Pokémon is renowned for its eclectic superpowered creatures that gamers of all ages can collect, train, battle, and trade. While Pokémon such as Girafarig are clearly inspired by real-world animals, they all have fantastic powers that obviously don’t exist in real life (unless giraffes have psychic powers they never told us about). When it comes to realistic Pokémon, though, Eevee has long stood alone.
Eevee’s is a 15-pound, foot-tall creature with brown fur, long ears, a flat face, a fluffy tail, and no readily apparent fantasy traits that allude to elemental affinities. Essentially, Eevee’s design combines the features of dogs, foxes, and cats. It’s not necessarily the most realistic Pokémon from a sheer visual standpoint (Talonflame would arguably win that award since it looks like an orange peregrine falcon), but Eevee’s verisimilitude proves to be more than skin deep thanks to the gimmick at the core of the creature’s design.
Even if you are only vaguely familiar with Pokémon, you probably know at least a little about its evolution system. As Pokémon become stronger, many reach milestones that let them morph into new forms, complete with stat boosts and, on occasion, new elemental types. Every so often, though, Pokémon games ask players to fulfill additional evolutionary criteria, such as using special items or holding the console upside down. These gimmicks make their associated evolutions feel special, but Eevee’s gimmick is actually evolution itself.
Unlike real-world evolution, most evolutions in Pokémon are akin to metamorphosis or epigenetics (how genes are affected by environment and behavior). Think of Pokémon evolution like lion puberty. When maturing, lions rapidly increase in mass, and males grow a resplendent mane. Female lions typically don’t grow manes, but they can if they’re given enough testosterone. Replace manes with wild additions such as extra heads and steel girders, and you have linear Pokémon evolutions. As Game Freak created more Pokémon, alternate, albeit binary, evolution paths became much more commonplace. However, Eevee remains one of the only Pokémon since Gen 1 to receive multiple branching transformation options (Pokémon like Applin offer much simpler “either-or” evolution options), and its number of possible evolutionary paths has only grown as the series itself has evolved.
As of writing this article, Eevee has eight possible evolutions (fingers crossed for a new Ghost or Steel-type in Pokémon Legends: Arceus). These choices, or “Eeveelutions,” are Flareon, Jolteon, Vaporeon, Espeon, Umbreon, Leafeon, Glaceon, and Sylveon. Not only is this a record number of evolutionary forms for any Pokémon, but each decently resembles real-world evolutionary examples.
For now, let’s pretend that Pokémon evolution is not a magical, instantaneous process and that the elemental stones used in many “Eeveelutions” represent different environments (e.g., the Water Stone is a river or lake and the Fire Stone is a desert or volcano). What does that say about those evolutions? It suggests they demonstrate adaptations that would help Eevee survive and thrive in distinct biomes and ultimately turn into different species (just like the real world).
Vaporeon, for instance, is a fantastical creature that resembles the evolution of cetaceans (i.e., whales and dolphins). Several Vaporeon Pokédex entries even state it can “become invisible in water.” That adaptation mirrors how scientists believe Orcas hunt. Orcas’ black backs blend into the inky depths when viewed from above, and their white bellies blend into the water’s surface when seen from below. Thanks to those patterns, Orcas are essentially invisible to prey, not unlike Vaporeon and its bright blue body that can “melt away” into the clean, blue waters it prowls. Plus, Vaporeon sports a horizontal tail fin; a trademark feature of real aquatic mammals that connects them to land-dwelling ancestors whose back legs fused into a flipper. Granted, Vaporeon has four legs and a flipper on its tail, but it also has gills, so not everything is one-to-one.
Flareon, meanwhile, mirrors the evolutionary adaptations of the fennec fox. As a Fire-type, Flareon’s internal temperature resembles that of a blast furnace, and, according to many Pokédex entries, its flame pouch does the endothermic heavy lifting. However, several entries state the Pokémon cools down by radiating excess heat off its fur. That is reminiscent of how fennec fox fur functions but in reverse. Instead of cooling it off, a fennec fox’s thick fur keeps it warm during cold desert nights. When it does need to cool off, heat pours off their gargantuan ears. Have you ever noticed that a Flareon’s ears closely resemble those of a fennec fox? Food for thought.
If “Eeveelutions” initiated by stones are akin to natural selection, then the non-stone “Eeveelutions” of Espeon, Umbreon, and Slyveon seem to reflect selective breeding, which is, essentially, a “manmade evolution” process that breeds specific traits resulting in unique domesticated animals. Corgis are a prime example of this process, as they were selectively bred with short legs to make them better herders that can nip at livestock’s legs without being kicked. Plus, corgis are family-friendly guard dogs. Selective breeding irrevocably alters the gene pool and instills a symbiotic relationship with humans, but what does it have to do with Pokémon such as Espeon and Sylveon?
Well, for starters, they cannot evolve without high friendship and affection stats (which measure how much a Pokémon love its trainer). Several Espeon and Sylveon Pokédex entries even discuss their relationships with humans. Comparatively, entries for “naturally evolved” Pokémon, such as Darumaka and Conkeldurr, at best explain how they benefit humans.
Moreover, Espeon, Umbreon, and Slyveon have some physical traits similar to those animals brought about through real-world selective breeding. For instance, Espeon doesn’t seem to have fur except for the corn-like tufts sprouting from its ears. However, several of Espeon’s Pokédex entries state the Pokémon is covered in fine fur. Espeon shares this trait with Sphynx cats, which, contrary to popular belief, are covered in nearly invisible downy fur caused by a genetic mutation. Normally, this mutation would be weeded out of the gene pool, but it was encouraged via selective breeding. Furthermore, Espeon mimics the Sphynx cat’s large eyes and gremlin ears, which can also be attributed to selective breeding. Sure, Espeon also sports psychic powers and a split tail, but that’s Pokémon fiction for ya.
While Eevee ultimately transforms into a Jolteon or Umbreon via nothing short of video game magic, it remains arguably the most realistic Pokémon thanks to its branching forms which mimic the mechanics of real-world evolution. In fact, if you want to give your child a leg up on lessons in real-world evolution, use Eevee as a handy analogy.