By now you’ve almost certainly heard of Pokémon GO, the mobile “augmented reality” game craze sweeping the globe.
Although the game is not yet available in Canada (officially; unofficially some users have been able to circumvent their app store’s location settings and download the U.S. version of the game), some of the mythical creatures available for capture in Pokémon GO and featured on the collectible cards that preceded it have a distinctly Canadian feel.
First, a bit of history: Pokémon (a contraction of the Japanese words for Pocket Monsters) was created in 1995 by video game designer Satoshi Tajiri, who was inspired by his childhood hobby of insect collecting. Players of the Pokémon card and video games have two objectives: to collect all the monsters in the Pokémon universe, then train their monsters to fight and ultimately win the fictional Pokémon League.
Most of the Pokémon are fantastical renditions of actual animals, and their English names were specifically chosen to help western audiences make the connection to their real-life counterparts. For example, a lizard-like Pokémon with fire-throwing abilities is called Charmander, a portmanteau of char (to burn) and salamander.
Of all Canada’s geographical regions, the Arctic is home to some of our most unusual and specialized wildlife, so it should come as no surprise that several Pokémon and their magical powers appear to have been inspired by our northernmost reaches.
Glaceon is an evolved form of Eevee, a mammalian Pokémon that exhibits characteristics of a fox, dog and cat depending on its evolutionary stage. Glaceon is most likely modelled after the Arctic fox, although its ears more closely resemble those of a fennec fox, and it appears to wear a teal toque with two dangles, one on either side of its head. Glaceon’s special powers include generating ice crystals and freezing its fur into ice needles it can fire at enemies.
Walrein is the Pokémon version of a walrus. Its thick layer of blubber and long tusks protect it from enemy attacks, and it can also coat its body in ice and charge at opponents. Much like walruses in the wild, Walrein live and hunt in herds.
Seel and its higher evolutionary form, Dewgong, most closely resemble the harp seal with their large eyes, silver-grey colouring and flipperlike appendages. Like Walrein, Seel and Dewgong possess a thick blubber layer that shields them from attack. Seel is described as a playful and curious Pokémon, much like its namesake: harp seals are extremely social animals, often forming large and noisy colonies.
With its blue-white fur, black paw pads and bipedal attack stance, Beartic could only be a polar bear. Its powers include the ability to freeze its own breath, either into fangs and claws of ice for fighting or ice pathways to navigate the cold northern waters it inhabits. Wild polar bears are remarkable creatures, possessing the ability to swim long distances and hold their breath underwater for up to three minutes while hunting their preferred food, seals.
Pelipper is a pelican-like Pokémon whose massive bill makes up most of its body and is the source of its special abilities. These include scooping up large amounts of food from the sea at once and acting as a winged messenger, carrying eggs or smaller Pokémon in its mouth.
Not all Pokémon are based on animals; some, like Bergmite and its evolved form, Avalugg, are inspired by geological formations. Bergmite, as its name suggests, is a small iceberg that can summon frigid air to freeze its opponents in their tracks. Avalugg takes the form of a humongous glacier; its heavy frame of solid ice can crush everything in its path.
Although its name summons visions of the Arctic and its powers include producing snowfall at will, Articuno, with its majestic head tuft and long blue tail, actually most closely resembles a subtropical bird, the white-throated magpie-jay. Pokémon legend has it that Articuno nests in the highest mountains of the coldest places in the world and appears before doomed travelers lost in icy regions. In reality, white-throated magpie-jays prefer the thorny scrublands of northwestern Mexico.