Another in CollectA’s (a trademark of Procon) range is this hefty Rhomaleosaurus, which joins the terror bird Kelenken and the stegosaurid Dacentrurus in the ‘Deluxe’ line up for 2011. Funnily enough, my PhD research project was dedicated to the study of Rhomaleosaurus, so this pliosaur is particularly close to my heart. It’s nice to think that maybe my research led to the popularisation of this taxon and ultimately the production of this figure. At the very least it is likely that the sculptor consulted my full-body reconstruction of Rhomaleosaurus and I’ll try and demonstrate this here. If this is the case, I’m both flattered and excited to see a figure based on my own research, and it seems fitting that I review this figure. But CollectA beware: having dedicated three years to my life to this animal, you’ll forgive me for taking out my nit-pickers on occasion.
I’ll start off the actual review by saying that I like this model. Actually I really like it! In overall proportions it is accurate and unmistakably Rhomaleosaurus. It’s also huge at 30 cm long. The shape is beautifully streamlined and the body is pleasingly squat and rigid as we know pliosaur bodies were. The neck and tail both deflect sideways, especially the tail, but not beyond the realm of possibility. The bases of the limbs look uncomfortably chunky and disjointed from the main body of the animal, but the general shape and size of the flippers is good. The hind limbs are positioned slightly higher than the forelimbs so the animal appears to be gently propelling itself forward using an alternating locomotory repertoire.
The head follows the profile of the skull closely. The large temporal fenestrae are visible as depressions but this region was probably a lot bulkier in reality as it contained the massive jaw musculature. At least the temporal fenestrae don’t contain the eyes! The ridiculously spooky red eyes spoil the overall appearance somewhat, but they are correctly positioned in the orbits; thankfully complaints about plesiosaur eyes being placed in entirely the wrong opening are over these days. The eyes face forwards to some degree showing that pliosaurs had binocular vision and were visual predators.
The teeth are not individually sculpted as the mouth is closed, so impressions of the interlocking fang-like teeth have been sculpted as surface detail. The nostrils are positioned correctly, but there is what looks like an ‘extra nostril’ situated between them. This isn’t really an extra nostril. In the skull of Rhomaleosaurus there is a dorsomedian foramen (a small opening) between the premaxillae bones, just behind the external nares. The function of the dorsomedian foramen is unclear, maybe muscle attachment, but it was probably not an external feature in life. The slight rugosities on the side of the snout are also surface features of the bone and wouldn’t have been present on the skin, but these features show that CollectA are looking at skeletal reconstructions such as this one of R .cramptoni.
Most plesiosaurs are depicted with a simple tapering tail, but the CollectA Rhomaleosaurus has a clear tail fin. There is a small but increasing amount of evidence that some plesiosaurs had such a fin, which is why I included a tail fin in my reconstruction of this genus. This presumably inspired CollectA to do the same. Most of tail vertebrae in plesiosaurs contained laterally projecting ribs, so the main part of the tail in this figure gets narrow too soon.
There are some other nice details, notably a ridge running down the spine, slight impressions of the ribs on the flanks of the body, and a ripple of skin running along the side of the neck and body. The inclusion of invertebrate organisms living on the inderside of this animal is a delightful touch. We’ve seen similar creatures infesting the skin of the Kaiyodo Elasmosaurus, but most plesiosaurs toys are usually clean and well-groomed. It isn’t clear what these skin parasites are supposed to be in this Rhomaleosaurus, to my eye they’re nondescript shells, but infestations would be very likely in ragged old pliosaurs like this.
If dinosaur toy companies are really serious about getting their figures anatomically correct, it’s imperative that they consult the scientific literature, or at least the figures and illustrations derived from those publications. CollectA have clearly put effort into doing so on this occasion, so much so that I can say with confidence that this figure represents the species R. cramptoni. But many dinosaur sculptors are not scientists and so mistakes can culminate in the transfer from skeletal reconstruction to life-model, as has occurred to a small degree here. It would therefore be beneficial for a scientist to be involved with the process as well, again, if the aim of the company is to be true to the actual animals and provide an educational service as part of their remit.These days most researchers are just an email away and I’d wager that if approached, most specialists would be more than keen to be involved in a toy-form depiction of their research topic, to iron out any inaccuracies that may arise during the sculpting process. That way everyone’s happy. Safari Ltd have taken this approach in recent years for many, if not all of their figures, and this explains why their models are presently scientifically superior amongst the big companies. But based on some of their recent offerings, CollectA look like they could become a real threat.
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