Has Piranha Plant Grown So Widespread Because of Climate Change?

Probably not, but here’s a brief history of how the invasive species evolved into a global phenomenon anyway.

Nintendo’s iconic red and white-spotted, sharp-toothed Venus Flytrap, Piranha Plant, may have just cropped up in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but the tenacious weed has been germinating near the game’s bedrock for decades. Piranha Plant is one of the most rhizomatic characters ever created by Nintendo, rearing its ugly head from green pipes in nearly every single installment of the Super Mario Bros. franchise as well as making cameos in other flagship titles and spin-offs, like the late ‘80s and early ‘90s cartoons. Partly because of its long overdue debut in Super Smash Bros. and partly because of its legacy as one of Bowser’s oldest minions, we decided to put together a little tribute to the carnivorous plant, tracking its evolution through the main Mario Bros. series all the way up to the present.

Super Mario Bros. (1985)

Piranha Plant originally rose from the 8-bit depths in the very first installment of the Super Mario series, occasionally snapping their jaws at you throughout the first two worlds of the OG platformer. Though its looks aren’t that impressive by today’s standards, it made a huge impression on early NES players (myself included), and in turn, Piranha Plant became an instant staple of the greater Nintendo universe to come.

Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988)   

This game marks Piranha Plant’s earliest adaptations, featuring numerous variants of the original species. Now, instead of just jutting their serrated mouths out of pipes to cut you down to size or kill you, some of the leafy adversaries, known as Venus Fire Traps, crane their necks to shoot spinning fireballs of death at you. There are also giants, aptly named Giant Piranha Plants, and the infamous Ptooie, which is able to juggle a spiked ball above its mouth. Considerably more formidable, these strains of Piranha Plant provided more challenging gameplay, becoming truly disruptive forces in every level they occupy.

Super Mario World (1990)

Super Mario World proved to be less fertile terrain for the original Piranha Plant. Only eight of the creatures appear throughout the entirety of the game. Even more interesting, all of them reside in a single level, Vanilla Dome 3, where they hang upside-down from pipes. New species of Piranha Plant, however, did spring into action–the Jumping Piranha Plants, which rocket themselves out of pipes and bushes to take your head off. The beady-eyed, nearly indestructible variant, Munchers, also take root here and sit in long rows like miniature meat grinders.      

Super Mario 64 (1996)

The titles that preceded it gave way to an incredibly diverse array of Piranha Plants, but Super Mario 64 presented a new challenge for Nintendo: how to translate the insatiable, sentient plants into a 3D world? For whatever reason, the answer to that question turned out to be “take them out of their pipes.” Every Piranha Plant — of which there are two types, the original and Venus Fire Traps — encountered throughout Mario’s first open-world adventure is inexplicably out of its traditional container. Instead, they’re found hanging out in flower bushes and elsewhere, sleeping peacefully. But be warned, if you pester them, they will bite.

Super Mario Sunshine (2002)

They are somewhat seldom seen, only in the level Bianco Hills, but Super Mario Sunshine is home to some of the wildest Piranha Plants yet, called Polluted Piranhas, which Bowser Jr. covers in a toxic sludge known as the Goo of the Magic Paintbrush. Like I said, pretty out there, but what’s even more surprising is the introduction of the character Petey Piranha. He’s an outstanding, massive version of Piranha Plant and operates as a boss in the game, a first for his species and a sign of even bigger things to come.  

Super Mario Galaxy (2007)

With the precedent set by Petey Piranha, more boss versions of Nintendo’s flytraps began to show up in the series during recent years, and Super Mario Galaxy contains one of the largest and fiercest Piranha Plants of all: Dino Piranha and his harder version Fiery Dino Piranha. This monstrous, fanged piece of vegetation is so large that an entire planetoid acts as its flower bed. As far as its kind goes, it’s pretty close to the top of the food chain. There is another notable variant in Super Mario Galaxy, too, Spiny Piranha Plants, which have purple heads and thorny stems, but they’re somewhat overshadowed by Dino’s imposing presence in the game.   

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009)

Two new remarkable strains of the saw-toothed plants step on stage throughout New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Stalking Piranha Plants and River Piranha Plants. The stalking variety has one of the best animations for Piranha Plant ever, tiptoeing slowly across the stage while balancing its unwieldy head atop an impossibly long neck. It’s quite the sight to see. While it’s aquatic brethren is not as impressive to look at, the way they rest on water like lily pads is a nice, whimsical touch, but watch out for their Ptooiesque projectiles: they’re extra prickly.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)

Most notably, the Piranha Plant equivalents to giant cosmic beings reside in the realm of Super Mario Galaxy 2. In the level Supermassive Galaxy, invincible Big Piranha Plants poke their heads out from pipes that descend into clouds. They look like titans in comparison to Mario’s tiny frame on the screen, making them seem a bit godlike among oversized Goombas. Another Piranha Plant boss also makes an appearance, Peewee Piranha, who’s strikingly similar to Dino from the previous entry, both visually and in terms of gameplay, except he wears his newly hatched egg like a diaper.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 (2012)

The only new innovation in terms of Piranha Plants in the sequel to New Super Mario Bros. is that, when you touch one of the floating gold rings found throughout the game while a plant is on screen, it transforms into a skeletal variant, know as Bone Piranha Plant, which doesn’t make sense and is a bit confusing because, you know, plants don’t have skeletons and all.

Super Mario Maker (2015)

Well, let’s just put it this way: if you couldn’t get enough Piranha Plant in your diet (or the other way around), fret no more. Super Mario Maker allows you access to Piranha Plant and all the variants that you could ever want or, to be completely frank, need. You know what they say: tend to your garden, and it will grow. You can be up to your eyeballs in them if you desire, but remember, too much of anything can be a bad thing and might even spell your doom.

Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

You can put your hat on them. Enough said.

Super Smash Bros. Deluxe (2019)

Piranha Plant in Super Smash Bros. is hands-down Nintendo’s finest specimen thus far. As far as abilities go, none of its relatives come close to being quite as deadly. Its toolkit includes everything from snapping its jaws closed on opponents to tossing spiked balls at them, like its cousins, the Ptooies. It can shoot poison clouds at its enemies to an absolutely devastating effect. It can even fly, using its leaves like the blades of a helicopter. Plus it lives in a pot! What more could you ask for? In short, we think that not even Dino can hold his own with the Piranha Plant from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It’s the pinnacle of natural selection among its ranks.

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Ross Howerton
Ross is a writer, educator, and performer who lives and works in NYC. When he's not doing any of the aforementioned activities, he's playing video games.

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