When designing fantastical beasts for YA fantasy novels, one technique authors use is basing their made-up creatures on attributes of real animals. Gifting your imagination with the extraordinary blueprints of our natural world can help you dream up monsters, sidekicks, companions and more that feel organic and believable. Let’s explore how studying real fauna can inspire epic creature invention.

Many famous fantasy creatures stem directly from real animal influences. J.K. Rowling dug into folklore but also animal symbolism when shaping beings like the hippogriff (half eagle, half horse) and nifflers (platypus-like treasure hunters). The dragons of Pern were modeled on tiny firelizards akin to lizards. Looking at special abilities, defenses and physical features of actual animals can spawn ideas.

Venom, for example, is a common adaptation. Rattlesnakes, spiders, platypuses, jellyfish – myriad organisms wield venom as a weapon or defense. Ask yourself – what kind of fantasy being would evolve venom? Is it a massive serpentine monster like the basilisk, whose poison can fell the mightiest wizard? Or a deceptively cute puffball creature who releases toxic spores when threatened?

You can also extrapolate exaggerated versions of animal traits. Bats use echolocation – how might a bat-like gargoyle emit supersonic screams to disorient prey? Porcupines brandish quills – could a spirit creature wield quills containing memories that impart visions? Build upon unique qualities nature already offers.

Don’t just replicate physical features – also consider social behaviors, habitats and ecological roles. Wolves have complex social structures in packs. That could inspire a hive-mind society of telepathic beings who live communally. Flamingos filter feed in crowded lakes. Maybe your magical moonbirds communally siphon starlight in nighttime forests. Ask what niches mythical beings would fill in their environment.

Hybrids are common in fantasy – the mighty griffin blends lion and eagle. But make sure combinations feel plausible, not just slapped together. What needs would drive the merging of disparate species? Centaurs may have evolved human torsos to wield weapons while retaining equine speed and stamina. Merfolk fusing human and fish would enable aquatic life yet retain social bonds on land.

In my YA fantasy series The Last Planet, I envisioned coatl serpent creatures based on rainbow boas. Their supernatural size and strength helps my human protagonist fight monstrous Rahna wolves modeled on dire wolves. Yet coatls retain their bright, beautiful markings – a realistic animal trait that symbolizes their role as defenders. I ended up saving them for Book 3 (you’ll know why if you’ve read Book 1). Let real biology pave the way even for magical invention!

So studying the wonders of our natural world, from tiny insects to massive mammals, can launch you toward fantastical yet believable creatures. Evolutionarily, what abilities would serve mythical beings in the roles you envision? Spread your wings and dive into zoology – those beasts of legend are waiting to be discovered! Let me know if you have any other tips for crafting creatures rooted in real animal inspiration.