Review and photographs by Tim Sosa
Some of the commonest vertebrates on earth during the Devonian period were the antiarchs, a group of armored fishes that lived all over the world while the ancestors of you, me, and Triceratops were just barely starting to crawl out of the water. Despite their abundance, they went extinct almost 300 million years before Triceratops showed up. Antiarchs don’t get made into toys very often, but Japanese manufacturer Kaiyodo made a version of the best-known genus, Bothriolepis, as part of its Dinotales line, which we’ll take a look at today.
Antiarchs first appeared in the late Silurian period, and they were among the first fishes with paired fins, which you can see in the photo above. Whether they had proper pelvic fins isn’t completely clear, but they had some soft-tissue structure of unclear function at about the location where you would expect pelvic fins. Antiarchs were also among the first fishes with jaws, although by the time of Bothriolepis, its distant relatives, which had inherited the same features, were becoming much more widespread–sharks, ray-finned fishes, and lungfishes, for example.
More than 100 species of Bothriolepis have been described, and it’s difficult to be sure which species Kaiyodo’s figurines are meant to represent, if any. The shape of the plates rules out B. canadensis, but the overall arrangement is a very plausible representation of the genus in general.
If you turn the figure over you can see its downward-facing tooth plates (not true teeth, but bony ridges at the edges of the jaws), consistent with an animal that feeds mostly on items found on the river and lake bottoms, perhaps algae or small mud-dwelling organisms. The long spiny pectoral fins would have been used to move along the bottom or lift itself up, perhaps to breathe air as some scientists believe.
Bothriolepis is known from hundreds or thousands of specimens, and since it is so heavily armored, its external anatomy is well-understood. So, as you might expect from Kaiyodo, this figure is executed well, with no obvious inaccuracies. There were two versions made for the Dinotales line, a purplish one and a golden brown mottled version, and both look very nice. Both come in a few pieces that require simple assembly, and in my experience the mottled version, which came out slightly later, fits together more tightly. The purple one required a bit of glue to get it the pelvic fins to stay put.
This figure is just over 7 cm long, making it roughly 1:4 scale. Antiarchs don’t often got made into toys, so it’s particularly gratifying that these are made so well.
In 2015 Kaiyodo released a new version of Bothriolepis as part of its Capsule Q Museum “Encyclopedia of the Paleozoic” set. That set probably deserves its own separate review, so for now I’ll just note that it’s the same size as the Dinotales version and comes on a little base. All 3 versions can be found on eBay or other web sites, although prices vary considerably.