Animals and plants aren’t usually the major part of the story, unless they pertain to your plot, but they are still an interesting and important aspect of worldbuilding! It’s especially fun to create entirely new species of your own, and if you’re making an entire new universe or world up, you might end up doing that. Hopefully these will be some helpful tips.
Adding the native animal and plant species can paint a more detailed picture of your world, and even if they are not involved with the main plot, it’s still a fun thing to think about. There are two directions you could go, when it comes to animals and plants. If your world is Earth-based, or if it actually takes place on a slightly modified Earth, your animal species will probably need to be either the same as or similar to actual Earth species. You could also go in the opposite direction and create an entirely separate world from Earth, and this world would have its own different menagerie of life.
If your world’s animal and plant population are Earth-based, here are some things to think about:
- Think about the climate/terrain where your story takes place, and look up what sort of animals and plants actually live in areas like that on the Earth. For instance, you would probably have something more like an arctic hare in a snowy area, not a jackrabbit. They’re related, but they’ve evolved quite differently because of the areas they live in.
- Urban areas can have wildlife, too! This also depends on terrain, but generally - animals that are hardy and adaptable (like pigeons, raccoons, etc) can live in urban areas.
- If the urban area imitates their natural habitat, animals you might not expect might live in urban areas. For instance, falcons have taken to nesting in skyscrapers because the urban landscape imitates a canyon.
- Wherever you set your story, it should usually have some form of vegetation. Even extreme climate areas have vegetation! Tundras and high places on mountains usually have very scrubby, short plants. Deserts have cacti and other succulent plants that can keep water for long periods of time.
- As with the animals, research what kind of plants would live in an area similar to your story setting, and keep it accurate. It’s really unlikely to find things like tropical plants in cold areas, unless they are in a pot inside someone’s house.
And if you’re going so far as to create your own species of plant and animal, as well as the ecosystem, here are some things to think about:
- First of all, interactions. An ecosystem (a system of animals, plants, and its non-living surroundings) cannot function without interaction between organisms. The most prominent part of this is the food web. Things eat other things. So figure out which things eat which other things in your world.
- When it comes to food webs, there are three different types of organisms: Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers. Plants are producers, because they make their own food via photosynthesis. Animals, whether they are herbivore or carnivore, are Consumers, because they don’t make their own food. Decomposers are either things like fungi (which are neither animals or plants), or certain animals like insects, that eat decaying matter (as opposed to Consumers, which eat recently dead/alive matter). The most important thing to remember is that you should have some of each in your food web.
- Also, there tend to be a lot more Producers than Consumers or Decomposers. The reason for this is that Producers need to supply energy to the entire rest of the food web, and as you go up the food web, more complex organisms need more energy. So basically, make sure there are a lot of plants.
- If you are making entirely new plants and animals, make sure they make sense with the climate. Organisms have adaptations that let them live in their environments, and these are important to include. For instance, a jackrabbit has very large ears that let it dispel heat, since it lives in a desert climate. And then an arctic hair has a very thick white coat, which not only provides insulation, it provides camouflage in the snow. So once you know the habitat your species of animal lives in, think of how it adapts itself to live there. Something that loses heat easily, like a reptile or a mammal with a thin coat, is not likely to live in a cold area, for instance.
- It’s also important to think of how your animals get food, and what that food is. Animals can be herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores. Humans are omnivores, because we eat both animals and plants. When it comes to your animal, though, you need to be more specific. For instance, hummingbirds are herbivores, but it’s not because they eat leaves! It’s because they drink nectar from plants. Or you could have a lizard that you’d classify as a carnivore, but not because it necessarily eats meat - it could also eat insects.
- How are the animals and plants related to each other? Are there different groups of animals, like mammals, reptiles, etc.? Usually there are different groups of plants, too. Do some phylogeny research so you can get a feel for how animal and plant diversity is organized.
- If the animal or plant in question is similar to an already existing one, do research about that existing one! That will help you make the animal or plant seem more realistic.
This is just a start, because there is a lot to consider when you’re brainstorming animals and plants, but if you just need the basics, hopefully this article will help you out!