly shown afrotheres in fiction, with manatees (order Sirenia) a distant third. 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 (usually of either the North American or African crested variety) 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 mammal orders, 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 and are only very distantly related (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 are much more closely related to porcupines and guinea pigs.
  • 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. "Rabbit" and "hare" will often be treated as synonymous. 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 (usually conflated with mandrills, resulting in hybrid creatures with colorful noses and long tails), and a few monkey species. No bonobos, though - except in one Humon comic. No gibbons either, even though they make up the majority of extant ape species. 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 and sideways nostrils) are New World monkeys - that is, only native to the Americas. Don't expect to see lemurs much, and if one shows up it will usually be a ring-tailed lemur (although you have a slim chance of seeing an aye-aye, especially in educational works, and sifakas are becoming popular thanks to Zoboomafoo). Works set in Africa occasionally mention galagos (“bushbabies”). Other lower primates, including lorises and pottos, are out of luck. Extinct non-human primates are represented by Gigantopithecus (closely related to the orangutan and occasionally cited as a possible ancestor of Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti) and occasionally generic primitive primates (typically based on adapiforms or plesiadapiforms). Most primates except for humans and lemurs will be referred to as monkeys (which can be an acceptable term for any simian considering modern classification, though that would ironically mean humans are monkeys too). Expect “ape”, “monkey”, and “chimp” to be used interchangeably even within the same sentence.
  • Colugos (order Dermoptera) and treeshrews (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. Like Rodents, this is especially insulting as bats are a very diverse group, containing 20% of mammal species. They'll sometimes be referred to as flying rodents, despite being more closely related to Carnivorans, Pangolins, and Ungulates.
  • The mammals pertaining to the 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). The other members of the Insectivora who got booted out? They never appear either. Sorry, tenrecs, elephant shrews and golden moles. While hedgehogs are native in Europe and Asia, thus common in folklore and popular culture there, hedgehogs are generally unheard of elsewhere and the most notable hedgehog there is blue. Some will call hedgehogs "baby porcupines" just because they're spiky like porcupines.
  • The order Carnivora is prevalent in fiction.
    • Cats. Since the domestic cat is a species (Felis silvestris), all breeds count. Then we have tigers (usually Siberian or Bengal, which are only two out of several tiger subspecies), lions (specifically African lions, good luck finding an Asiatic lion in fiction), pumas/cougars/mountain lions, leopards (usually the African leopard, though you might see an Indian leopard every now and then), jaguars (which will often be mistaken for leopards and vice versa), cheetahs, and occasionally snow leopards (often lumped in with the more familiar leopard despite not being the same species). Melanistic i.e. black-furred big cats will usually be referred to as "panthers" and treated as a species. 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. If not sabretooths, cave lions will be featured instead, usually in educational works. 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, usually laughing at something. Almost always, they’ll be spotted hyenas, and if not it will probably be a striped one, which will likely be laughing it up just as much despite only spotteds making the laugh-sounding vocalization in real life. Aardwolves and brown hyenas are practically unheard of.
    • 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 (except for the fennec fox and Arctic fox, the other 15 or so species are never acknowledged). The Asian raccoon dog, or tanuki, has been iconic in Japanese culture and folklore for centuries, and appears regularly in Japanese media in its mythologized, shapeshifting form. 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. 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 Russkiy Toy 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.
    • When we think of bears, we think of the grizzly, the black bear, the polar bear, and the giant panda (which has been found to genetically actually be a bearnote ). Spectacled bears, despite being the only surviving cousins of the badass short-faced bear, almost never appear (the only possible example is Paddington Bear, who came from "Darkest Peru", where the spectacled bear is native). Speaking of which, short-faced bears and cave bears are common if the work is set in the Ice Age, and both are often confused with each other (despite the short-faced bear having longer legs and being carnivorous, as opposed to the more herbivorous and grizzly-like cave bear). Also note that the black bears in western works will always be of the American variety, and sun bears and sloth bears are exceedingly rare as well. Baloo of The Jungle Book fame is almost always depicted as a brown bear rather than the geographically accurate sloth bear, with even the original book calling him a "sleepy old brown bear". Oddly, The Jungle Book (2016) calls him a sloth bear, but he still looks like a brown bear.
    • 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. If the heroic characters are penguins, leopard seals will appear as antagonists.
    • Regarding smaller carnivorans, among the most familiar seem to be raccoons and striped skunks. Other procyonids and mephitids are out of luck. Red pandas (formerly classified as procyonids, but now considered the sole surviving species of their own family) are somewhat common in the Furry Fandom but nowhere else, such that the word “panda” without an adjective will always be assumed to refer to the bear.
    • Most members of the mustelid family (by far the largest carnivoran family even with the relatively recent exclusion of skunks) aren't seen very often in fiction, but there are a few commonly-used stock species. Smaller varieties will be ferrets (not the wild black-footed ferret, but rather a domesticated variety of the European polecat) when something cute and playful is called for, or weasels if a sinister creature is in order. Next in line are the ever-popular otters (typically the sea otter or a river otter), followed by less-often-seen badgers (common in British works but not so much elsewhere, although the honey badger has seen a rise in popularity due to its Memetic Badass status), 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 sometimes lumped with rodents (which is Older Than Feudalism; the Latin name for such creatures, "Mustelidae", roughly translates to "mice as long as spears"). Chances are the only time you'll see a mink or a stoat in fiction is as a coat.
    • Mongooses (family Herpestidae) are essentially known in fiction solely for their cobra-killing reputation, and are sometimes even called weasels. Other than meerkats, which are now the best-known species thanks toThe Lion King (1994) and Animal Planet, the more than 30 other mongoose species tend to be treated as one. Good luck finding any civet, genet or binturong in fiction (all three appear in The Lion Guard, but that show thrives on Seldom-Seen Species).
  • Despite being the closest relatives of the carnivorans, pangolins (order Pholidota) never appear, except in furry webcomics.
  • Horses (by far the best-known members of the 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 black rhinos (if not, they'll be white rhinos or Indian rhinos), appear as charging brutes or musclebound thugs in media. Woolly rhinos are prevalent in works about extinct mammals, though the giant hornless rhino Paraceratherium may show up as well due to its status as one of the largest land mammals. Brontotheres, rhino-like but more closely related to horses, are also quite popular in the subject of prehistoric mammals. Tapirs, particularly the black-and-white Malayan tapir, tend to appear in Japanese media due to their resemblance to the mythical Baku. Chalicotheres (closely related to rhinos and tapirs) are occasionally mentioned in educational works.
  • In fiction, artiodactyls (order Artiodactyla) will be livestock (usually cattle, sheep, and pigs) 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) and pronghorns (incorrectly called antelope) to the American West. For works set in the North Woods of North America you may see moose. Llamas are quite popular too, especially in works set in the Andes mountains, and alpacas are gaining popularity for their gentle, fluffy appearance, particularly in Japan. Non-domesticated suids will always be warthogs or wild boars, with others like bush pigs and babirusa never being shown. Appearances of peccaries, the pigs' closest cousins and Transatlantic Equivalent, can be counted on one hand; on the rare occasions they are, they are called by their Spanish name, javelina. Works set in the Ice Age will often feature Megaloceros or "Irish elk" (actually a fallow deer as opposed to a true elk). Educational works will sometimes mention entelodonts, but anthracotheres, oreodonts and protoceratids are rare even there. 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. Narwhals will occasionally appear, and if they do they will always have tusks, even if they're supposed to be female. 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 (Pakicetus and Basilosaurus were traditionally the most common in educational works, but the former has slowly been replaced by the more completely known Ambulocetus). Don't expect to see too many freshwater dolphins either, like the pink dolphins of the Amazon River and its tributaries.
    • The popular image of the African savanna is so tied to the one in Southern and Eastern Africa (i.e. the one in former British colonies) that it may come as a shock to learn that zebras and wildebeest don't exist at all in the remaining stretch of savanna from Senegal to Ethiopia (i.e. the one in former French colonies). Similar-sized artiodactyls that do exist there, like eland, hartebeest and roan antelopes are much more obscure.
    • In addition to the aforementioned antelope and bison, the only non-domesticated bovids you'll see in fiction are yaks, mountain goats, bighorn sheep (always rams), African buffalo, and maybe water buffalo, ibex, and muskoxen. Have you heard of saiga, gaur, banteng, anoas, kouprey, tamaraw, saola, bharals, serows, takin, or gorals?
  • Meridiungulata, an extinct clade of ungulates endemic to South America including orders Pyrotheria, Astrapotheria, Notoungulata, and Litopterna, are practically never shown in fiction, aside from the horse-like litoptern Macrauchenia, featured on Walking with Beasts, and the hippo-like notoungulate Toxodon, featured on Prehistoric Park .


  • 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


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