Tony the Tiger asks:

You like old stuff, right? What are your thoughts on fossil pokemon?

In general archaeologists take pains to point out that we do not study fossils (it’s a surprisingly common mistake).  Not all “old stuff” is similarly old (unless you listen to certain ill-advised religious sects); I deal in the hundreds/thousands of years range, not millions/tens of millions.  Fossils are about as much my professional area of expertise as the moons of Jupiter are an airline pilot’s.

…as it happens, though, I am independently a layman dinosaur nerd with a basic knowledge of evolutionary biology, and I was a sufficiently weird kid that, when I started school, I wanted to be not a fireman or an astronaut but a palaeontologist.  So LET’S TALK FOSSILS.

Continue reading “Tony the Tiger asks:”

Anonymous asks:

Of all the fossil pokemon, not including the kabutops and aurorus lines, which do you think would be the most intimidating to encounter? What about the least intimidating? I did away with those two because they’re obvious answers to the respective categories, since kabutops has the whole slashing thing going on and aurorus is a gentle, color changing giant.

You know, I’m not sure I agree with you on either of those!  Like, Kabutops has the slashy thing, sure, but he’s also about four feet tall, which is a big strike against him as far as intimidation goes.  Aerodactyl is larger, can fly, and will eat your face off, while Tyrantrum is just unfairly massive.  As for least intimidating, well, Aurorus is beautiful and gentle, sure, but still big and bulky enough that she could hurt you pretty badly just by failing to notice you.  Lileep, on the other hand, is made of seaweed and literally cannot move.

Amaura and Aurorus




I think everyone has a dinosaur phase, right?  Mine was… longer and more educationally rigorous than most, put it that way (my parents claim to this day that my first words as a baby were not the traditional ‘mama’ and ‘papa’ but the often tongue-twisting names of dinosaur species).  There actually aren’t all that many Pokémon who seem to be based primarily on dinosaurs, funnily enough, although several of the big superstar ones are represented: we have ceratopids (Shieldon and Bastiodon), pachycephalosaurs (Cranidos and Rampardos), sauropods (Bayleef and Meganium, Tropius), and of course the famous birdlike theropod Archaeopteryx (Archen and Archeops).  There are also a bunch of Pokémon that are probably influenced by dinosaurs, like Tyranitar, who seems to be a tyrannosaur via Godzilla, Charmeleon, who has shades of a small theropod, Torterra, who owes as much to ankylosaurs as to tortoises, and Bulbasaur, who… well, to be honest I don’t think even Game Freak really know exactly what Bulbasaur is but the –saur suffix definitely strikes a particular note.  X and Y give us two more fossils: the brutal tyrannosaurs Tyrunt and Tyrantrum, and these two loveable goofs.  I probably wouldn’t have chosen another sauropod, myself – I kind of want to see a hadrosaur – but I’m not about to complain about more dinosaurs, so here we go.

 Not-Aurorus, a.k.a. Amargasaurus, a (probably) sail-necked sauropod from the early Cretaceous period.

Sauropods followed a very straightforward evolutionary strategy: just get so big that nothing will ever dare to f#@& with you.  They may have been the largest animals ever to exist, though it’s hard to tell because the biggest ones are known only from two or three bones each (and what might have been the largest of all, a femur and vertebra designated Amphicoelias fragillimus, were mysteriously lost by their discoverer Edward Drinker Cope, the Worst Palaeontologist Ever, back in the 1870s, making their size impossible to verify).  Certainly they dwarfed all other known land animals.  Sauropods seem to have been browsers, processing vast quantities of leaves in their enormous stomachs to sustain their oversized bodies, though funnily enough they were actually more closely related to the predominantly carnivorous theropods than to any of the other well-known herbivorous groups like stegosaurs or ceratopids.  As well as the distinctive long neck, Aurorus has the tapering whip-like tail that characterises most of the larger sauropods; contrast the stumpy tails of Meganium and Tropius.  The ice crystals on her sides make me think specifically of Saltasaurus, one of the last members of the sauropod lineage, who lived in what is now South America.  Saltasaurus was much smaller than some of its relatives (although still pretty enormous!), but made up for it with a neat new armour plating adaptation, not as heavy as what its ankylosaur contemporaries had, but perhaps enough to deter the few predators who weren’t put off by its size alone.  The pair of sails on the neck is an interesting touch; as far as I’ve been able to find out, only one sauropod genus has been reconstructed with a sail – Amargasaurus, who also seems to be referenced by Aurorus’ Japanese, French and German names – and even that’s a touch speculative because, of course, the sail is made of soft tissue and doesn’t fossilise, so all we get is the bony spines that would have supported it.  The most popular guess at the purpose of this structure, and similar ones in unrelated dinosaurs like Spinosaurus, is that it had something to do with heat regulation, giving the animals a larger surface area to radiate excess heat in the relatively warm climate of the Cretaceous period.  That makes their presence on an Ice Pokémon who explicitly lived in cold places rather curious – maybe in Aurorus they served the reverse function, allowing her to drain heat more efficiently from her surroundings.

Aurora Borealis (literally "northern dawn") over Finland.


Like most fossil Pokémon who are given dates, Amaura and Aurorus are assigned to the suspiciously round number “100 million years ago,” which would put them in the middle of the Cretaceous, although what exactly that means in the context of the Pokémon world is anyone’s guess.  They lived in very remote, inhospitable regions of the world, with no natural predators (or at least, none big enough to go after them), and as a result are extremely trusting, gentle creatures.  One can only speculate as to whether their eventual extinction had anything to do with that.  As Ice Pokémon, they are most at home in the cold and can create zones of frigid air; Aurorus also has the more unusual ability to throw up walls of ice that block incoming attacks.  Perhaps their most distinctive feature, however, has nothing to do with the cold at all: their connection with auroras, the spectacular glowing ribbons of light often visible in the sky at extreme northern and southern latitudes around the Earth’s magnetic poles, which represent high-energy ions captured by the Earth’s magnetic field returning to their ground states.  The phenomenon is referenced by the shifting colours of Amaura and Aurorus’ iridescent sails.  The games don’t seem to do much with this, beyond the vague association of auroras with cold parts of the world that also gives us the Ice-type attack Aurora Beam.  The anime, however, claims that Amaura and Aurorus’ voices can influence magnetic fields, allowing them to create localised auroras that serve as long-distance signals.  The neat thing about this is that it also gives Aurorus her most important non-Ice-type powers: she can learn several Electric attacks, which is a major selling point if you want to use her in a fight.  I actually wonder whether it would have made more sense for Aurorus to be Ice/Electric, which would have made it easier to emphasise the aurora themes in her design, but of course all fossil Pokémon have to be Rock-types because of Reasons, so let’s just leave it there.


Being a fossil Pokémon, then, Aurorus has the type combination Rock/Ice, which is unique to her and Amaura.  Defensively, this is kind of painful; she has a lot of weaknesses and few useful resistances.  This is doubly unfortunate as she’s built as a tank, with a huge HP stat, good special attack and special defence, passable defence, and poor speed.  The fact that there are still no good Rock-type special attacks is another strike against Aurorus; if you want a Rock attack, you’re going to have to go with the rather weak Ancientpower.  Luckily though, her access to Thunderbolt as back-up for her Ice attacks means that type coverage is not a huge problem for Aurorus.  The list of Pokémon capable of resisting both halves of the traditional ‘bolt-beam’ combination has gradually expanded over the years, but is still a very short one: Magneton and Magnezone, Rotom’s washing machine and toaster forms, Lanturn with Volt Absorb, Mamoswine with Thick Fat, and Seaking with Lightningrod (and let’s be honest here, if your opponents decide to put Seaking on their teams just to counter Aurorus then they most likely have bigger problems).  Dark Pulse, Flash Cannon and Psychic are all available to fill out Aurorus’ moveset, and she can even use Calm Mind to build momentum, but her poor physical defence and inability to heal don’t do her any favours for that style, and defensive Ice-types have historically been uninspiring.  Maybe something with Rest, Sleep Talk and Charge Beam would be amusing.  Reflect might help her survive a bit longer if she can avoid Fighting and Steel attacks, and Thunder Wave is sure to ruin someone’s day; I think those are probably better choices than Calm Mind.  Alternatively, you can try to take advantage of her strong offensive movepool and reasonable power to Rock Polish your way to victory – she still won’t be very fast and her attack power will be stretched very thin, but she won’t be as slow as usual, and you might just surprise someone, especially as she’s not all that easy to take out with a single attack (again, barring Fighting and Steel moves).

Aurorus’ little flirtation with uniqueness is the Refrigerate ability, which turns all of her Normal attacks into Ice attacks and increases their power by 30%.  She doesn’t have very many Normal-type special attacks to choose from, sadly; in fact she’s one of the few Pokémon for whom people are willing to consider Hyper Beam, something which I bring up mainly to advise against it.  The sheer power of a Refrigerated Hyper Beam is attractive mainly for its capacity to one-shot things that would otherwise have an extra turn to hit you, or that might stall with Leftovers, Recover, Protect, or similar; on the other hand, being disabled for a turn, unable even to switch out, puts not only Aurorus but potentially your entire team in jeopardy if your opponent decides to send in a set-up sweeper that Aurorus can’t immediately kill.  I won’t say you should never use it, especially since Aurorus isn’t exactly starved for type coverage, but Hyper Beam always looks better on paper than it performs in reality, put it that way.  A much better option is Tri-Attack.  If you take a look, you won’t actually find Tri-Attack anywhere in Aurorus’ movepool, but Nature Power will act as Tri-Attack most of the time in link and Wi-Fi battles (the exception is when either you or your opponent has decided to use one of the new terrain-altering moves, in which case Nature Power will end up being Thunderbolt, Energy Ball or Moonblast instead, but those aren’t common) and be significantly stronger than Ice Beam (and they’re both TMs, so you can always swap in Ice Beam for wandering around the game world).  Ultimately, Aurorus winds up getting a 15% increase in power over a Pokémon who just uses Ice Beam.  It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s nice, and since her hidden ability hasn’t been released yet (and might never be, knowing Game Freak), you may as well take it.  The hidden ability, incidentally, is Snow Warning and will make her only the second Pokémon in the game with automatic Hail.  Hail was always the least useful weather type, and it possibly suffered the most from the now-limited durations of the automatic weather abilities, since the best Pokémon to take advantage of Hail are stall-oriented things like Walrein.  Still, it’s a rare ability and will also let Aurorus use 100% accurate Blizzards, so if it’s ever released, that’s probably the one you want to go with.

Aurorus is a bit of a sad comment on how badly Ice-types get screwed over by the type chart; there is almost no conceivable battle role where their near-total lack of resistances isn’t a problem for them.  In her case this is doubly tragic since Game Freak have gone to such effort to justify giving her a wide variety of useful attacks that make sense with her design.  She’s far from the most unique or interesting design of the generation – to be honest, “cute dinosaur” pretty much sums her up, not unlike Meganium, although the aurora thing is quite clever as a way of supporting what they wanted her to be able to do – but I don’t think I’d call her bad, and it’s a shame she doesn’t have a lot to back it up.