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Maniacal Engineer's Crackpot Theory Corner: Darwinian Evolution in the Pokémon World

Maniacal Engineer

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Well hello there, Pokémon fans, it is I, your resident crackpot theorist, Maniacal Engineer. I apologize for the interruption caused by that upstart, Faba, and, as a token of said apology, I'm coming at you all with a special theory. Today's theory was co-authored by the Section Head of General Pokémon Discussion himself, Enzap, who is much better at biology than I am. Today, we will be discussing Darwinian Evolution in the Pokémon World.

For whatever arbitrary reason, many people assume that, since "evolution" means something different in the world of Pokémon, that the basic Theory of Evolution doesn't apply to that universe. On the contrary, evidence shows that Darwin's theory is indeed at play in the world of Pokémon.
To examine just how Darwinian Evolution is working in the Pokémon World, we'll start with the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. The Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium defines a series of conditions that would result in allele and genome frequencies remaining constant from one generation to the next perpetually, in other words, a series of conditions which must be fulfilled in order for evolution to not occur and for a species' population to remain "static" and unchanging.
These five conditions are as follows:
1. No mutations.
2. Random mate choice.
3. No Natural Selection.
4. No genetic drift.
5. No gene flow.
If even one of these conditions is not met, some form of genetic changes will occur, which results in evolution, so let's look at these conditions one-by-one to see if any are not being met.

1. No mutations.
In the evolutionary context, mutations are a permanent alteration of genetic coding, resulting from some sort of damage to the DNA of an organism. Something that makes one creature different from others of its species. Antibiotic resistant bacteria are an example of this, as normally bacteria would simply create exact duplicates of itself when reproducing, but, at some point during the process, the DNA was damaged or altered, resulting in a strain of the same bacteria with a resistance to antibiotics.
In the world of Pokémon, such mutations do exist. For example, a Shiny Pokémon is considered to be a genetic mutation, as its DNA was read such that its coloration would be different from others of its kind.
Another example would be the Pikachu, Puka, seen in the early anime episode The Pi-Kahuna. As can be seen in the image below, Puka has blue eyes, while most Pikachu have black eyes.
Puka.png
Puka's blue eyes are a genetic mutation, as no other Pikachu seen in the anime has had blue eyes.
Thus, right from the start, we can see that some form of evolution is indeed occurring in the Pokémon World, but let's press on, shall we?

2. Random mate choice.
According to the theory of evolution, animals, or any creature that reproduces with a mate, select said mate based on specific advantages or preferences. These preferences get passed on more frequently to future generations, as members of the species exhibiting these characteristics are far more likely to pass on their genes to future generations than others. An example of this would be male peacocks, who attract mates with its brightly colored plumage. The brighter and flashier the plumage, the healthier the male is assumed to be, and the more likely that male will find a mate. As such, over time, male peacocks evolved flashier and flashier tails, and male peacocks with duller or drabber plumage became rarer and rarer.
In the world of Pokémon, the Pokémon Unfezant displays a similar tendency to the real life peacock. Female Unfezant remain dull and drab colored, to blend in with their surroundings, but male Unfezant have brightly colored wattles on their faces. This is but one example of sexual dimorphism in the Pokémon World, and it shows that there are preferences that are followed when Pokémon are looking to mate "in the wild."
521Unfezant.png

3. No natural selection.
One of the main driving forces behind the process of evolution is natural selection. Organisms with certain characteristics that are better suited for their environments tend to be able to pass on their genes more frequently than those with characteristics that are detrimental to their environments. Over time, as these characteristics and other characteristics are passed on continuously, a new species is born. If the environment of a species changes, and the species is unable to adapt, that species goes extinct. Essentially, natural selection favors the fittest, and weeds out the weakest. Going back to the example of the antibiotic resistant bacteria from above, when exposed to an antibiotic, those bacterium without a resistance get wiped out, while those that have a resistance survive. Those bacterium reproduce themselves, passing along their genes to the next generations.
Of course, in order for natural selection to occur, species variations must exist. While in the main series games there exists only up to four sprites total for most Pokémon (assuming sexual dimorphism and shiny forms, excluding Mega Evolutions/alternate forms), this is a limitation of the game. No sprite artist wants to create an infinite number of characteristic "combinations" for a given Pokémon, although Spinda's spot locations, even in game, is one example of species variation.
It is much easier to see species variations in the anime, where comparing individuals of a single species can reveal differences. As an example, take the above picture of Puka and compare it to the below image of both Sparky and Ash's Pikachu:
Sparky_and_Pikachu.png
Note how all three have slightly different appearances, but that all of them are, unquestionably, Pikachu.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest natural selection occurs in the Pokémon World. First, species have gone extinct, including, but not nearly limited to, the fossil Pokémon. These relics of the past became extinct either due to changes in their environments or due to evolving characteristics unsuited to their habitat. For example, numerous Pokédex entries for Omastar reference how it is believed to have died out due to its shell being too large for it to move. Kabutops is cited to have moved onto land because its prey had adapted to land life, eventually becoming an entirely new species and dying off as Kabutops, since it could no longer access food in the water.
Furthermore, there are references to co-evolution in both the Seviper and Zangoose rivalry, and the Heatmor and Durant relationship. Durant evolved an armored shell to avoid being eaten, and Heatmor evolved a fiery tongue to melt open that shell.
Alolan forms are another type of natural selection. Most notably, the Rattata population of Alola was getting out of control, so Yungoos was imported to act as a predator. In order to survive, Rattata with specific genetic mutations were favored, as their nocturnal tendencies allowed them to avoid their predators, and, eventually, transformed the once Normal Rattata into the Dark/Normal Alolan Rattata.
Not only is natural selection at play in the world of Pokemon, there is plenty of evidence that shows its existence and what its results are.

4. No genetic drift.
Every species has variants to their genetics, known as alleles. Examples of the influence of alleles in humans would be things like eye color, blood type, and handedness, which are all determined based on multiple chromosomal variations.
Genetic drift, which only occurs in relatively small populations, is the random fluctuation of the frequency of alleles in a given population. For a simple example, assume that you have a population of 10 beetles. 3 green, and 7 tan. Some human comes along and steps on 2 of the green beetles, leaving the others alive. By one simple, random act, the green allele has all but been eradicated. This is an oversimplified example, but it does reflect how external factors, including chance, can influence genetic fluctuations in small populations.
While it is difficult to conclusively prove that genetic drift occurred in the world of Pokémon, one potential theory for how Shellos developed two different forms is that, even before Sinnoh's mountain range rose up to separate the Shellos populations, Shellos already had the genetic variations which would ultimately lead to the new form, but it was recessive. Assuming that all Shellos started out as East Coast Shellos, when the mountain range rose up, perhaps a small population of Shellos were stranded on the west side of the mountain. Within this small population, genetic drift occurred, which resulted in the elimination of the dominant allele and, ultimately, led to the evolution of the West Coast Shellos. Again, this is all speculation.
At the end of the day, however, genetic drift only occurs in small populations. In the games, there are infinite populations of most Pokémon that can be encountered in the wild, as the tall grass never seems to run out of Pokémon. As such, no genetic drift would occur since the population is far too high.

5. No gene flow.
Gene flow occurs when a normally eradicated allele or variation is introduced to a species by a member of a similar species with a different set of alleles immigrating into that population.
For example, assume there is a species of finches on one island, which is normally isolated from other islands. One day, due to a terrible storm, a finch from a different island is blown onto the island, and mates with one of the finches on that island. The other island's finch has introduced new genetic variations to the finches on the first island, which will get passed along to future generations.
The best example of this occurring in the Pokémon World is from the anime, notably the episode Bye Bye Butterfree. In that episode, we see an, as yet unexplained, pink Butterfree, whom Ash's Butterfree is attracted to.
Pink_Butterfree.png
Where did this strange, pink Butterfree come from? Well, while Ash and friends are touring the Orange Islands, they come across an island where all of the native Pokémon are pink, Pinkan Island. While no Butterfree are explicitly shown to live on this island, at least one pink Caterpie is shown.
Pink_Pokemon.png
Caterpie being the basic form of Butterfree, it is not a stretch to say that wild Butterfree do indeed roam on Pinkan Island and would be pink like the other Pokémon on that island. So it is very likely that the pink Butterfree that Ash's Butterfree fell in love with was from Pinkan Island, but had somehow either flown to, or was blown into Kanto, introducing new genetic variant from Pinkan Island into the Kanto Butterfree population.

Lastly, as we all know, in order for evolution to occur, there must be a common ancestor that all life stemmed from. Enter Mew, a Pokémon said to have the genetic composition of all Pokémon, and who is believed to be the ancestor of all Pokémon. While Mew may not be the "common ancestor" for all life, Mew is the most likely the earliest example of "Pokémon" life forms on the planet, and it does prove that common ancestry does exist in the world of Pokémon.

And there you have it, an actual serious theory that is backed by evidence from multiple media. I'm just as shocked as you all are. That said, this is still just a theory, so here are some questions to consider to get conversation rolling. You don't have to answer all of them or any of them in your post as long as you're staying on topic and within global forum rules.
  • Do you agree or disagree with this theory?
  • Outside of the main series Pokémon Games, what evidence can you find that either supports or disproves this theory?
  • What other in-game evidence can you find that supports this theory?
  • What in-game evidence disproves this theory?
  • Do you believe that Mew is the ancestor of all Pokémon?
  • What's your favorite theory about different variants of the same Pokémon?
  • Should ME team up with Enzap more often when writing theories, so that his theories are more coherent?
  • What other types of theories would you like to see discussed in a future ME's Crackpot Theory Corner?
 

Guzma

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Alolan forms are pretty concrete proof of Darwinian evolution. They also mention the Drowzee and Munna lines have a common ancestor in the Sun Pokédex entry.
 

Esserise

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This is a brilliant post.

Do you agree or disagree with this theory?

Absolutely. I'll confess that biology is not really my forté, but I've always kind of assumed this to be the case, that Pokémon are entangled in Darwinian evolution. What always caught my attention was the existence of humans - where did they come from? I like to think that they descended from Pokémon, or a common ancestor between the two. Humans in the Pokémon world aren't quite like us - there have been numerous instances of people in the Pokémon world who posses psychic abilities, or other extraordinary skills like the ability to perceive and channel auras. I think these could be traces of a shared lineage with Pokémon.

What other in-game evidence can you find that supports this theory?

Well, you excluded alternative forms, but I feel there are quite a few examples that support the theory. Specifically the "static" forms that cannot be changed, which we see with Unown, Basculin, and Lycanroc. These forms aren't interchangeable, and must be interpreted as variations within the respective species (even if Lycanroc's is a bit tricky to put into a naturalistic context). Ironically, Oricorio is based on an example of real-world evolution, but actually subverts it by being able to change form freely.

Cosplay Pikachu is another example of a Pikachu with a variation.

Spiky-eared Pichu is explicitly stated to have undergone a DNA mutation as a result of traveling through time with Celebi. As I theorized a while back at the bottom of this post, however, I believe that the mutation may have occurred while Pichu was still in its egg, and while the egg was being brought back from the future by Celebi. I don't know exactly how that would jibe with this theory, although it should perhaps be noted that the games have described Pokémon eggs as being less like eggs as we think of them, and more like cradles.

AZ's Floette is yet another variation. It has a unique color scheme that matches that of its Eternal Flower , but I find this curious. Flabébé's Pokédex entries offer conflicting information about the nature of the relationship between it and its flower. One entry claims that it seeks out a flower, which it then carries for the rest of its life. The other entry suggests that the flower is in fact a part of its body. A way to reconcile these statements would be to consider that Flabébé take flowers and then integrate them into their physiology, in a manner similar to how Burmy seems to do upon evolving into Wormadam. This would be a clear example of how Flabébé's environment can affect its evolution - depending on the flowers that it lives near, it will graft different kinds into its body, resulting the the variety of Flabébé that we see now. Regarding AZ's Floette, it could be that the Eternal Flowers are extinct (save for one specimen that recently appeared in Sootopolis City), and as such we no longer see Eternal-form Floette.

Except it's not that simple. There's a trait which is actually shared by all three of these specific variations, which is that they've lost the ability to breed or evolve into their higher forms. Doesn't that suggest that these three forms are evolutionary dead-ends, if they cannot reproduce?

On the subject of Shellos and Gastrodon, there are some intriguingly relevant things in some of their Pokédex entries

> Gastrodon (Pearl): It apparently had a huge shell for protection in ancient times. It lives in shallow tidal pools.

> Gastrodon (Platinum): Long ago, its entire back was shielded with a sturdy shell. There are traces of it left in its cells.

These entries claim that Gastrodon have changed over time and actually lost their shells.

> Gastrodon (Sun): A team of researchers is scouring the oceans of the world in search of a Gastrodon in a color never seen before.

> Gastrodon (Moon): Experiments are being conducted to discover what happens when a Gastrodon is raised in a location other than the sea where it was born.

(I don't have too solid a point to make with these two; I just thought they were interesting and could be worth mentioning.)

> Shellos (Diamond): Its color and shapes differ from region to region. In the Sinnoh region, two types are confirmed.

While this hasn't yet been demonstrated in the games, as the two colors that are found in Sinnoh are the only ones that have ever appeared in other regions (in Hoenn and Alola), it could support the idea that the potential for variation was already present within Shellos prior to Mt. Coronet's formation, if it's not just that event that has caused them to develop other colors.

(A few caveats here. Shellos actually have been available in Kalos and Unova as well, but it was through the Friend Safari and through an in-game trade, respectively, so they didn't properly appear in those regions. In Hoenn, they only show up after the Cave of Origin releases energy all over the region, which is said to have attracted examples of the species that lived there 3,000 years before. Weirdly, the coloration of Shellos in those games is based on which version you're playing, rather than any geographical factor. And lastly, the only color of Shellos that appears in Alola is the East Sea variant. Make of that what you will.)

Furthermore, you mention that we don't see minor variations very often because the gamemakers can't feasibly create infinity sprite variations. That is most definitely true; however, it has been proven that Pokémon of a given species aren't uniform. In Ruby and Sapphire, there are a pair of brothers in Sootopolis who request you to show them a Barboach or a Shroomish (or a Seedot/Lotad in Emerald) of a particular size, which implies that they can have different heights. In Gen 6, the Pumpkaboo/Gourgeist line demonstrates this outright, with them being available in four different, non-interchangeable sizes.

Lastly, Deoxys is said to be a DNA mutation of a space virus.

What in-game evidence disproves this theory?

I can't really think of any. How do we factor in such extraordinarily long-lived Pokémon like Ninetales, Wartortle, and Rayquaza, though? Would their extremely long lifespans make much of a difference? (I ask because again, this isn't really my area.) Additionally, Kabuto's Pokédex entry states that some species have been discovered to have survived to the modern day, completely unchanged.

Do you believe that Mew is the ancestor of all Pokémon?


I certainly think it's a common ancestor somewhere along the line. Is it the ancestor of all Pokémon? Maybe. I'll neither commit to that nor rule it out.

What's your favorite theory about different variants of the same Pokémon?

I've always liked the interpretation that Shiny Pokémon are an example of something similar to albinism.

Should ME team up with Enzap more often when writing theories, so that his theories are more coherent?

If it gets more posts like this, then definitely. :D


EDIT: Some other points of interest that I forgot to include.

1. Aerodactyl's Pokédex entries say that it lived in the era of the dinosaurs, and that it was resurrected from the genetic material of a dinosaur that was preserved in amber. It's Moon Pokédex entry says that the widely-accepted theory is that it went extinct due to a meteor strike, much like in our world, but then we have its Mega Evolution. The Sun Pokédex entry says that some scholars believe it to the the "true" appearance of Aerodactyl - what it looked like in ancient times.

2. Seadra's Gold Pokédex entry says this: "An examination of its cells revealed the presence of a gene not found in Horsea. It became a hot topic." That's most likely alluding to the draconic features of Kingdra, although as I understand it, it's playing fast and loose with actual science.
 
Last edited:

Zexy

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Do you agree or disagree with this theory?
Can't agree more!
Outside of the main series Pokémon Games, what evidence can you find that either supports or disproves this theory?
Not sure if there is much evidence outside the main series, but the main series alone has more than enough.
What other in-game evidence can you find that supports this theory?
I think you didn't bring up at all how Deoxys and Pokerus are outright stated to be involved with mutations.
What in-game evidence disproves this theory?
There isn't any evidence that outright disproves it as far as I know, it just seems like the knowledge of biology in the Pokemon world isn't this advanced. There was no Darwin to create this theory and use the term evolution for it, so the term evolution was used for a different phenomenon instead. There are mentions of DNA but little about how Mew mutated to all Pokemon.
Do you believe that Mew is the ancestor of all Pokémon?
Yes, but only to all non-unique non-Legendary Pokemon.
What's your favorite theory about different variants of the same Pokémon?
They're just genetically different because of evolution.
Should ME team up with Enzap more often when writing theories, so that his theories are more coherent?
That would make for better theories... but would risk Enzap's sanity so no :p
What other types of theories would you like to see discussed in a future ME's Crackpot Theory Corner?
ME's birthday and how it is involved in the creation of the Mega Evolution Universe (happy birthday ME :D)
 

Maniacal Engineer

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Heh. I guess that "well thought out" and supported theories don't have very much to discuss, as there's already evidence shown in spades in favor of the theory. I guess there are good and bad things about actually coming up with more coherent and supportable thoughts. Who'd have guessed.
Anyway, I'd like to address this particular comment:
What always caught my attention was the existence of humans - where did they come from? I like to think that they descended from Pokémon, or a common ancestor between the two. Humans in the Pokémon world aren't quite like us - there have been numerous instances of people in the Pokémon world who posses psychic abilities, or other extraordinary skills like the ability to perceive and channel auras. I think these could be traces of a shared lineage with Pokémon.
I hadn't really gotten into this in this theory, because it could have made for an interesting future theory (albeit one that's already been discussed by various theorists), that humans are Pokémon. At the very least, there is substantial evidence that shows that humans may have either evolved directly from Pokémon or from a common ancestor shared with Pokémon.
I refer you to the Sinnoh Folk Tales, specifically tales 2 and 3, which can be found by reading certain books on the top floor of the Canalave Library:
"Sinnoh Folk Story 2"
There lived a Pokémon in a forest.
In the forest, the Pokémon shed its
hide to sleep as a human.
Awakened, the human dons the
Pokémon hide to roam villages.
"Sinnoh Folk Story 3"
There once were Pokémon that
became very close to humans.
There once were humans and Pokémon
that ate together at the same table.
It was a time when there existed no
differences to distinguish the two.
These are, of course, the English translations of the stories, but these stories do heavily suggest that humans and Pokémon were once one and the same and, in the literal translation of the original Japanese, even used to marry each other.
Specifically the last line of story number 3 "It was a time when there existed no differences to distinguish the two," implies that there was a time before humans became distinct from other Pokémon.

Now, one of the other things that I wanted to bring up was how, in the World of Pokémon, members of different species can actually interbreed and have offspring that can, themselves, be breeded. The "genetics" passed down from these instances of interbreeding is very wonky. The child will inherit the species of the mother, and possibly some specific moves from the father. Breeding, at least in these instances, doesn't seem to be the same 50-50 genetic split that it is in the real world. In fact, the two biggest pieces of evidence against "standard" Darwinian evolution occurring in the world of Pokémon are the interbreedability of species without resulting in new species, and the fact that there exist some species that breed sexually, but have only one gender. Nonetheless, with regard to the former, one must remember that most instances of such breeding occurring is not "natural," but is rather in a "controlled" setting, i.e. the Day Care. Nonetheless, interspecies breeding must occur outside of Day Cares, as Pokémon such as Kangaskahn, Chansey, and the Hitmons don't go extinct.
Furthermore, in ORAS, with the DexNav, we can encounter Pokémon "in the wild" with eggmoves, something that they can only get from interspecies breeding.

Anyway, the point that I am trying to make here, to tie this back to my original topic of humans evolving from Pokémon, is that, even in the time described by Sinnoh Folk Story 3, the "humans" that existed at the time could have easily been a different species than the "Pokémon" of the time, and still have "no differences to distinguish the two." One species eventually evolved into modern humans, and the other species or several species evolved into the various Pokémon families.

Here's hoping this post is more coherent written out than it feels like it is. -_-
 

Nitro Indigo

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(The other day, I had a lot of ideas for responses, but I've forgotten most of them now.)
Nonetheless, interspecies breeding must occur outside of Day Cares, as Pokémon such as Kangaskahn, Chansey, and the Hitmons don't go extinct.
Mandibuzz's Sun entry said:
They adorn themselves beautifully with bones. This is supposedly an effort to attract males, but no male Mandibuzz have ever been found.
Make of that what you will.

Here's something I have to contribute: symbiosis.
Mantine's Gold entry said:
As it majestically swims, it doesn't care if Remoraid attach to it for scavenging its leftovers.
...And Remoraid used to be part of Mantine's design.

Anyone got some other examples?

(Also, I have a headcanon that sprite errors are all rare variants of a Pokémon.)
 

Derpghost

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Very well done and thought out, but I see one tiny hole in here that i'm not even sure is relevant:

What about the other kind of evolution, instantaneous change from one form to a next? Metamorphosis might work, but some changes are drastic enough (i.e. Shroomish to Breloom) I'm not sure it completely applies.
 

Maniacal Engineer

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Very well done and thought out, but I see one tiny hole in here that i'm not even sure is relevant:

What about the other kind of evolution, instantaneous change from one form to a next? Metamorphosis might work, but some changes are drastic enough (i.e. Shroomish to Breloom) I'm not sure it completely applies.
This is certainly a good question, and I will be happy to think about and research an answer for it at some point in the near future.

In the meantime, though, I would indeed compare Evolution in the Pokémon sense to metamorphosis in the real world. While some changes are extreme, certainly they are no more extreme than Tadpole to Frog or Caterpillar to Butterfly, which is what we do see in the real world.
With evolution families like the Caterpie and Tympole families, it is easy to notice just how much Pokémon evolution is based off of metamorphosis.

Of course, there is a lot more to think about, and so a more detailed answer will be given once I've done a bit of research and speculation.
 

Nitro Indigo

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I was looking at Pachirisu's Bulbapedia page, and...
HeartGold and SoulSilver entry said:
It's one of the kinds of Pokémon with electric cheek pouches. It shoots charges from its tail.
So we have official acknowledgement of Pikaclones.

Also, I'm now remembering the Game Theory episode about divergent evolution in Pokémon.
 

Derpghost

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This is certainly a good question, and I will be happy to think about and research an answer for it at some point in the near future.

In the meantime, though, I would indeed compare Evolution in the Pokémon sense to metamorphosis in the real world. While some changes are extreme, certainly they are no more extreme than Tadpole to Frog or Caterpillar to Butterfly, which is what we do see in the real world.
With evolution families like the Caterpie and Tympole families, it is easy to notice just how much Pokémon evolution is based off of metamorphosis.

Of course, there is a lot more to think about, and so a more detailed answer will be given once I've done a bit of research and speculation.

WAIIITT
Just realized:
Metamorphosis doesn't work, because evolution in the pokemon sense is INSTANT.
 

Maniacal Engineer

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This is why I said comparable, and not exactly the same thing.
Although, if you think about it, evolution in the Pokémon sense is not actually instantaneous. I mean, the actual transformation is, but working toward that transformation takes time. Be it leveling up and gaining Exp, exposure to a specific radiation frequency, learning a specific technique, building up the friendship and happiness, or an experience so traumatic that it requires the Pokémon to change itself in order to cope.
Granted, these are mostly game specific examples, but even in the anime, Pokémon don't usually "spontaneously" evolve. The do so during times or duress, and usually after a lot of hard work and training.
 

Derpghost

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it's fun to pick holes in everything lol
Still, metamorphism visibly happens over time, while Pokemon undergo training and all else you mentioned and then change. Massive changes in power and appearance like that surely can't show no sign of it happening and then suddenly, well, happen.

I've got nothing for stones tho :/
 

Maniacal Engineer

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And caterpillars eat and eat and eat to store up the energy required for metamorphosis. Instead, Pokemon train and gain Exp.
Pokemon don't show "no signs" of their changes happening before it happens. They grow levels. They learn new moves. Their stats increase. Their EVs increase.
There are more ways than just what is plainly visible to show that progress is happening.
 
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