Brachiosaurus 1993 ( Replica-Saurus, by Schleich)

To help set the mood, lets take a moment and imagine ourselves walking among the fern covered floodplains in the late Jurassic.  A muddy stream meanders and snakes across the landscape. There are green spreading fronds of tree ferns, along with cycads and gingkoes. There are numerous tall conifers.  Out in the fields and along the stream banks you can hear hoots, honks and sounds of the many animals living in the area.  While standing in the shadows of the Pterosaurs flying overhead, you look over the floodplain and over by a small copse of conifers you see  a rare animal.  At 40-50 feet high (12-16 meters) it dominates the landscape.  It is pulling the branches on the conifers and striping them of their needles.  With its towering long neck along with its long forelegs and sloping back, forcing you to look high into the air to see its head.  The animal is truly majestic. It is the magnificent Brachiosaurus.

Before anyone rips out some hair from their head and scream out, “That toy is not a Brachiosaurus its Giraffatitan brancai!”  Let me say,  I know.  When Schleich  made the Replica-Saurus line, it was done in close cooperation with the Natural History Museum of the Humboldt-University Berlin. Until recently the Brachiosaurid that is mounted at the NHM of Humboldt-University Berlin was known as Brachiosaurus, and it was obviously the  inspiration for this toy.  In 2009 paleontologist Michael Taylor determined that Gregory Paul was correct and that B. brancai should belong to its own genus, reclassifying it as Giraffatitan brancai.   Back in the 90’s when the toy was made it was still considered a Brachiosaurus, so you really can’t fault Schleich.

With all that out of the way lets take a closer look at this 1993 Brachiosaurus behemoth from Schleich.

About the toy:  Due to being made in the 90’s it is proud and standing tall in a classic periscope style pose. At 34 cm high (13 in) this is a tall toy.  It is one of the tallest brachiosaurid toys out there.  It is only 1 cm shorter than the huge Carnegie version and is taller than its Schleich counterparts.  Its Replica-Saurus replacement was only 31 cm tall and the WHO and COE versions are much, much shorter.

If you are familiar with some of the ugly heads that Schleich has put on some of their models in the past, Examples: (Carnotaurus or Baryonyx,) you know what you are in for and will not be surprised when you take a closer look.  Ugh, what were they thinking.  The skull is poorly done, the circle eyes, and the nostrils are placed in the classic sauropod snorkel position on the large bump in front of its eyes.  In reality the nostrils were forward on their snout.  Another example of shrink wrap anatomy.  I don’t know what you think but with that toothy frown, this girl looks unhappy.

As for the rest of the body it is a rather plain pose.  Just standing there like it is holding still for a portrait or on display at a museum.  The legs are rather straight and thin.  The body is big, but I would still say that this figure looks underfed.  The skin texture looks like dried mud all cracked and disjointed.  There are some skin folds along the body that look nice.  The feet are incorrect but typical of the toys made at that time.  The tail is small and rather thin.  The colors are simple.  Brown, with some dark brown shading.  Its nails on the feet are grey.  The eyes are a dull orange and the teeth are white.

Only the thumb should bare a claw.

Overall:  I recently did a dinosaur talk at school with kids that are 4-5 years old.   I brought around twenty dinosaur toys with me for the discussion.  I let the kids hold onto and look at each toy as I talked about the animal.  I brought models of T-Rex, CarnotaurusApatosaurus, and Triceratops among others.  The toy that the kids liked the best was this Brachiosaurus.  Why?    Well both my kids like to play with this toy so I asked them why they like this toy.  There answer was simple.  The size.  I must agree with them.  This figure inspires awe despite the inaccuracies, ugly face, and bland colors.  It towers over most other figures and can dominate the display shelf.

On the positive side, as a collector I appreciate that “in the U.S.A at least” it is a harder figure to find. Makes it stand out from the regular figures.   It is a big figure which I think really makes sauropods look better.  On the negative side its pose is outdated,  there are many inaccuracies, and the colors are bland.  If you like it, this toy does pop up on e-bay from time to time.

Prehistoric Marine Tube (CollectA)

CollectA has emerged as one of the most prolific producers of dinosaur figures, with a few other Mesozoic reptiles and some mammals here and there for variety. They’ve developed a reputation for giving some obscure species the plastic treatment, but in general those species been relatively close relatives of the old standards. The prehistoric marine tube, released in the summer of 2017, is a welcome break from that pattern. It consists of twelve different animals from across the Phanerozoic, and from across the animal tree of life.

CollectA Prehistoric Marine Tube

The new CollectA figures are mostly around the same size as the ones from the sadly discontinued Safari Ltd prehistoric sea life Toob from a few years back. The two together give you a nice mix of animals, with no genera repeated. Let’s go through the CollectA figures one by one:

From the Cambrian period comes Olenoides, a common trilobite in the Burgess Shale. This figure is about 4 cm long, not counting appendages, making it around half life size. It resembles Olenoides in having cerci (the appendages at the tail end), but the sculpturing of the cephalon (head) is pretty far off the mark. Still, for CollectA’s first ever arthropod figure, it’s not too bad. Certainly much better than their first dinosaurs.

CollectA mini Olenoides

From the Ordovician period (and persisting into the Silurian), is the gigantic cephalopod Cameroceras, which is more closely related to the modern nautilus than either is to the ammonites in this set. This version is about 7 cm long, or around 1:85 scale. There’s precious little available for Ordovician toys, even though it’s when stereotypically Paleozoic marine faunas were really established. So this is a welcome addition in my book.

CollectA mini Cameroceras

Moving on to the Devonian, we come to everybody’s favorite giant armored fish, Dunkleosteus. This one is 7 cm long, or about 1:100 scale. It’s CollectA’s very first arthrodire, and their very first Devonian animal (are you starting to pick up on a theme?). They did a pretty good job, avoiding the common pitfall of making the sclerotic rings (internal eyeball bones) visible externally. The tail isn’t how I would reconstruct it, but reasonable people can disagree about how something the size of Dunkleosteus swam. The plates are about the right shape, and they look like they have some actual skin on them, which is a welcome change from some very zombie-esque reconstructions.

CollectA mini Dunkleosteus

From the earliest Jurassic, the large ichthyosaur Temnodontosaurus. This figure is about 8 cm long, or roughly 1:110 scale. It’s similar to the standard size version except that it isn’t giving birth. If it didn’t have adult proportions, it could almost stand in as the standard version’s pup. It has the unfortunate ridge of scales around the eyes, although at this small scale it doesn’t look as egregious.

CollectA mini Temnodontosaurus

Pliosaurus is the real giant of the set, at 11 cm long (about 1:110 scale). It differs from its deluxe counterpart in that it lacks the little lampreys hitching a ride on its back. Like the Temnodontosaurus, it doesn’t correct the problems with the larger figure’s head, namely, the odd ridge over the eye and the too-prominent fenestrae.

CollectA mini Pliosaurus

Now Leedsichthys, a gigantic, plankton-eating contemporary of Pliosaurus. Conveniently, they also scale well together: at 9 cm long, this is roughly 1:120 scale, though since it’s mostly known from pieces of the head, length estimates are uncertain. Not only is this CollectA’s first actinopterygian fish (well, this and the Xiphactinus), it’s one of very, very few prehistoric actinopterygian toys ever made. There have probably been fewer than 10, which is pretty bad for a group that has a 400 million year history and includes 95 out of every 100 animals you would think of as a fish. This is a really nice rendition, though necessarily speculative, since much of the skeleton of Leedsichthys was cartilaginous rather than bony and thus fossilized poorly. The one likely flaw I can spot is that it has two pelvic fins and no anal fin. Members of the family it belonged to generally had greatly reduced pelvic fins, and there is no evidence that Leedsichthys had them at all, but it probably did have an anal fin.

CollectA mini Leedsichthys

The Lower Cretaceous saw the rise of the heteromorph ammonites, the ones that evolved un-coiled shell shapes. Hard to know how they swam around looking like this. Australiceras was one of the more conservative of these, and on the smaller side. This little figure is about 1:5. It has 8 arms, though it should probably have 10 (more on that later).

CollectA mini Australiceras

One of the largest ammonites of all time, Parapuzosia is the only “standard” (non-heteromorph) ammonite in the set. A little over 3.5 cm across its longest axis, this figure is about 1:40-1:60 (specimens varied in size). Like the other ammonites in the set, it shows the aptychus (the roughly triangular mineralized structure usually found separated from the shell) as occluding the shell opening, in the manner of a nautilus hood. That arrangement is thought to be incorrect, but it is by far the most common way that aptychi are reconstructed.

CollectA mini Parapuzosia

The huge marine turtle Archelon, known from the Cretaceous Seaway that once covered North America’s central plains, is a nice addition to this set. This figure fairly captures the broad dimensions of the shell, although it might be just a shade too flattened. It’s around 4.5 cm long, making it 1:85 scale. Very cute, and the first turtle from CollectA!

CollectA mini Archelon

At the same time Archelon was swimming around the Cretaceous Seaway, so was the huge ichthyodectid Xiphactinus. At around 7 cm long, it’s roughly 1:85 scale. Xiphactinus is known from plenty of good skeletal material, so it was easier to get right: it has all the right fins in all the right places. The detail on the facial dermal bones and the teeth are pretty decent for a toy this small. One of the gems of the set.

CollectA mini Xiphactinus

Baculites was a heteromorph ammonite from the latest Cretaceous. Its shell was so thoroughly uncoiled that it looked like a straight-shelled cephalopod like the orthocerids of 100 million years earlier. At just over 5 cm long, this is roughly 1:40 scale, so it fits in great alongside some of your big marine reptiles.

CollectA mini Baculites

Another late Cretaceous ammonite, Diplomoceras is commonly compared to a paper clip. The plastic of this toy is flexible enough that you could use it that way! Its shell is just shy of 6 cm measured in a straight line from end to end, so it’s about 1:35-1:40 scale, working well with the Baculites in dioramas. This figure has 10 arms, but some of the other ammonites in this set have 8. No published fossils show the actual anatomy of the soft parts of ammonites, unfortunately, although fossilized traces in mud suggest that they had few arms, like squid, rather than many tentacles, like nautilus. Available evidence suggests that 10 is a likelier number, but it’s peculiar in any event that CollectA made some with 8 and some with 10.

CollectA mini Diplomoceras

Despite minor accuracy issues with some of the figures, this is a fantastic set. Unlike the dinosaur mini tubes that CollectA has released, which have been comprised almost entirely of miniature versions of standard-sized figures, this tube is mostly brand new animals–only the Temnodontosaurus and Pliosaurus are remakes of previous releases. It contains lots of firsts for CollectA: first protostomes (in fact, first invertebrates), first actinopterygians, first turtle, first Paleozoic animals of any description. I would love to see a few of these as large figures, especially Leedsichthys and Xiphactinus (but I have a soft spot for fishes). More importantly, I’d love to see additional tubes like this, full of smaller animals that work well in dioramas with larger figures, or animals that might be hard to market as stand-alone toys. Keep ’em coming, CollectA! For now, you can find these at a variety of online retailers, and outside of North America you might even be able to find them in brick-and-mortar stores.

Quagga (Mojo Fun)

The quagga (Equus quagga quagga) was a South African subspecies of zebra, immediately recognizable by its unique stripe pattern. During the 19th century, it was hunted relentlessly for its skin and meat, and to eliminate it as competition for domestic animals. Last minute attempts to preserve the species failed and the last known individual died in captivity in 1883. An effort is currently underway to selectively breed Burchell’s zebras with reduced stripes, but they will never be the same as the original quagga.

Mojo Fun’s 2013 take on the quagga measures 10 cm long and stands slightly under 9 cm tall. Its colour scheme is in keeping with what we know of the animal’s appearance: brown for the upper portion of the most, white for the underbelly, legs, and tail, and very pale beige for the stripes and main. Black is used for the muzzle, eyes, and hooves.

This individual, which is clearly a male, is standing tall and proud with its right hind hoof pawing at the ground. The tail is moulded to the left hind leg, which I find somewhat unfortunate, but not disastrous. As far as accuracy goes, this is a perfectly good rendition. Aside from its colours, the quagga’s anatomy was virtually identical to that of the still-extant Burchell’s zebra, to the point where telling their skeletons apart is said to be impossible.

Sculpting on this quagga is decent. The musculature is well-defined, the hide has a pitted texture to simulate fur, and the hairs on the mane and tail are done well enough. Overall though, it’s safe to say that this equid isn’t sculpted nearly as beautifully as the ones from CollectA or Schleich.

Like most recently extinct animals, the quagga is seldom depicted in toy form, so I’m very grateful to Mojo Fun for producing this one. I wish I could say that we as a race have learned something from its extinction, but I fear that is just wishful thinking. 🙁