Discover the Animal Pikachu Was Based on According to Its Creators


Written by Kellianne Matthews

Updated: August 23, 2023

Share on:


With squishy red cheeks, pointed ears, and a lightning bolt-shaped tail, Pikachu is the most recognizable and arguably the most popular character in the Pokémon franchise. Although they are not the largest types of Pokémon out there, Pikachu are known for their incredibly powerful electric powers. With such a friendly nature and adorable appearance, it’s hard not to love Pikachu. But what kind of animal is Pikachu? Let’s take a closer look at the origins of this famous Pokémon and find out what animal he was based on!

Who Is Pikachu?

Pikachu is the iconic mascot of the famous Japanese media franchise Pokémon. Created by Satoshi Tajiri in 1996, Pokémon — or “pocket monsters” — are animal-like creatures with special powers. In the world of Pokémon, skilled trainers are tasked with catching Pokémon from the wild and training them. Together, both trainers and Pokémon engage in epic battles that test their strength, teamwork, and strategy.

Pikachu is one of the early Pokémon that appeared in Pocket Monsters: Red and Green in Japan and then Pokémon Red and Blue in the U.S. These Japanese video games were wildly successful, leading to even more games, trading cards, an anime television series, toys, comics, books, music, a live-action film, and even a traveling theme park. Today there are over 1,000 types of Pokémon species, but Pikachu remains a top fan favorite. 

In fact, Pikachu is the official mascot of the Pokémon franchise and often serves as an important icon for Nintendo as well. Even Time magazine went as far as to rank Pikachu alongside beloved icons like Helly Kitty and suggested that the success of the Pokémon franchise was in large part due to the popularity of Pikachu. Over the years, this adorable yellow Pokémon has wiggled its way into the hearts of millions. Pikachu has become a beloved symbol of nostalgia, joy, and companionship, as well as a well-known cultural icon. 

What Does Pikachu Look Like?

Pikachu (the proper name for both a single Pikachu and multiple Pikachu) is an electric-type Pokémon from Generation I. These Pokémon can be male or female, but they are always bright yellow with brown stripes on their backs and at the base of their tails. These long tails are jagged and shaped like a bolt of lightning, reflecting their electric abilities. Pikachu have long ears with black tips. Their squishy cheeks are marked with rosy circles that shoot electricity. They can even cause lightning storms if enough Pikachu gather together in one place! On average, Pikachu are 1 foot 4 inches and weigh 13.2 pounds. Pikachu have round bodies and often stand upright on their back legs, but when they run, they use all four feet. 

It was nearly impossible to tell male and female Pikachu apart for many years. However, in 2006 the video games Pokémon Diamond Version and Pokémon Pearl Version introduced female Pikachu with slightly curved tail tips that look somewhat like a heart. 

Pikachu is the evolved form of a Pichu and evolves into a Raichu. However, the Pikachu form continues to stand as the favorite of the three stages. This could be in part due to the popularity of the Pokémon television series. In this series, Pikachu is the loyal companion of the young, aspiring trainer, Ash Ketchem. Of course, it could also simply be Pikachu’s undeniable cuteness and charm (not all Pokémon are quite as cute and caring as Pikachu). While powerful with impressive and rare abilities, Pikachu are also friendly and cuddly little creatures. 

What Animal Was Pikachu Based On?

Each creature in the Pokémon universe is based on an actual animal in the real world. For example, Dewgong was based on the dugong (Dugong dugon), a real-life marine mammal that lives in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Drowzee’s appearance came from the Malayan tapir (Tapirus indicus), while Psyduck has a body and prominent snout like a platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus). 

But Pikachu’s origin is a bit more complicated. Pikachu is a mouse Pokémon and electric type. So, it is tempting to jump to the conclusion that Pikachu must have been inspired by a mouse. However, some fans have argued that Pikachu is based on the pika (Ochotona daurica), a small relative of the rabbit that lives in the cold mountains of North America and Asia. 

However, it turns out that Pikachu is neither a mouse nor a pika — Pikachu was based on a squirrel! Now, squirrels belong to the Sciuridae family, which technically does include some types of rodents — but there are no mice in this unique squirrely family, so no, Pikachu did not originate from a mouse! 

If you stop to think about it, Pikachu as a squirrel actually makes a lot of sense. Pikachu has a round body with a larger back end and often sits on its haunches and back legs like a squirrel does. They also run in a very squirrel-like manner and have large squirrel-like tails. And how about those squishy cheeks? When squirrels collect food like nuts and berries, they store them in their cheeks — just like a Pikachu stores electricity in its cheeks! 

Some have argued that Pikachu is based on the pika (

Ochotona daurica

), a small relative of the rabbit.

The Creation of Pikachu

While working for Game Freak Inc., illustrator Atsuko Nishida was asked to create a cute electric-type pocket monster for their new Japanese video game. Initially, Nishida designed a pocket monster that resembled an elongated daifuku with ears (daifuku is a sweet-tasting Japanese rice treat). However, this original design was not deemed quite “cute enough” yet, so Nishida decided to go with a squirrel instead. 

Squirrels weren’t necessarily a popular animal at the time, but they still seemed like a good animal to base Pikachu on. Nishida thought owning one would be a lot of fun (she already had a turtle and a ferret at home). So, using large pixels on a computer screen, Nishida created what would become the most famous Pokémon in history. 

When Game Freak President Satoshi Tajiri saw Nishida’s cute new Pokémon, he called it a mouse character, and the designation stuck. Nishida also explained that her new Pokémon’s name was a combination of two onomatopoeic words in Japanese. First, ピカピカ (“pikapika”), which refers to something that glitters, shines, sparkles, or emits light intermittently (like an electric spark). And チューチュー (“chūchū”), which is the sound a mouse makes. 

So, there you have it! While many people over the years assumed that Pikachu was based on a mouse, a rabbit, or even a pika, its iconic design actually originated from a squirrel. Whether you’re a lifelong Pokémon fan or just discovering Pikachu for the first time, you can appreciate the sheer creativity and imagination that went into bringing this cuddly creature to life in a much deeper way.

Pikachu was based on a squirrel!

Bonus: A Quick Look at Pichu and Raichu

After Pikachu’s successful rise to fame, Pokémon creators struggled to develop another creature that would be quite as cute. However, after much brainstorming, Junichi Masuda and Ken Sugimori decided to create the pre-evolved version of Pikachu. Thus, the loveable little electric mouse, Pichu, was born.

Pichu is a tiny, ground-dwelling mouse Pokémon that is covered in bright yellow fur. Their large ears have black tips, and additional black markings are around their necks and short tails. Pichu are not able to control their abilities quite as well as Pikachu. They often discharge jolts of electricity when they laugh or when they are startled. In addition to their adorable appearance, Pichu have heartwarming personalities and playful spirits. 

On the other end of Pikachu’s evolution is its new form, Raichu, which was also created by Atsuko Nishida. Like Pikachu, Raichu also has a long, lightning-bolt-shaped tail, although it is much longer than Pikachu’s. Raichu’s long tail helps to protect it and grounds its powerful electric abilities. These electric Pokémon can throw out over 100,000 volts in a single shock! Since Raichu are so powerful, it is not uncommon to see black scorch marks near their nests. Raichu can also lift their long tails high into the air to collect electricity as well. When too much electricity builds up in their bodies, Raichu begin to glow in the dark and can become rather feisty. 

Share this post on:
About the Author

Kellianne Matthews is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on anthrozoology, conservation, human-animal relationships, and animal behavior. Kellianne has been writing and researching animals for over ten years and has decades of hands-on experience working with a variety of different animals. She holds a Master’s Degree from Brigham Young University, which she earned in 2017. A resident of Utah, Kellianne enjoys creating, exploring and learning new things, analyzing movies, caring for animals, and playing with her cats.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.