Warning: This post contains spoilers for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
The trailers for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” teased a niffler. They’re small creatures that are like a cross between a platypus and a mole, and they like to steal shiny stuff.
Little did we know that Newt Scamander’s niffler would also steal the movie.
It’s Scamander’s niffler that sets the whole plot in motion. When Scamander, a magizoologist, comes to New York, a rogue niffler escapes from his briefcase (which is magically expanded inside so it doubles as a zoo), and runs into a bank. It steals the rings off of people’s fingers and the glittery studs off of women’s shoes, and eventually ends up squeezing into a safe, where it stuff bars of gold into its magically-expanded pouch.
Later on, the niffler escapes into New York City and robs jewellery stories. It’s a slippery creature, and Scamander and Jacob Kowalski — a No-Maj who he recruits to help capture his escaped animals — have to catch him.
The niffler isn’t a new creature in the “Harry Potter” universe, though it hasn’t shown up in any of the movie adaptations before. He’s described in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the source book Rowling published in 2001, as a British animal. “Fluffy, black, and long-snouted, this burrowing creature has a predilection for anything glittery,” Rowling wrote, using Scamander as a pen name.
Nifflers are often kept by goblins to burrow deep into the earth for treasure. Though the Niffler is gentle and even affectionate, it can be destructive to belongings and should never be kept in a house. Nifflers live in lairs up to twenty feet below the surface and produce six to eight young in a litter.
In the original series, Hagrid taught about nifflers in Harry’s fourth-year Care of Magical Creatures class in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.” He assigned the students to use the animals to track down gold coins, because they’re good at hunting for valuables.
The animal plays a bigger role in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”: After Fred and George Weasley flee Hogwarts, Lee Jordan levitates a niffler into Dolores Umbridge’s office through the window, “which promptly tore the place apart in its search for shiny objects, leapt on Umbridge on her reentrance, and tried to gnaw the rings off her stubby fingers.”
Jordan later levitates a second niffler into Umbridge’s window which “by the sound of it, [tried] to take a chunk out of her leg,” Hermione said.
Umbridge blames Hagrid for the nifflers, and ran him out of Hogwarts. Professor Grubbly-Plank, who replaces Hagrid as the Care of Magical Creatures teacher, also mentions them as a subject the students need to know for their OWL exam.
So yeah, nifflers cause a lot of drama in the “Harry Potter” series. But they didn’t show up in any of the movies until now. To figure out the design, visual effects supervisor Christian Manz looked at an internet meme for inspiration.
“One of the big inspirations was the honey badger,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “We saw some great footage of a honey badger raiding somebody’s house with a completely insatiable desire to find food — and nothing would get in its way.”
Since then, the honey badger’s meme persona is known for not caring about what other people think, and for causing some destruction in its wake as it goes into places it shouldn’t be. Just like a niffler.
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