The creatures in Scamander’s magical suitcase—and Rowling’s imagination—may be awe-inspiring, but the real world offers up creatures that are just as amazing.
Here are some real life fantastic beasts:
Real-Life Animal: Titanoboa cerrejonensis
Range: Colombia, 60 million years ago
Size: 42 feet (12.8 meters) long
IUCN Red List Status: ᴇxᴛɪɴᴄᴛ
For centuries, the basilisk has slithered through European myth, a massive serpent with a crown-shaped crest and a reputedly ʟᴇᴛʜᴀʟ stare. In a sense, basilisks actually exist: The reptile family Corytophanidae consists of iguana-like lizards called basilisks, including the Jesus Christ lizard (Basilicus basilicus), which can run for short spurts across water. What’s more, early legends of the basilisk may have been inspired by cobras.
But if you’re looking for a massive serpent, your best bet is probably Titanoboa cerrejonensis, an anaconda-like snake that lived some 60 million years ago in what’s now Colombia. The 42-foot-long (12.8-meter-long) serpent is the biggest known snake, living or ᴇxᴛɪɴᴄᴛ, and weighed some 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms).
Real-Life Animal: Dendrogramma
Range: Waters off southeastern Australia, between 1,310 and 3,280 feet (400 to 1,000 meters) deep
Size: Disk up to 0.7 inch (1.7 centimeters) wide; stalk up to 0.3 inch (0.8 centimeter) tall
IUCN Red List Status: Not Yet Assessed
In the Harry Potter world, the horklump is an animal that resembles a mushroom, and few mushroom-shaped animals have proved as mysterious, and controversial, as Dendrogramma. First described in 2014, the deep-sea creature—comprising two closely related species—first defied classification, preventing biologists from assigning it to an existing branch of the tree of animal life.
However, an analysis in 2016 revealed that Dendrogramma isn’t in a league of its own: In fact, it’s a deep-sea genus of Cnidaria, the animal phylum that includes jellyfish, corals, and box jellies.
Real-Life Animal: Blue ant (Diamma bicolor)
Size: Up to one inch (2.5 centimeters) long
IUCN Red List Status: Not Yet Assessed
In Fantastic Beasts, a billywig is a blue stinging insect from Australia. In real life, it matches up well with the blue ant, an Australian insect that isn’t an ant at all.
Instead, it’s a solitary flower wasp that parasitizes mole crickets. Female blue ants paralyze mole crickets with their stings and then lay their eggs on them, ensuring that the newborn larvae have a fresh meal. Adults, however, feed mainly on nectar.
According to Newt Scamander, the billywig’s sting is something to be desired, inducing momentary levitation and feelings of giddiness. The blue ant’s sting is less pleasant: The Australian Museum says that blue ant stings are rare but can happen, and they cause ʙᴜʀɴing ᴘᴀɪɴ and sᴡᴇʟʟing.
Real-Life Animal: Tarantulas (Family: Theraphosidae)
Size: 4.75 inches (12 centimeters) long; up to 11-inch (28-centimeter) leg span
IUCN Red List Status: Least Concern to Critically ᴇɴᴅᴀɴɢᴇʀed
In the wizarding world, acromantulas are enormous spiders—bearing a real-life resemblance to tarantulas, a group of spiders comprising more than 850 species. The similarities between fact and fiction are striking.
In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Scamander describes acromantulas as large black-haired spiders native to Borneo. There really is a large black-haired spider native to the Sangihe Islands, east of Borneo: Lampropelma nigerrium, a tarantula first scientifically described in 1892. And like Aragog, the acromantula most featured in the Harry Potter books and films, Australian tarantulas can “talk” by rubbing together their chelicerae, or fang-tipped jaws, to create a hissing sound.
But neither of these carnivorous spiders is the biggest living tarantula. That honor arguably goes to South America’s Goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi), which can get up to 11 inches (28 centimeters) wide—and can prey on small birds, although it mostly eats arthropods. No tarantula living or ᴅᴇᴀᴅ has gotten as big as the fictional acromantula, however, which reportedly has a leg span of 15 feet (4.6 meters).