Invertebrates Come to Animal Crossing
Written by Adam Stergis
As of July 3rd, the seas have opened up and diving for invertebrates is now a feature in the wildly popular video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch! We in IZ are ecstatic to see such representation in a game that has captivated millions all over the world during the past few months. For those who haven't gotten a chance to play it yet, Animal Crossing is a game in which your player character visits an initially barren island, but builds it up into a thriving community of animal villagers complete with a gorgeous natural history museum, shops, and much more. One of the staples of this series of games has always been catching a wide variety of insects, fish, fossils, and invertebrates to donate to your local museum. There, the delightful director of the museum, Blathers the owl, will provide you with a couple of interesting facts about your animal you just caught and take it from there to incorporate your generous donation into the town's museum.
Since the game launched back in March of 2020, the collecting was limited to catching insects, digging for fossils, and fishing off the coast. We invertebrate specialists have been waiting patiently for the diving feature to someday return from the previous major installment in the series, Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the Nintendo 3DS. Now that diving has returned, we are happy to see so many different varieties of marine invertebrates present in a game with such a massive worldwide reach. From vampire squids to whelks, flatworms to sea anemones, all are represented beautifully in the game. As a player, it's very rewarding to chase down a mysterious shadow underwater, unsure of just what animal you may be in pursuit of, only to emerge with the elusive Japanese giant spider crab (Macrocheira kaempferi).
One of the most fun things about catching these animals in the game is seeing what funny and creative situations players can put their animals in. Below you can see a giant isopod (Bathynomus giganteus) that I had quite a bit of trouble catching, now squaring up for a game of chess in my house. It's so entertaining to see players from all over the world have fun with these animals that we work with in the laboratory at the Smithsonian's Museum Support Center every day. As for myself, video games such as Animal Crossing and Pokémon played a huge role in the trajectory of my career in biology. They planted in me a deep joy of collecting animals, seeing as many different kinds as I could, and learning as much about them as possible. Though we may get lost in our day-to-day work and studies, sometimes it is important to look back and reflect on what drew us to this in the first place. We certainly hope that games like Animal Crossing can inspire a new generation of budding biologists to go even further and make it a career to see for themselves what kinds of amazing animals live on this planet.