Helloooo. 1. Do you run the ScientificPokedex blog? and 2. Do you think there could be an actual scientific explanation for Zoroark's illusion ability?
Hellooo! Number 1, No I do not run the @scientificpokedex blog but they do an amazing job, big props to them!
Number 2. Hmm that’s tricky, so we want a real life example of an animal convincing another animal that it is something it’s not, so not clever camouflage and accurate visual mimicry, as with a stick insect for example, but rather where one animal has been tricked, it is under the illusion that another animal is something it is blatantly not. Well then, we need to talk about
alrighty, so pheromones are defined as a chemical secreted by an organism that triggers a social/behavioural response in another organism, usually of the same species. They are used everywhere in nature, from tiny single celled prokaryotes up to big lumbering mammals such as ourselves. Uses of pheromones include territory marking, avoidance of inbreeding with close relatives, alarm signals, and advertising sexual availability and fertility. Specialised pheromones called ‘necromones’, released by the decomposing bodies of certain animals, repel living animals of the same species so that they don’t go near the bodies and potentially catch the disease that killed the dead dude.
Those are just a few of the uses nifty chemicals, but as usual insects one up other animal groups in the diversity of ways in which they use them. The highly sophisticated and complex societies of eusocial hymenoptera (bees, ants, and wasps) are only possible through the use of pheromones, for example from coordinating colony activities e.g. defending the colony from predators, to exchanging information, allocating tasks to different castes, social policing, regulating reproduction, and the use of trail pheromones, e.g. when ants lay a path of pheromones towards a food source, and then lay over a repellant pheromone over that trail, cancelling the message once the food source is gone.
Because these social insects are so reliant on pheromones, they are ripe for abuse from other animals who can exploit their chemical society, and this is how I am going to lead it back to Zoroark.
Meet Phengaris alcon, or the Alcon Large Blue butterfly
Yes a very pretty looking butterfly, but don’t let appearances fool you. It’s caterpillars hatch on leaves like regular caterpillars, and stay there for a few weeks, munching away and growing, but after a certain point, they just drop off the leaves and onto the ground. There they release a pheromone which smells exactly like the pheromone released by the larvae of certain ant species. When these ants come across the caterpillars, they are fooled into thinking that these caterpillars are indeed their own larvae, despite being a different colour and much bigger than the ant larvae, i.e. they look completely different.
The ants bring the caterpillars back to their nest, where they clean, feed, look after and protect the caterpillars, sometimes even at the expense of their own larvae when food is short. The caterpillars feed and grow in a safe environment, eventually metamorphosing into a chrysalis, then into an adult butterfly, where they then crawl out of the nest scot-free and begin life in the skies, having had a great start in life all down to some smelly trickery and illusion.
(see below, Phenagris chrysalises next to ant larvae, with the ants none the wiser!)
Other Phenagris species will mimic the Queen ant rather than the larvae, and thus get a more royal treatment (though the true queen is never convinced so this is a more risky strategy), or some instead of just getting fed by the ants like a cuckoo will ravage and eat all the ant larvae when it gets in the nest, without retribution by the ants.
(this video is fantastic and shows the whole lifecycle, plus a bonus pheromone related plot twist near the end!)
Basically using pheromones in this manner is a way of mimicking something you’re not despite looking nothing like your subject. The ants are under the complete illusion that these huge caterpillars are their own tiny young, despite input from other senses. So… what I am saying is that perhaps Zorua and Zoruark are very proficient chemical mimics and can emit strong pheromones that convince you that you are seeing a different pokémon than what’s standing in front of you. Maybe that, mixed with a hallucinogenic compound, neurotoxin, or other mind altering druggy substance (heck even laughing gas lol) to make you more suggestive. I dunno, it’s a huge stretch, but it’s an excuse to talk about Phenagris lol