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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.
  • Algae is not actually a plant.
    • The fact that algae 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):

  • In general plants that are not angiosperms (flowering plants) or conifers pretty much do not exist in media. This is somewhat understandable since the former especially dominate most ecosystems nowadays, but there is still quite a variety of environments dominated by things like moss, ferns and horsetails and they were twice as abundant in prehistoric times... in which things set in them still rarely feature them (even documentaries).
  • 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):

  • 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. The vibrant blue butterflies in the genus Morpho sometimes feature if the butterflies in question are meant to be either exotic or magical.
  • 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 Blattodea) 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. On the rare occasion termites (in the same order as cockroaches) are mentioned, they are invariably confused with ants. In African settings, their large mounds may feature, but typically only as scenery, without the insects themselves featuring.
  • A Slaying Mantis (order Mantodea) will always be Mantis religiosa, the "common" praying mantis, and not any of the hundreds of other mantis species.
  • 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, but are still prevalent.
  • 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.
  • Grasshoppers, locusts, and true crickets (order Orthoptera) are very common, but only generic ones with no species given. If you're really lucky, you might see a katydid, but that's about it. Other members of this order such as mole crickets, cave crickets, wetas, and grigs are unheard of.
  • 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 (infraphylum 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 jawed fish than you are to these fish. Hagfish, which have variously been considered invertebrate chordates and vertebrates that have lost their vertebrae secondarily (the second theory is currently accepted), never appear except in educational works.

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, mako, or whale shark, but that's about it outside of more scientific works. Megalodon may appear occasionally if the work is set in prehistoric times (and sometimes even if it's not).
  • Rays (order Rajiformes) are uncommon, especially compared to sharks, and come in two main varieties: manta rays and generic stingrays. Electric rays and sawfish may appear.
  • Ratfish (order Chimaeriformes)? What’s that?

Ray-finned fishes (class Actinopterygii):

What most people think of when they hear the word "fish" - and oftentimes, if a fish is represented in media it will be a generic, very nondescript creature resembling members of this class. Out of the over 30,000 species, relatively few are known to most audiences. In fishing games, there are really no rules, but other popular media stick to the best-known species:
  • Sturgeons (order Acipenseriformes) mainly appear as eggs (caviar), which are considered a delicacy for wealthy people. The live form are much less common. Paddlefish are never shown except in a few educational works.
  • "Eels" (Anguilliformes) will typically be generic and will often be called "moray eels" even if they more closely resemble other species. Besides anglers, the pelican or gulper eel is probably the most common deep-sea fish — which isn't saying much. The related tarpons (Elopiformes) and bonefishes (Albuliformes) don’t appear despite being popular game fish where they are found.
  • Herrings, shads, sardines, and anchovies (order Clupeiformes) will be either food fish or generic background fish.
  • The order Cypriniformes is the largest truly monophyletic order of fish, but only domestic goldfish and koi are particularly common. Wild carp are best known as a common sport fish in Europe and an invasive species in North America. The only other cypriniforms you can expect to see are generic "minnows". While many cypriniforms, such as ide, roach, rudd, and tench, are popular sport fish in Europe; don't expect to see them. Nor can you expect to see things like suckers, loaches, or pikeminnows.
  • Characins (order Characiformes) are a huge group containing many common aquarium species such as tetras, but the only ones ever seen in fiction are piranhas, specifically the red-bellied kind.
  • Electric eels (Gymnotiformes) are commonly used to add danger in any underwater setting (even saltwater). They’re actually knifefishes, not eels, but they will often be portrayed as true eels except, well, electric. Other knifefishes are not shown at all.
  • Catfish (order Siluriformes) are well-known but only semi-common in fiction. They usually do not look like any particular species.
  • Pikes (order Esociformes) are sometimes seen as antagonists in freshwater settings, but the related mudminnows never show up.
  • Trout and salmon (order Salmoniformes) are typically the go-to freshwater fish in fiction and usually what you see when characters are fishing. Pacific salmon in particular are often seen swimming up streams, jumping up waterfalls, and/or getting eaten by grizzly bears.
  • Cod (order Gadiformes) are more common as food than as living fish.
  • The clade Percomorpha contains about half of all bony fishes and naturally includes many of the common fishes seen in popular culture. Many, but not all, fishes in this group are traditionally classified under the order Perciformes, though this order as traditionally defined is not monophyletic. Some of the better-known recently-defined orders are listed below:
    • Scombriformes. Tuna (and to a lesser degree mackerel) generally appear in the form of food for humans, but live ones are a semi-common choice for large pelagic fish. Escolars, butterfishes, and driftfishes are never mentioned or shown at all.
    • Syngathiformes. Seahorses are very common, and are often portrayed as acting like horses. You are quite unlikely to see a pipefish, seadragon, trumpetfish, or cornetfish.
    • Anabantiformes. Siamese fighting fish (bettas) and kissing gouramis sometimes appear as aquarium fish, though nowhere near as often as goldfish. Snakeheads are best known as an invasive fish in North American waters; some movies have gone so far as to turn them into monsters. Climbing perches are unheard of.
    • Istiphoriformes. Billfishes and barracudas are fairly common; they are often shown as saltwater predators in a similar fashion to pike.
    • Perciformes (in the current stricter sense). Perch are generally shown in the context of game fish. Groupers are generally shown as food fish. Members of the order Scorpaeniformes are now often included here; the best known of these are the lionfish, although the blobfish will occasionally be noted for its unfortunate appearance. Rockfish, sculpins (besides the blobfish), and icefish have excruciatingly scarce representation in popular culture, and other species, such as wrymouths, combfish, and searobins, have none at all. Drums and sablefish don't appear either despite being popular food fish (note that the latter is usually, but incorrectly, known as “black cod” in a culinary context).
    • Centrarchiformes. The best known species of this order by a large margin are freshwater sunfishes (including black basses, crappies, and the bluegill), which generally appear in the context of sport fishing. The many other members of this order, including the Australian and Asian perches, sea chubs, hawkfishes, and the old wife, are never seen at all or only as background animals.
    • Pleuronectiformes. Generic flounders do sometimes appear, both live and as seafood.
    • Cichliformes. While many species of cichlids are popular aquarium fish, they very rarely appear in fiction. Clownfishes have become popular due to Finding Nemo, but other damselfishes are not commonly represented anywhere. There is one appearance each of a basslet and a convict blenny in popular media.
    • Lophiiformes. Deep-sea anglerfish are by far the most common deep-sea fish. Good luck looking for shallow-water species such as goosefish, frogfish or batfish, though.
    • Acanthuriformes. Most tropical fish depictions appear to be some sort of angelfish or butterflyfish. The regal tang has become popular due to Finding Nemo and is now a regular as far as reef fish go. Other tangs and the Moorish idol are less common.
    • Tetraodontiformes. Puffers appear often, but triggerfish and boxfish have no such luck and are much less common. The largest of all bony fish, the ocean sunfish, mostly appears in Japanese media (mainly due to its historical and culinary relevance), despite the species being found in oceans around the world.
    • Beloniformes. Flying fish are well-known but not very common in fiction. However, they are more fortunate than their relatives, like halfbeaks or needlefish, who never appear at all.

Lobe-finned fishes (paraphyletic class Sarcopterygii):

  • The best known sarcopterygian is the West Indian Ocean coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae, order Coelacanthiformes), known (inaccurately) as living fossils. However, it rarely shows up in fiction. Generic coelacanths are the standard fish in prehistoric settings, but that's if they aren't just generic fish altogether.
  • Lungfishes (order Dipnoi) are seen only in educational works.
  • Stem tetrapods or "fishapods" such as Icthyostega and Tiktaalik are common in educational works but otherwise rare.

Amphibians (class Amphibia):

  • 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 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 (paraphyletic 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, which 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, generic pond turtle, a sea turtle, or a tortoise. They're also likely to be called amphibians (freshwater turtles are amphibious, or semi-aquatic, but not amphibians). Prehistoric works will sometimes feature a cameo by Archelon, because, well, it's a sea turtle the size of a four-door.
  • Ichthyosaurs (order Ichthyosauria) are uncommon, but not rare. When they do appear, 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. Ichthyosaurus is usually the only species that gets named.
  • 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.
  • The Tuatara, the only living member of the order Rhynchocephalia, only appears in educational media and New Zealand works.
  • The order Squamata is common in fiction.
    • The most common lizards you'll see on TV/movies are generic lizards, 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 (which are technically derived lizards) in fiction come in five main styles: cobras, rattlesnakes, constrictors (pythons, anacondas, and smaller boas being the most popular), and "generic deadly" (which are often represented by corn snakes, which superficaially appear appropriately dangerous) 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 a proportionally smaller hood, thus making it less "evil" in appearance.
    • Amphisbaenians (often considered separate from lizards despite the fact that they are cladistically lizards, which makes their nickname of “worm-lizards” incidentally correct in a way) 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, are entirely nonexistent.
  • Tanystropheus (order Protorosauria) occasionally appears in documentaries as "that Triassic reptile with a ridiculously long neck". Other protorosaurs never show up, even in documentaries.
  • Basal archosaurs (obsolete order Thecodontia) only appear in more educational or scientific works. Besides Postosuchus in Walking with Dinosaurs, the only one you are likely to see is Euparkeria due to its historical status as “the ancestor of the later archosaurs”.
  • When people think of crocodilians (order Crocodilia), they're most likely going to picture a generic green “alligator” or “crocodile”. In cartoons, they are not usually depicted as any particular species. Rarely will you see a gharial or a caiman in non-documentary media. The group containing crocodilians and their prehistoric relatives, Crocodylomorpha, was historically very diverse, with its members ranging from marine taxa with limbs and tails turned into fins, to freshwater forms, to terrestrial and possibly warm-blooded crocs such as sphenosuchians and notosuchians of various size and diet (the latter ranged from carnivores to omnivores and possibly even herbivores). Yet in fiction prehistoric crocodylomorphs are always just generic oversized versions of living crocodilians, and pretty much the only specific prehistoric crocodylomorph you can expect to see is Deinosuchus (which is a true crocodilian). It's possible to find Sarcosuchus or some other large species in a documentary or two.
  • Pterosaurs (order Pterosauria) will usually be either Pteranodon, Rhamphorhynchus, or a completely fictional blend of the two; or more occasionally, an eagle-like Quetzalcoatlus, a Pterodactylus or a Dimorphodon. Other species are exceedingly rare.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 Jurassic Park movie made Spinosaurus popular (it was indeed longer than Tyrannosaurus), but the fact that it was really a weak-jawed aquatic piscivore that could not, and did not have to, compete with the large terrestrial theropods is likely to be ignored (More recent discoveries have shown Spinosaurus to be even more aquatic, with short hind legs and a paddle-like tail, but, as always, popular culture is slow to adjust). 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. Less, commonly, 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 Stenonychosaurus (a name that generally appears in older works, as until quite recently, it had been classified as Troodon, the name which it is still commonly referred to now, but once again, Science Marches On). 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 uncommon. Coelophysis and Compsognathus, if you're lucky (you might see Ornitholestes in older works and Sinosauropteryx in newer works, 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 (although Dino of The Flintstones game loosely resembles this group).
    • 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) that frequently appears is Ankylosaurus, although older works will sometimes use Euoplocephalus or Scolosaurusnote  instead (the anatomy of Ankylosaurus itself was poorly known until 2004). Nodosaurids, which are practically unheard of outside of educational works, will usually be Nodosaurus, Edmontonia, Polacanthus, Sauropelta, or Gastonia.
    • There are two main ceratopsids (order Ornithischia, suborder Ceratopsia): Triceratops and Styracosaurus (although older works will sometimes use Centrosaurus). More 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 theory 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 Cenozoic 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 (long thought to be predatory, but now known to have eaten fruits and seeds) may show up as well. Educational works might throw in the great auk, passenger pigeon and/or moas.
  • You will never see members of certain obscure bird orders, such as the hoatzin (order Opostocomiformes), the cuckoo-roller (order Leptosomiformes), mousebirds (order Coliformes), mesites (order Mesitornithiformes), or the sunbittern and kagu (order Eurypygiformes)
  • Ratites (unranked clade Paleognathae) are typically the Common Ostrich (Struthioniformes). Other species are typically only shown in regionally-specific works of fiction; expect kiwi (Apterygiformes) in New Zealand works, the Emu (Casuariformes) in Australian works, and very rarely the Greater Rhea (Rheiformes) in works set in southern South America. Cassowaries (Casuariformes), specifically the Southern Cassowary, are becoming more popular due to their dangerous reputation, though they are still relatively rare. The flighted tinamous (Tinamiformes) of South America are entirely unrepresented.
  • 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. The Black Swan may appear, but (outside of Australian works) typically 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.
  • Landfowl (order Galliformes) are typically represented by the domestic chicken and turkey. The Indian Peafowl is quite commonly depicted, although they will almost always be males (peacocks). Wild galliforms such as grouse, quail, pheasants, and partridges tend to be confused with each other (which is just as well considering that some of these groups are not even monophyletic), and they are most likely to appear as food. However, the partridge will probably get a mention at Christmastime thanks to "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Guineafowl (Numididae) are quite rare, and they will always be the Helmeted species (except in The Lion King, where they were Vulturine Guineafowl). Members of the families Cracidae (chachalacas, curassows, and guans) and Megapodidae (scrubfowl, brushturkeys, and the Malleefowl) are never seen, except for Disney's Aracuan Bird, who is supposedly an East Brazilian Chachalaca (Ortalis araucuan) but does not resemble one at all.
  • The only notable grebe (order Podicipediformes) is a fictional species (the "Green-tailed Grebe" in Arthur).
  • Flamingos (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.
  • Bustards (Otidiformes) never appear despite the Kori Bustard being the heaviest flying bird.
  • Doves (order Columbiformes) in fiction are for the most part limited to the common Rock Pigeon, generic white doves, and the extinct Dodo (although the passenger pigeon is a staple of educational works on extinct animals).
  • Sandgrouse (order Pterocliformes) are scarce even in educational works; one appeared in The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot about That.
  • The only cuckoo (order Cuculiformes) that often appears in fiction is the Common Cuckoo, which is the one that makes the distinctive sound the order is named for (which is replicated in cuckoo clocks). Thanks to Looney Tunes, roadrunners are also relatively well-known, but they don't commonly appear elsewhere.
  • Turacos (order Musophagiformes) have a very small handful of appearances: The Go-away-Bird (White-bellied Go-away-bird) 3rd & Bird, and The Lion Guard (both Great Blue Turacos).
  • The best-known members of the order Caprimulgiformes are hummingbirds (usually represented by the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, the species best known by North American audiences), which are fairly common in tropical and subtropical settings. Frogmouths only appear in Australian media; as such, they will specifically be the Tawny Frogmouth. The calls of the Eastern Whip-poor-will are common, but the bird itself (which is a nightjar) is never actually seen. Neither are swifts, owlet-nightjars, potoos, or the Oilbird.
  • Aside from cranes (which are often confused or conflated with herons and storks), the order Gruiformes is essentially nonexistent in fiction, with things like rails, flufftails, and finfoots being just as elusive in fiction as in real life.
  • In fiction, the order Charadriiformes is generally restricted to gulls (which will invariably be called seagulls), puffins, generic shorebirds, and occasionally the extinct Great Auk and the Egyptian Plover (as "that bird that eats crocodile scraps"). When penguins are prominently featured, skuas may appear as antagonists. Educational works might throw in the Arctic Tern (for its record-breaking migration), the Piping Plover (for its status as a US endangered species), and the Eskimo Curlew (as a likely extinct species).
  • Even though Everything's Better with Penguins (order Sphenisciformes), they are usually either emperor penguins or adelie penguins (the two well-known species of Antarctica). Assuming, that is, they're shown as a specific species rather than the generic cartoon version with yellow or orange beaks and feet. 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 many species being found in temperate and even tropical beaches.
  • The calls of loons (order Gaviiformes) are common in all wilderness settings, but the birds themselves rarely appear, and typically just in works set in Canada, Minnesota, or northern Europe (the natural geographic range of these birds).
  • Albatrosses (order Procellariiformes) occasionally show up in maritime-oriented works. Shearwaters, petrels, and storm-petrels, also in this order, are never depicted.
  • The best known members of the order Suliformes (formerly lumped with Pelecaniformes) are the boobies, which will appear solely to invoke Heh Heh, You Said "X", and will always be the Blue-footed variety for extra humor. Cormorants, frigatebirds, and darters virtually never show up in fiction except as background wildlife.
  • Storks (order Ciconiiformes) almost only appear in reference to delivering babies, unless they are Marabou Storks, which used to be semi-common in works set in Africa.
  • Pelicans are easily the most familiar members of the order Pelecaniformes. The other members, which were formerly in Ciconiiformes, are less familiar but still appear sometimes. The Shoebill, often incorrectly referred to as the “shoebill stork”, 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. The related Hamerkop has only appeared once, in The Lion Guard. Herons appear with some frequency, usually as background birds in wetland settings. Don't expect to see ibises or spoonbills. When ibises do appear, it's generally in the following 3 circumstances; the Scarlet Ibis in the tropical Americas, the Australian Ibis ("bin chicken") in the context of an Australian urban setting and feeding on garbage, and the African Sacred Ibis in the context of Ancient Egypt.
  • The sister orders Accipitriformes and Cathartiformes (both formerly lumped with Falconiformes, and the latter previously also included in Accipitriformes and Ciconiiformes) tend to be represented by generic vultures (invariably circling over something dead or dying), hawks (which are either generic, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Goshawks, or Common Buzzards) or Bald and Golden Eagles. All of them will likely sound like red-tailed hawks. The Andean and California Condors, the Osprey, the Harpy Eagle, the Philippine Eagle, and the Secretarybird are the only other species that appear with any regularity. Don't expect to see more obscure species like the King Vulture, the Swallow-tailed Kite, or the Changeable Hawk-Eagle.
  • Speaking of the Falconiformes, you’ll rarely see a falcon that isn’t a Peregrine, especially if it’s wild; they’re well known to many people as the fastest flying bird (faster than the Cheetah) and a symbol of successful conservation efforts. Other falcons like kestrels, sakers, and caracaras are less well-known.
  • If an owl (order Strigiformes) appears and it's not generic, expect it to be either a Snowy Owl, Great Horned Owl, or Barn Owl. Other species like screech-owls, the Burrowing Owl, or the Eurasian Eagle-Owl, are typically either ignored or just marketed as up-scaled generic owls.
  • The Resplendent Quetzal (order Trogoniformes) is a fairly common background bird in tropical settings, but it's almost never specifically identified. Other trogons never appear.
  • The (order Coraciiformes) is known for precisely two things: that one children's rhyme and its cry, which is often attributed to a monkey. Other kingfishers only appear as background wildlife. The amazingly colorful bee-eaters never appear.
  • The order Bucerotiformes was formerly grouped with Coraciiformes. The Lion King (1994) has the only notable appearance of a bucerotiform in fiction (Zazu the hornbill). While the Eurasian Hoopoe is somewhat well-known in the Middle East and Mediterranean Europe, it makes only occasional appearances in popular culture.
  • The order Piciformes is represented by woodpeckers, toucans and very occasionally the honeyguide (the bird that leads hunter-gatherers and allegedly badgers to honey). Woodpeckers are often depicted in a generic way, with red (sometimes crested) crowns and black and white patterns that may or may not match any real-world species. A Coppersmith Barbet appears in The Jungle Book. Don't expect to see jacamars, puffbirds, or nunbirds.
  • You would expect that seriemas (Cariamiformes), being the only surviving relatives of the famous terror birds would give them at least a bit of media attention, but this is most certainly not the case; they virtually never appear in fiction.
  • Parrots (order Psittaciformes) are often represented as generic, brightly-colored birds able to talk fluently. New Zealand parrots (the Kea, Kakapo, and New Zealand Kaka) only appear in some New Zealand works. Cockatoos are uncommon: they are typically the large white ones. The Cockatiel and Galah do appear sometimes in Australian works, and other species, such as black cockatoos and the smaller white cockatoos, aren't seen at all. Typical parrots are usually macaws, and even then, it's almost always the Blue-and-gold Macaw or Scarlet Macaw. Blue macaws have one notable appearance, and the small macaws are nonexistent. Gray Parrots or Congo African Greys hold some popularity since Alex. Small "parakeets" are usually represented by the Budgerigar. Any sufficiently tropical location may have lorikeets, either Green-Naped or Rainbow. Many other parrot species, such as conures, Pionus parrots, amazons, lovebirds, and the Rose-ringed Parakeet, are rare to nonexistent in popular media despite many being fairly common pets.
  • Perching birds (order Passeriformes), the largest bird order, are quite poorly represented. They are often generic songbirds, sometimes named as "sparrows" or "finches". Canaries are common as pets. Members of the Corvus genus are often treated as either two species (the "crow" and the "raven") or one species. You might find a Rook or Eurasian Jackdaw in some European works (mostly poetry). Other corvids are represented by magpies (always the black-and-white ones found in North America and Eurasia), the Blue and Steller's Jays in North American works, and less commonly the Eurasian Jay and Red-billed Chough. Treepies, nutcrackers, other jays, and blue magpies are ignored. The distantly related Australian Magpie is the most common songbird in Australian works, but that's not saying much. Some other Australasian songbirds, such as bowerbirds, birds-of-paradise, lyrebirds, fairy-wrens, and Australasian robins, either are never shown or only appear in educational works. Speaking of robins, both the American Robin (a thrush) and the European Robin (a flycatcher) are quite common, but the birds (which are only somewhat closely related) are often confused with one another, causing several cases of misplaced birdlife. The term "blackbird" is often applied to a generic bird that may be a corvid, a starling, a Eurasian Blackbird, a grackle, or some combination of these. The Barn Swallow is well-known in many regions of the world. European works may feature wagtails, Great, Eurasian Blue, and Willow Tits, House and Eurasian Tree Sparrows, the Eurasian Wren, the European Goldfinch, and the Eurasian Bullfinch. North American works may feature bluebirds, chickadees, the Northern Mockingbird, the Northern Cardinal; and less commonly, wrens, the Baltimore Oriole, and the American Goldfinch. Sunbirds appear with some frequency as background birds in works set in the tropics, but they are often confused with the unrelated hummingbirds. The best known starling is undoubtedly the European Starling in works set in Europe. The Common Myna is fairly common in Indian and Southeast Asian works, and the related Bali Myna appears in a few educational works. The closely related oxpeckers are the most common passerines in works set in Africa, but they are usually portrayed as generic birds. Besides them, the only African passerines that appear with regularity are weavers. Most of the various tropical American passerine groups are unseen in popular culture; the best known ones are the cocks-of-the-rock and the umbrellabirds (both of which are crested cotingas from Central and Northern South America). The birds mentioned above barely scratch the surface of passerine diversity; in popular media, you will never see accentors, antbirds, broadbills, bushshrikes, crescentchests, cupwings, elapaios, flowerpeckers, gnatcatchers, grassbirds, hyliotas, the Hylocitrea, the Hypocolius, laughingthrushes, manakins, nicators, pittas, the Rail-babbler, rockfowl, rockjumpers, the Sapayoa, seedeaters, silky-flycatchers, spindalises, sugarbirds, tanagers, tityras, vireos, warblers, or whydahs. Even the Tyrannidae, the largest family of birds, are unheard of, except for the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (the state bird of Oklahoma). Don't even expect to see the Red-billed Quelea, the most populous wild bird, except in educational works.

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 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. They are never distinguished by name, except in a very small handful of paleontologically-minded works.
  • Good luck trying to find any non-therian (Theria is the group of mammals that includes placentals and marsupials) mammal outside of the still living monotremes. Dinosaurs co-existed with a variety of groups like multituberculates, eutriconodonts and the large herbivorous mesungulatids,note  but they are never acknowleged even in documentaries, barring a single episode of Dinosaur Revolution.

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, wallaby, or sugar glider (a handful of others show up in Australian works). Don't expect to see fossil members of this order, even the more impressive ones like the giant short-faced walking kangaroo Procoptodon, the rhino-sized wombat-like Diprotodon, and the carnivorous cat-like "marsupial lion" Thylacoleo, outside of documentaries.
  • The only bandicoots (Paramelemorphia) in fiction are Crash Bandicoot and his companions. The only two bilbies in fiction are the titular characters of ‘’Bilby’’ and ‘’Boj’’. Mention should be made, however, of an Australian substitute for the Easter Bunny, the “Easter Bilby”.
  • The only opossum (Didelphimorphia) ever portrayed in fiction is the Virginia opossum (which is often called a possum despite that term becoming applied to some Australasian marsupials) - 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.
  • The best-known carnivorous marsupial (order Dasyuromorphia) is the Tasmanian devil - although, thanks to the 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. The extinct thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) appears in some Australian works. Other dasyuromorphs, such as quolls, dunnarts, planigales, and the kowari are either nonexistent or appear in a small handful of Australian works.

Placentals (subclass Theria, infraclass Eutheria)

  • Living armadillos (order Cingulata, formerly lumped with Pilosa as Xenarthra or Edentata) if not generic, are generally Nine-banded Armadillos, which are associated with the American southwest despite other species being found only in Central and South America. Additionally, all armadillos will be portrayed as being able to roll up, even though only the two species of three-baned armadillos are capable of this. Glyptodonts (now considered to be derived armadillos) are relatively popular for prehistoric mammals. Don't expect to see a pampathere, though.
  • The order Pilosa (formerly lumped with Cingulata as Xenarthra or Edentata) is represented by three-toed sloths and the Giant Anteater. Tamanduas (lesser anteaters) and two-toed sloths are very rarely shown, and the Silky Anteater is completely missing.
  • 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 almost 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, Tubulidentata (containing only one living species, the Aardvark) is probably the most commonly shown afrotherian order in fiction, with Sirenia (manatees and dugongs) a distant third. The other orders; Macroscelidea (sengis or elephant-shrews), Afrosoricida (tenrecs, otter-shrews and golden moles), and Hyracoidea (hyraxes); are nearly never seen unless the work intentionally features seldom-seen species, and the various fossil groups have zero representation. Note that tenrecs in popular culture outside of the Wild Kratts episode are always the Lowland Streaked.
  • Rodents (order Rodentia) are not very diverse in fiction, which is especially odd as the rodents are the largest of the mammal orders, with 40% of mammal species in it. Many rodents seem to be conflated together to form some sort of new creature.
    • The best known members of the (suborder Castorimorpha) are by far the two species of beaver (Eurasian and North American). Gophers (properly known as pocket gophers) are well known as pests in lawns and golf courses, but they are often depicted like ground squirrels (pocket gophers have external cheek pouches, larger claws, smaller eyes, bare tails, and are more fossorial and mole-like overall). Kangaroo rats are sometimes shown in North American desert settings, but the related pocket mice have only appeared once in popular media (a children's song) despite their scientific importance.
    • Mouse-like rodents (suborder Myomorpha) are generally represented by standard mice and rats (typically the House Mouse and Brown Rat), hamsters and gerbils (as pets), and lemmings (always jumping into the sea since White Wilderness). Mice and rats are commonly confused, specifically House Mice and Brown Rats (the latter of which are ALWAYS diseased and filthy in fictionland, unless they're pets. Even some pet ones are depicted this way). Often you see a character screeching and screaming or going "yuck" and calling what is often a House Mouse a rat. You also have the people who call every myomorph rodent a rat —unless casting requires the opposite, as when the unambiguous Brown Rat in Because of Winn-Dixie is repeatedly described as a "mouse". Unfortunately, this is Truth in Television for many. Never mind the fact that the words are not applied consistently anyway (pocket mice are closer to kangaroo rats than to the House Mouse, and pack rats are closer to deer mice than to the Brown Rat). Similarly, guinea pigs are constantly confused with hamsters, even though they hardly look alike and are only very distantly related (hamsters are closer to mice and rats, while guinea pigs are closer to porcupines.) 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, salt licks, and seeds, when all three of these are extremely unhealthy and even dangerous for guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are also often drawn the size and shape of the more familiar 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). When a North American native rodent is shown, it will be a Muskrat, a meadow vole, a deer mouse, or, for the sake of the metaphor, a pack rat (these will generally be depicted in a generic way).
Jerboas appear very occasionally. Bamboo rats have one very brief, non-notable appearance in Sofia the First. You won't find African climbing rats, birch mice, mole voles mouse-like hamsters, vesper rats, rice rats, or the Malagasy Giant Rat.
  • Porcupine-like rodents (suborder Hystricomorpha) are represented by, of course, porcupines (typically the North American or Crested varieties) and guinea pigs (though, as stated before, these are usually guinea pigs in name only, as they are conflated with hamsters). For a while capybaras were rare in non-educational works, but eventually started to appear (mainly in Japanese works) starting around The New '10s. The chinchilla rates an occasional mention, either as somebody's coat or somebody's faddish pet. It's not uncommon for chinchillas to be treated as rabbits or mice. The unique Naked Mole-Rat is quite rare, with one notable appearance. Blesmols ("regular" mole-rats) also have one notable appearance (and it's referred to as a gopher). Degus, despite being kept as pets, are nearly unheard of in fiction. Agoutis only show up in educational works for their relationship with the Brazil nut tree. Never expect to see tuco-tucos, maras, pacas, cane rats, hutias, or the Dassie Rat.
  • As for the various forms of squirrels (suborder Sciuromorpha, family Sciuridae), tree squirrels (usually simply called squirrels) are the most common, followed by chipmunks in American and Japanese works, and, on occasion, flying squirrels. Prairie dogs occasionally appear in works set in the Great Plains. The only marmot that appears with any regularity is the groundhog, and almost always in connection with Groundhog Day. Out of the tropical squirrel species, none appear in fiction, and only one (the Indian Giant Squirrel) makes notable appearances in popular culture at large. Dormice (Gliridae), which are the closest relatives to squirrels, will always get treated as mice. The Mountain Beaver is never shown.
  • 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 standard cottontail, European Rabbit, or white domestic rabbit if it's a rabbit; or a jackrabbit or Brown Hare if it's a hare. "Rabbit" and "hare" will often be treated as synonymous (though some rabbits are closer to hares, hares are highly derived and distinctive leporids). Hardly anyone ever talks about pikas in fiction, 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 other monkeys. There are no bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees, the closest relative to the common chimpanzee), though - except in one Humon comic. Almost no gibbons appear either, even though these "lesser apes" make up the majority of extant ape species. If someone has a pet monkey, it will almost always be a capuchin, even in fiction set in Africa or the Middle East (capuchins, like all monkeys with prehensile tails and sideways nostrils, are New World monkeys - that is, only native to the Americas). In comics, animation, and other cartoon-based works, "monkeys" are frequently a generic variety that's a bit like a rhesus macaque with darker fur or a young chimpanzee with brown fur and a tail, regardless of their ostensible species or place of origin. Don't expect to see lemurs much, and if one shows up it will usually be a of the Ring-tailed variety (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 (also known as bushbabies). Tarsiers are very occasionally shown. Lorises (specifically the slow lorises) are recently becoming more popular, but the related 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). Any non-human simians may be referred to as monkeys (which, if treated as a monophyletic classification, could be an acceptable term for any simian, though that would ironically mean humans are monkeys too). Expect “ape”, “monkey”, and “chimp” to be used interchangeably, sometimes even within the same sentence.
  • Colugos (order Dermoptera) and treeshrews (order Scandentia) are never shown; never mind that they're our closest living relatives besides other primates.
  • 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. They will typically be depicted the same. 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 rodents, despite being more closely related to the carnivorans, pangolins, and ungulates.
  • "Insectivores" (order Eulipotyphla, formerly lumped with Afrosoricida, Macroscelidea, Scandentia, and/or Dermoptera as Insectivora) are represented by generic moles, shrews, and hedgehogs. While hedgehogs are native to the Old World and thus common in folklore and popular culture there, hedgehogs are less prevalent in North American works (but still occasionally appear in North American forest settings) and the most popular hedgehog there is blue. Hedgehogs and porcupines, despite being completely different in many ways, are often confused just because they both have quills. Moles tend to look like the common black European or Eastern Moles. (except in the Redwall animated series where they were Star-nosed Moles, which is surprising as this is a North American species that is not native to England and therefore aren't native to Mossflower either). Don't expect to see more unusual moles such as desmans or shrew-moles. The other members of the Insectivora who got booted out? They never appear either (see above).
  • The order Carnivora is prevalent in fiction.
    • Cats (Felidae) are typically domestic or big cats. Since the domestic cat is one species (Felis catus), all breeds count. Big cats (Pantherinae) are fairly well-known and well-represented; you have the tiger, the lion (specifically African lions, good luck finding an Asiatic lion in fiction), the leopard (usually the African leopard, though you might see an Indian leopard every now and then), the jaguar (which will often be mistaken or conflated with leopards and/or cheetahs), cheetahs, occasionally the snow leopard (often lumped in with the just plain leopard despite not being the same species), and even more rarely the two species of clouded leopards. Melanistic (i.e. black-furred) big cats will usually be referred to as "panthers" and treated as a species. Small wild cats (Felinae) are not so lucky; the most common ones are the cheetah and the cougar or mountain lion, both of which are often treated as "big cats". All four species of lynx (Canada, Eurasian, Iberian, and bobcat) have appeared from time to time, though the Iberian only shows up in Spanish works. The Ocelot and the European Wildcat are the only other small wild cats that appear with some regularity. You will never see species like the kodkod, Pallas's cat, flat-headed cat, or fishing cat, except in an extremely small handful of zoological works. 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) or if not those, cave lions (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.
    • Besides the meerkat, mongooses (family Herpestidae) are essentially known in fiction solely for their cobra-killing reputation, and are sometimes even called weasels. Meerkats are now the best-known species thanks to The Lion King (1994) and Animal Planet, and have overshadowed the over 30 other mongoose species, which tend to be treated as one.
    • Malagasy carnivorans (Eupleridae) are nearly unheard of thanks to lemurs stealing the spotlight; the most popular one is the lemur-eating fossa (several of which appear in Franchise/Madagascar), but even that's pushing it. Good luck finding a ring-tailed vontsira or a fanaloka.
    • Civets, genets and binturongs (Viverridae) are extremely rare in fiction (many species appear in The Lion Guard, but that show thrives on Seldom-Seen Species).
    • 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 (Canidae) have a few shown. The most common ones are the gray wolf, the domestic dog (a subspecies of the gray wolf: Canis lupus familiaris), and the red fox. Coyotes appear in works set in North America, and dingoes may be used if the work is set in Australia. Once in a while jackals will show up in works set in Africa or India. Foxes besides the red fox are uncommon (the only ones that appear with any regularity being the fennec fox and Arctic fox, with the other 15 or so species almost never being acknowledged except in educational works). The Japanese raccoon dog, locally known as the tanuki, has been iconic in Japanese culture and folklore for centuries, and appears regularly in Japanese media, although more often as its mythologized, shapeshifting form than as the real animal. 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, 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 (Ursidae), we think of the brown or grizzly, the American black bear, the polar bear, and the giant panda (which has been found to genetically actually be a bearnote ). Spectacled bears arguably have just one notable representative (Paddington Bear, who came from "Darkest Peru", where the spectacled bear is native) despite being the closest relative to the giant short-faced bears, which, along with the commonly confused cave common in works set in the Ice Age. Asian black bears (“moon bears”) mainly appear in Asian works, and sun bears and sloth bears are exceedingly rare. 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 (unranked clade Pinnipedia) are represented by the walrus and a generic seal/sea lion morph. If the heroic characters are penguins, leopard seals will appear as antagonists. Fluffy baby harp seals frequently appear in media for their cute factor, but good luck seeing an adult harp seal.
    • The most common representative of the family Procyonidae is by far the North American common raccoon. Ringtails, kinkajous, olingos, and coatis are uncommon to nonexistent.
    • Red pandas (family Ailuridae, formerly Procyonidae) are somewhat common in the Furry Fandom but are uncommon to rare elsewhere, such that the word “panda” without an adjective will always be assumed to refer to the bear.
    • The best-known species of the family Mephitidae (formerly included in Mustelidae) and the only one likely to appear in a work is the striped skunk. Spotted skunks come in a very distant second (due their appearances in Wild Kratts and generic forest animal toy packs, as well as their known habit of doing handstands). Hog-nosed skunks only appear once or twice in popular culture, and hooded skunks and stink badgers are never featured.
    • 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 "weasels" (subfamily Mustelinae) will be ferrets (not the wild North American black-footed ferret, but rather a domesticated variety of the European polecat) when something cute and playful is called for, or stoats and/or least weasels if a sinister creature is in order. Next in line are the ever-popular otters (typically the sea otter, North American river otter, or Eurasian otter, depending on the setting). Badgers are common in Western European works but not so much elsewhere, and they will look like European badgers even in North America. The ratel (now popularly known as the honey badger) has become more popular as "the most fearless animal". Wolverines appear only occasionally; they are far less well-known than the X-Man bearing their name. Expect most of these to be chattering like raccoons as well. Weasels 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 mink in fiction is in the form of fur coats.
  • Despite being the closest relatives of the carnivorans, pangolins (order Pholidota) are very rare. Interestingly, pangolins have recently gained a small amount of popularity as an obscure yet endangered animal, especially since articles came out about the pangolin scale trade and more recently speculation that they could be a vector for COVID-19, but they are still not very popular.
  • Horses (by far the best-known odd-toed ungulates 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/feral horse (mustang), and Generic Critter-You-Sit-On (all others). Domestic donkeys are less common than horses, but still appear quite frequently. Mules appear almost as often as donkeys in North American works, despite needing the latter to create the former. The wild counterparts to domesticated horses and donkeys; the wild asses, the Przewalski's horse, and the extinct tarpan; are shown very infrequently. Zebras are almost always treated as one species and will usually be plains zebras, often wrongly depicted as the size of modern domestic horses. Zebra species and subspecies are seldom identified: educational works occasionally name the Grevy's zebra. 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 (sometimes referred to by the invalid names of Indricotherium or Baluchitherium) 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. Malayan tapirs are fairly common in Japanese media due to their resemblance to the mythical Baku. In the rare instances tapirs are portrayed in Western works, they will also always be Malayan, as the Neotropical species have less distinctive colors. Chalicotheres (closely related to rhinos and tapirs) are occasionally mentioned in educational works.
  • Even-toed ungulates (order Artiodactyla) include many familiar species.
    • For the family Camelidae, both Bactrian and dromedary camels are common in desert settings. 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.
    • Domestic pigs (family Suidae) are common. Wild pigs will always be warthogs (in Africa) or wild boars (in Eurasia), with others like the red river hog, warty pigs and babirusas almost never being shown. Appearances of peccaries (family Tayassuidae), the pigs' closest cousins and Transatlantic Equivalent, can be counted on one hand (mostly children’s books set in the American Southwest); on the rare occasions they are, they are called by their Spanish name, javelina.
    • Of the two extant species of the family Giraffidae, 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. A related family, Antilocapridae, has just one living species (the pronghorn), which sometimes appears in works set in western North America (and it is usually incorrectly referred to as the "pronghorn antelope" or simply "antelope").
    • Deer (family Cervidae) are represented by red or fallow (in Europe), white-tailed (in North America), sika (in Asia), or generic deer in temperate forest settings, moose in northern North America and sometimes Scandinavia, and caribou/reindeer (which are often confused with more common temperate deer) in the Arctic and in Christmas-themed works. Chital may appear in Indian works. South American deer are rarely if ever acknowledged due to them being overshadowed by more distinctive wildlife.
    • Chevrotains or mouse-deer (family Tragulidae) and musk-deer (family Moschidae) have made virtually zero appearances in fiction.
    • Bovidae is the most diverse family of even-toed ungulates, but this does not necessarily translate to diverse species representation in fiction. There are of course the domestic cattle, sheep, and goats. Works set in western North America feature American bison (usually called buffalo), mountain goats (often conflated with domestic goats) and bighorn sheep (always rams). The European bison, on the other hand, is just as rare in fiction as it is in reality. In the African savanna, expect to see the Thomson's gazelle, the blue wildebeest, and sometimes the African buffalo, an oryx, or a kudu. In South and Southeast Asia, you might see a domestic water buffalo. Japanese serows are semi-common in Japanese media. Nilgai and blackbuck appear in a handful of (mostly older) works set in India. Muskoxen sometimes appear in the Arctic and ibexes in mountains in the Old World, but that's pretty much it. The popular image of the African savanna is so tied to the one in Southern and Eastern Africa (i.e. the former British colonies) that it may come as a shock to learn that gazelles and wildebeest don't exist at all in the remaining stretch of savanna from Senegal to Ethiopia (i.e. the former French colonies). The antelopes that do exist there, like eland, gerenuk, duikers, hartebeest and roan antelope, are much more obscure. And there's a whole host of Asian bovids that are basically invisible in popular culture. Have you seen a chousingha, gaur, kouprey, banteng, anoa, tamaraw, saola, saiga, chiru, bharal, goral, or takin in fiction, much less heard of these animals?
    • The common hippopotamus is extremely common in zoo and African settings. The pygmy hippopotamus, on the other hand, despite being smaller and more docile than its more common cousin and fitting the Huggy, Huggy Hippos stereotype better than the common hippo, is never acknowledged.
    • Of the cetaceans (former order Cetacea, now a suborder of Artiodactyla), we have the generic dolphin (usually a common bottlenose thanks to Flipper), orca/killer whale, humpback whale, sperm whale (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 whale, pretty much in that order. A character pointing out that killer whales aren't whales is a trope in itself. Never mind that toothed whales (sperm whales, killer whales, bottlenose dolphins) are all more closely related to each other than baleen whales (humpback whales, blue whales); therefore, orcas are both dolphins and whales? "Porpoise" will be treated as a synonym for "dolphin". Narwhals will occasionally appear, and if they do they will always have tusks, even if they're supposed to be female. Don't expect to see too many freshwater dolphins, and chances are, they will be the Amazon's pink river dolphins. Beaked whales, considering their elusive and poorly-known nature, are unsurprisingly not present. 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, or the "walking whale").
    • Works set in the Ice Age will often feature Megaloceros or "Irish elk" (closer to fallow deer than actual moose or elk). Educational works will sometimes mention entelodonts, but anthracotheres, oreodonts, protoceratids, and fossil giraffids and antilocaprids are rare even there. No further description or species distinctions are to be expected, because herbivores are harmless and therefore boring.
  • 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