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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Animals of 'Star Wars' and their real-life, Earthly counterparts

From the original “Star Wars” in 1977, the films have given moviegoers a rich tapestry of fully developed ecosystems, complete with an array of indigenous wildlife occupying all the niches in a galaxy far, far away. Many of the critters of that galaxy appear to have Earthly counterparts, if on a much enlarged, aggrandized and intensified scale.

Here’s a comparison of some of those Tatooine and Hoth dwellers with some real-life creatures right here on Earth.

In “Star Wars” lore, the acklay is a thick-skinned, Sharp-clawed carnivore native to the planet Vendaxa. It’s about 20 feet tall. It was first seen in “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” when it was killed in the Petranaki arena by Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The critter on Earth that could be the acklay’s much smaller cousin is the praying mantis, a fierce predator of insects. While there are several native species of mantids in North America, the introduced European and Chinese species are the mantids most commonly encountered in our backyards.


The bantha is a bulky, hairy pack animal native to the planet Tatooine. It’s an 8-10-foot-tall herbivore that travels in herds in the wild and is used as a beast of burden and a food source by the Tusken Raiders. Banthas were first seen in the original “Star Wars.”

Earth’s closest equivalent to the bantha is the domesticated yak, which is the descendent of the wild yak of the Himalaya region on Central Asia and north into Mongolia and Russia. The yak also is a bulky, hairy animal used by native peoples for transport and food. In place of the curved horns of the bantha, the yak carries a more cattle-like piece of headgear.

 Bantha II

The bantha’s massive, curved horns seem to be an enlarged version of the horns of the ram of the bighorn sheep in the American West. The body of the bantha, however, remains an enlarged version of the yak.


In the “Star Wars” reality, the dewback is a thick-skinned, desert-dwelling reptile on the planet Tatooine. It is the standard mount of the Empire’s sandtroopers, capable of short bursts of speed and long treks across the sand. It is about 6 feet tall and 10 feet long. “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” was the first outing for the creature.

The closest thing to the dewback on Earth might be the Komodo dragon, which is can grow as long as the dewback but never achieves the deep body of its Star Wars counterpart. The dragon is native to a few Indonesian islands, including Komodo.


The eopie is a quadruped herbivore native to the planet Tatooine, where it is highly adapted to survival on and travel across vast deserts. Although bad-tempered and stubborn, eopies are domesticated as riding and cargo-bearing beasts. The species first appeared in “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.”

Most of the eopie’s attributes apply to Earth’s one-humped Dromedary camel of the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. The camel has been domesticated in the same way by native peoples of those regions.

Eopie II

While most of the eopie is camel-like, its elongated muzzle appears to be that of the saiga antelope, a critically endangered species of the Eurasian steppes. The outsized snout with the downward slanting nostrils helps to filter out dust kicked up by the herd, helps to cool the animal’s blood in summer and warms the air being breathed in winter.


The exogorth was that half-mile-long, slug-like, legless salamander that lived inside an asteroid belt in the Hoth system and made a grab for the Millennium Falcon in “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.”

Although the body of the exogorth was more than of a slug or snake, the head looked decidedly like that of the hellbender, which at a length of as much as 18 inches is the largest salamander in Pennsylvania. Although it is a species of special concern in the state, a movement has begun to designate the hellbender as the official amphibian of Pennsylvania.


In the “Star Wars” universe, the happabore is a mostly hairless quadruped with a thick, wrinkled hide; a broad, flat snout; and upward curling, blunt tusks. It is a docile, obedient beast of burden, about 20 feet long and 8 feet tall. The animal was first seen in “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.”

Although the snout and the tusks of the happabore most closely resemble those of Earth’s wild boat, the rest of the creature is more like a monstrously oversized naked mole rat. The latter is a desert-dwelling, burrowing rodent of East Africa.


The nexu is an agile predator with ferocious fangs, long claws and a spine of sharp quills. It is about 15 feet long and 3 feet tall. Star Wars fans were introduced to the nexu in “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” where it attacked Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala in the Petranaki arena on the planet Geonosis.

Earth really has nothing like the nexu, but it shares distinctive features with the hyena and porcupine, which occupy far-removed spots in the class Mammalia. The family Hyaenidae has just four species in it, all in Africa. A total of 29 species of porcupines occur nearly worldwide in the Hystricidae (Old World) and Erethizontidae (New World) families. The porcupine in Pennsylvania (Erethizon dorsatum) has been expanding its range southward throughout the state for several decades.

The ronto is a dinosaurian, quadruped herbivore of the desert planet Tatooine. It is the size of an apatosaurus, but rather skittish and easily dominated as a pack animals capable of carrying incredible loads. Star Wars fans were introduced to the ronto in “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.”

The closest animals on Earth to the ronto disappeared with the Mesozoic Era 66 million years ago. Short of the dinosaurs, the African elephant most closely approximates the ronto. However, the face of the ronto looks more like that of the tapir or a rhinoceros without its horn.


The sarlacc is a plant-like, omnivorous creature found on several planets in the “Star Wars” universe. Most of it is subterranean, but the jaws and some tentacles remain aboveground ready to snag and devour anything that passes. It was first seen in the Great Pit of Carkoon on Tatooine in “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” Minons of Jabba the Hutt attempted unsuccessfully to feed Luke Skywalker to the beast.

On a miniaturized scale, Earth has the antlions, a group of about 2,000 species of insect nearly worldwide. The larva of the insect digs a pit with sides of loose dirt or sand that traps passing ants and other small insects and slides them into the powerful pincers of the antlion, which remains hidden underground until prey is detected.


The steelpecker is a carrion bird on the planet Jakku that closely resembles the vultures of Earth. The steelpecker, however, feeds on discarded metal, which it rips into with its iron-tipped beak and talons. A flock of steelpeckers was first seen in “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.”


After the ewoks, the tauntaun may be the cutest creature in the “Star Wars” menagerie. It’s a heavily furred, biped native to the snowy plains of the planet Hoth, where it travels in herds and is well adapted to the extremely low temperatures. Adults are about 8 feet tall. When the Rebel Alliance set up its secret base on Hoth, in “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” they domesticated several tauntauns as transport animals. It was a tauntaun that Luke Skywalker was riding when he was attacked by a wampa.

Earth’s equivalent to the tauntaun would seem to take the fur of a llama, wrap an oversized kangaroo in it and slap on the an upward-curving tusk on each side of the mouth.


The varactyl is a 50-foot-long reptile native to the planet Utapau. It also has some avian characteristics, notably a mane of blue and green feathers that continues back along the ridge of its back. It was domesticated as a fast-moving mount capable of climbing vertical surfaces. In “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” Obi-Wan Kenobi rode a varactyl named Boga.

In a much smaller version minus the feathers, Earth has iguanas, the largest of which can grow to 6 feet in length and cannot be developed into a rideable animal.


The wampa, which attacked Luke Skywalker and his tauntaun mount on the planet Hoth in “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” is a 10-foot-tall, bipedal carnivore. It’s a heavily muscled, white-furred, ambush predator, well adapted to occupy the top of the food chain in its snow-covered environment.

Apart from some of the great apes, which are small and frail by comparison, Earth has nothing in the discovered universe like the wampa. Although the Hoth creature, with its jowl-framing tusks, is a more formidable version, Earth’s nearest approximation may be the yeti or abominable snowman.

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