The “Science” of Partners: Part 3 – Commensal Symbiosis

PART 3: Symbiotic relationships are defined as a relationship between two species where at least one party benefits from the other. Commensalism is where one partner benefits from the relationship and the other remains relatively unaffected. Today I want to talk two different examples of Commensalism, Pancham and other Dark type Pokemon, and Butterfree and Heracross, so we can understand how Pokémon work so well together. For more information on other Symbiotic Relationships in the Pokémon world, have a read about Mantine and Remoraid or Slowpoke and Shellder.

Pancham and Dark Pokemon


Pancham is a fighting type panda that is slightly too cute to be taking seriously by enemies. Of course, it tries to act tough, but to very little avail. However, its evolved form Pangoro is a huge intimidating fighting/dark Pokemon that “charges ahead and bashes its opponents like a berserker” (Y) and is definitely a Pokemon you wouldn’t want to anger on a dark night. Pancham may be eager to evolve into Pangoro at level 32, but there is one hitch to its evolution.


Pancham can only evolve into a Pangoro where the trainer has another Dark type Pokemon in the party. The other Pokemon that requires this is Mantyke, which requires Remoraid. Remoraid benefits from Mantykes evolution and relationship, but the Dark Pokemon don’t benefit from Panchams evolution. The Dark type Pokemon in the party remain completely unaffected, but Pancham benefits from evolution. This is an example of a Commensal symbiotic relationship as only one partner benefits.

However, this is a difficult topic as we haven’t yet seen Pancham evolve into Pangoro outside of the games. One theory about Panchams evolution is that it is ‘lead astray’ by the more rowdy dark type Pokemon and adopts its secondary Dark type due to bad influence. This doesn’t prove that the other Pokemon benefits from the relationship, but it does suggest the other Dark Pokemon may not necessarily be passively involved. That is to say, the other Dark type Pokemon may be deliberately influencing the outcome of Panchams evolution, but whether that is just for fun or for benefit, I cannot say until we know more about this method of evolution.

Dark type Pokemon

Regardless of whether the Dark Pokemon has an active or passive influence on Panchams evolution, this is still currently classed as a Commensal relationship, until we are able to know more about the specificities of this particular relationship.


Butterfree and Heracross

Butterfree’s physiology is similar to a real life butterfly (oh, expect for its magic powers). The primary diet of butterflies is flower nectar, but many also feast on pollen or tree sap. Butterfree also has a sweet tooth and likes to make a meal out of tree sap, but it has the small problem of not being able to access the sap on its own.


This is where Heracross comes in. Heracross is an extremely tough bug type Pokemon with powerful claws and horn, which it uses skilfully to open up tree trunks to access the sap inside. While it enjoys the sap itself, it also allows Butterfree access to the sap. There are many real life examples of animals that share a similar symbiotic relationship. Puffins nest in abandoned rabbit holes, and Titan Triggerfish move large rocks to access food, allowing smaller and weaker fish that can’t move rocks to feed as well. Like the real life examples, Heracross and Butterfree seem to be in a commensal relationship, where Butterfree benefits from access to sap and Heracross remains unaffected.


However, in episode 119 “A Sappy Ending” (AKA Getting Buggy With it) where we see this relationship, a Butterfree that had been feeding on tree sap is almost attacked by an aggressive Pinsir. Heracross jumps in front to fight the Pinsir, but it is unclear whether it is attempting to defend its food source or the Butterfree. This poses some problems

It is very rare in the animal kingdom for one species to actively defend another if that species poses no benefit to them. Ultimately, animals act selfishly not altruistically, especially if the two animals aren’t even genetically related. However, it is very common for more aggressive Pokemon to defend their territory. If this is correct, Heracross and Butterfree awould still be considered to be in a Commensal relationship, because Heracross would have acted the same way regardless of Butterfree’s presence.

Butterfree and Heracross eating sap

On the other hand, Pokemon seem to be much more altruistic towards other species than real life animals. Trevenant actively wanted to defend Bonsley and Sudowoodu is XY episode 38 “Forging Forest Friendships”, and Absol is known to deliberately appear in order to warm people of approaching disasters. If this is the case, Heracross could be acting altruistically, meaning it is not completely unaffected but its relationship with Butterfree. Alternatively, Butterfree may offer Heracross a benefit we don’t know about, such as Heracross benefiting from Butterfree’s safeguard. This would mean they were in a Mutual relationship, but I do not want to say this conclusively because we do not have enough evidence it is the case.

It is easy to see that both Pancham and Butterfree benefit from their partners presence, suggesting that these are examples of Pokemon Commensalism. What I really like about Butterfree, is that this also shows a benefit that doesn’t involve evolution. Do you know of any other Commensal relationships in the Pokémon world?

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the images in this post, nor do I own any of the Pokemon mentioned.


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