Over the past few weeks, it has become increasingly obvious to me that biology (and science in general) is about to become a much more difficult career choice, and with the inauguration last week, I decided I should go back to blogging. Rather than going back to breaking down scientific papers, I’ve decided it would be way more fun to talk about biology as it relates to video games and pop culture, something no one has ever done before. In honor of our new president, I’m going to talk about Yungoos and Gumshoos, a line of invasive pests introduced in the latest Pokemon games, Sun and Moon.
For those of you who are unaware, Sun and Moon take place in the tropical Alola region, a close parallel to Hawaii. There are plenty of interesting new Pokemon from this region worth talking about, but Yungoos and Gumshoos are two of my favorites in terms of how they fit into island biology. You see, unlike most Pokemon from this region, the Yungoos family isn’t native to the Alola region. Yungoos are an invasive species, loosely based off the small Asian mongoose. Mongooses (mongeese?) are a family of predators in the feliform suborder, meaning they are closely related to cats, hyenas, and civets. Mongooses are typically found in Africa and Southern Asia, with the small Asian mongoose ranging from Indochina, across northern India and into Iran. Like other mongooses, the small Asian mongoose is a voracious predator that eats insects, birds, lizards, snakes, and rodents.
In their native habitats mongooses are useful for their ability to control the populations of fast-growing rodents, but in an ecosystem that isn’t adapted to the presence of a predator like the mongoose, such as Hawaii or any of the many Caribbean islands where the mongoose has invaded, they can be devastating to the local ecosystem. Mongooses are known to eat many endangered birds, amphibians, and reptiles, with some even eating the unguarded eggs of sea turtles. The worst part about mongooses in Hawaii though? They weren’t accidentally introduced to the environment, they were brought to the islands on purpose.
The story of how mongooses ended up on Hawaii (as well as many other islands throughout the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea) starts with a plant. Sugarcane, to be exact. The production of sugar from sugarcane is believed to have started around 350 AD in India. Due to the high cost of production and processing, as well as the need for a tropical climate, sugarcane production remained in India, China, and the Middle East until the discovery of the New World. The tropical regions of the Caribbean islands and South America were perfect for sugarcane, and sugar production became one of the main driving forces of the slave trade.
Hawaii began sugarcane production in the early 1800s, with the industry booming during the American Civil War due to Union boycotts of Southern-produced sugar. However, the rise of sugarcane also came with a rise in sugarcane pests, specifically rats. Rats were a common problem in sugarcane fields, and during the late 1800s, many islands began importing mongooses as a way to control their populations. Unfortunately, the people importing them never stopped to consider what effects the mongooses would have on the rest of the environment.
Going back to Pokemon, it’s incredible just how similar Yungoos and Gumshoos are to their real world counterpart. Much like the small Asian mongoose, Yungoos was first introduced as a way to control the population of Rattatas in the Alola region, which responded by adapting to urban environments and becoming more active at night. Both Yungoos and mongooses are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day and sleep at night, although there is a slight difference in their sleeping patterns: Yungoos are described as collapsing from exhaustion around dusk and sleeping wherever they fell, while mongooses choose to retreat to their dens at night rather than leave themselves exposed to any potential predators as they sleep.
Yungoos are an interesting addition to the Pokemon universe, as to my knowledge it is the only Pokemon expressly described as an invasive species. Many other Pokemon may be invasive species, based on where they commonly occur (for example, Rattatas are likely to be invasive species in a number of regions) but have never been described as invasives within the game’s fiction. Also, whether it was intentional or not, there’s definitely some good social commentary to be made about this vicious animal with a tendency to attack whatever it sees was brought into an environment where it could freely destroy whatever it wanted, and how it looks suspiciously like Donald Trump.