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What animal is Pikachu based on in real life?

Based on its name and designation as a "Mouse" type in the Pokedex, fans have assumed for years that the creators of Pikachu drew inspiration from the pika, a rodent found in Asia and North America, when creating the beloved character. As it turns out, the designer had a different animal in mind during the drafting process.

During an interview with Yomiuri, former Game Freak graphic artist Atsuko Nishida confessed that she based Pikachu's original design concept for Pokemon Red and Green on a squirrel, not a mouse. Nishida, it turns out, had caught a bit of squirrel fever.

"At that time, I was really into squirrels," revealed Nishida, "so I wanted the character to have puffy cheeks. Squirrel tails are cute (so I wanted it to have a tail). However, I wanted the character to have a lightning element, so I made it shaped like lightning."

When deciding where Pikachu would store its electricity, Nishida turned to squirrels for inspiration once more. "For example, when hamsters stuff themselves with food, their entire bodies become round, right? But for squirrels, it's just their cheeks."

"I didn't have a squirrel, but at that time, I wanted to have one," Nishida said. "It's not like squirrels were popular [in Japan] then. I like animals, and then I had a ferret and a turtle at home. Since I thought the ways squirrels moved were comical and cute, I wanted one."

It was only after the iconic character received its name that the creators decided to make it a "Mouse" type with Satoshi Tajiri choosing the designation "Electric Rodent." Pikachu's appearance has since continued to evolve with variations emerging across the Pokemon anime, games, and films. You can still see Pikachu's squirrel roots in the Pokemon's long body, paws, and the way it looks when standing upright.