We all know the lovable green dinosaur from the Mario series — so lovable she was the 3rd favourite video game character in all of Japan in 2008, and voted #1 sidekick by several sites. But is Yoshi just a pipe dream, as unfeasible as dinosaur cloning from Jurassic Park? This is not a simple question, and there is no simple answer. The road to resolution takes us through the cutie’s most notable traits:
1. Yoshi reproduces asexually.
Yoshi never mates with anyone, yet lays eggs regularly within the span of one mario level/adventure, which is maybe 2-3 minutes. That’s pretty impressive, and since Yoshis hatch out of eggs found in blocks, there is nowhere behind-the-scenes where shagging might be happening. So we can only come to the conclusion that either every Yoshi is in fact a pair of Siamese twins (joined at the… long prehensile tongue?) or that she reproduces asexually.
I say she because there are in fact 70 or so species of vertebrates that reproduce asexually. They’re all female. Whiptail lizards are on this list along with other reptiles, so there are in fact many species that could exhibit this reproductive characteristic of Yoshi.
But wait — isn’t asexual reproduction devoid of genetic diversity that allows for surviving adaptations to environmental changes? Not to mention less fun? Well, it turns out these asexual female lizards have double the number of chromosomes as sexually-reproducing species, and their chromosomes pair internally when they form gametes, producing similar benefits to sexual reproduction without the need for courtship. This could be an advantage in harsh climates where it’s difficult to find a mate. Like being a geek in high school.
2. Yoshi reproduces after her tummy is full.
At first I thought this was bizarre. She eats 5 apples, then poops out an egg. I asked myself how reproduction and excretion could be so intimately linked, but then found out that in fact the cloaca or “vent” that’s used for the two processes is common in all amphibians, birds, reptiles and monotremes.
OK, so it’s not that strange to poop out an egg after all. However, isn’t it strange to initiate reproduction after eating a few apples?
It turns out chickens activate their ovaries based on visual cues, and keep laying eggs daily until they go into the brooding stage where they sit on them and wait for them to hatch. If you remove the eggs before they go into the brooding stage, you now have yourself an egg factory. So activating egg production based on a physical stimulus has analogies in the real world.
Further research shows that a stable food supply initiates earlier breeding in vole rodents, so taking a cue from food to get preggers is actually pretty reasonable for a smart Yoshi.
3. Yoshi’s offspring is…varied.
Yoshi’s eggs hatch into all sorts of crap, from mushrooms to fireflowers to raccoon furs. I’m not sure if there’s any animal on the planet that does that.
However, Yoshi’s asexual double-number-of-chromosomes nature is the result of the hybridization of two or more species, so there is in fact a lot of genetic material that went into making her. Maybe some mushrooms and flowers got mixed in there, and with the right chromosome pairing… miracles can emerge.
4. Yoshi can kick her legs and flutter-fly
Yoshi’s ability to do an extra little push through the air by kicking her legs is one of the main reasons she’s such a likeable sidekick.
There are, in fact, leaping frogs who spread wing-like ribs a little bit like flying raccoons. Apparently they can sail up to 30 feet, which is more than enough for a desperate platforming plumber.
You might argue that Yoshis don’t necessarily have wings (unless they eat a certain colour of turtle shell, which is another matter entirely). While that’s true, lizards in fact throw their tail around to alter their trajectory while in mid-air. Researchers are making use of this fact with robots, bringing us ever closer to dinobots.
5. You can ride Yoshi.
The answer is simple: go to the Northern Lizard Riding School. Except the lizards there look deceptively similar to horses. (I think the right to name a company should be stripped for false advertising like that.)
Anyway, apparently the only real evidence of lizards you can ride are drunken tourists who also dream of a Yoshi verisimilitude, and a Cambodian child with an enormous python for a pet. So for the time being, at least, the closest you can get will be to “ride the snake”, a term for overcoming life’s psychedelic obstacles, to put it gently.
6. Yoshi’s eggs are spotted.
This one’s a fairly easy requirement: many birds and reptiles have spotted eggs, and in birds the spots are actually indications of protoporphyrin deposits that compensate for a thin egg wall caused by calcium deficiency. The more spots, the less calcium there is in the surrounding ground/environment.
Since Yoshi’s eggs are always spotted, we can conclude that Super Mario‘s World needs more milk.
7. Yoshi has a very long prehensile tongue.
While tongues that you can use like an extra arm are commonly listed as a superpower, there are in fact many animals with incredibly long tongues, or tongues that do things you’d (hopefully) never dream of. From chameleons that strike their prey to giraffes that need to clean bugs in hard-to-reach places, prehensile tongues are pretty viable in lizards.
8. Yoshi wraps herself in an egg for protection.
This phenomenon was first demonstrated in Super Smash Bros., and in sequels Yoshi could even roll around in it. Is there anything even remotely close to that in nature?
The African bullfrog, the Australian water-frog and the Mexican masked tree frog all shed their skins, along with a healthy amount of mucus, that hardens to form a protective cocoon. So, while Yoshi’s ability to pop in and out of her protective “egg” is much more rapid than one would expect (and strangely similar to her reproductive secretions) the defensive maneuver of cocooning does indeed have some basis in the real world.
The closest thing to a Yoshi on our limited blue planet is a female asexually reproducing whiptail lizard who has somehow hybridized with a bullfrog, mushrooms and flowers. She’d need to grow up in an environment where food is so tightly linked to reproductive stability that it induces it almost immediately — probably a tropical apple orchard. Add to that some genetic modification to increase its size, and human domestication to make it ever more cute and cuddly, and you’d have a rideable hybridized bullfrog-mushroom-flower-whiptail Yoshi.
But would the reality be more horrifying than we think?
While the above criteria would pass for most Yoshi-lovers, some die-hards may have noticed some aspects of Mario’s helpful green dinosaur that I’ve left unresolved.
1. Yoshi can speak. In the Mario RPG games, Yoshi’s vocabulary extends well beyond saying her own name.
2. Yoshi pounds the ground to kill prey. Boa constrictors don’t “crush” their prey, so they don’t count.
3. Yoshi adapts rapidly to environmental stimuli of turtle shell species. She can fly, breathe fire, inflate like a balloon… maybe some of these aspects could be mixed into the hybridized lizard?
Can you think of anything else I’ve missed? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!