Monday, December 3, 2012

Faux phylogenies

It is, of course, possible to produce a phylogeny of any group of objects that vary in their intrinsic characteristics, and where those characteristics can be inferred to vary through time. One popular subject is the Tree of Life, but where "life" is defined in rather a loose fashion. Here are a few examples of what I mean.

Note: there is a follow-up post (Faux phylogenies II), as well.

Legendary figures

This first one is reproduced from pages 90-91 of Bart Simpson's Guide to Life (1993, Harper Collins). It includes a series of somewhat legendary figures; and newts apparently evolved twice.

Bart Simpson's Tree of Life
© Matt Groening

Cartoon animals

Mike Keesey, from the Three-Pound Monkey Brain blog, has an example of his own, in which he took a stab at a phylogeny of cartoon animals (it is the third phylogeny on that blog page, or click the image below).

Mike Keesey's
phylogeny of cartoon animals

Kalle Anka

In 1993, the cartoonist Don Rosa produced a genealogy of Donald Duck and his family, intended to resolve decades of contradictions among the comic-book stories.

Don Rosa's Donald Duck genealogy
characters © Disney

There are many other versions of this genealogy, most of which are linked at this page. The first one on that page is the most detailed and complete version of the family tree.


The July-August 2012 edition of the Annals of Improbable Research (vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 15-17) contained an article by Matan Shelomi, Andrew Richards, Ivana Li and Yukinari Okido called "A phylogeny and evolutionary history of the Pokémon". Below is a low-resolution image, but a much higher resolution version of the phylogeny (2.9 MB) can be found here.

Pokémon phylogeny
characters © Nintendo

Asian lóng and Eurasian dragons

At the same time, Rob Colautti produced a t-shirt design from his phylogeny of dragon-like organisms, which is based on a neighbor-joining analysis of 27 distinct traits for 76 pieces of historical artwork.

Rob Colautti's dragon phylogeny

According to his Facebook page, he is intending to publish this phylogenetic analysis in the afore-mentioned Annals of Improbable Research, and to make the dataset available online, as well.


  1. The magazine P.M. once published a tree by Ad Reinhardt called "How to look at modern art in America".

  2. And there's a Jazz Stammbaum sold as a poster by a guy from Hamburg.