Armored placoderm fishes have never been so cuddly! Manufactured by Jaag Plush and commissioned by the Paleontological Research Institute (PRI) comes this 16” long most famous of prehistoric fishes, Dunkleosteus. Ol’ Dunk is a popular fish, about as popular as a prehistoric fish can get anyway. As such it has been reproduced by a few different toy companies already but this is the first plush Dunkleosteus that I’m aware of. It’s a good choice too for inclusion in the Paleozoic Pals as it reigned supreme as the largest predator of the Devonian period with the largest species measuring about 20’ in length, about the size of a great white shark.
For those unaware, the Paleozoic Pals is a line of plush animals that lived during the…you guessed it! The Paleozoic. They’re sold exclusively at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca New York but are available online on the PRI website. Since New York State is rich in Devonian fossils it makes sense that a New York museum would commission these mostly obscure but locally relevant plush toys and they’re a real hit at the museum gift shop.
This plush represents the first vertebrate in a line that so far consists of a trilobite, eurypterid, and an ammonoid. It no doubt represents Dunkleosteus terrelli, the largest and most well-known species of Dunkleosteus. Fossils of this species haven’t been found in New York but the species D. newberryi has and D. terrelli has been found in a few neighboring states. As such the Dunkleosteus figures in prominently at the Museum of the Earth with an entire museum display focused around an awesome set of its armor plates.
The armor plating of this fish is the only fossil material we actually have of Dunkleosteus and everything past the head is purely speculative on any reconstruction. Most reconstructions actually barrow heavily on the related genus Coccasteus for which we have much more complete remains. Coccateus only measured about 7-9” however, which means that it might be a poor comparison to the much larger Dunkleosteus. Features like the single-lobed eel like caudal fin of Coccateus probably wouldn’t have worked well for Dunk and despite nearly all reconstructions depicting it with such a tail it’s likely to have had a caudal fin more like that of a tuna, billfish, or shark than a relative that could fit in your hand. This plush, like most other renditions, gives the toy that unlikely tail.
The visible armored head is well constructed with the various plates nicely outlined. In life, Dunkleosteus probably had skin over this armor but these plates are its signature feature so it seems reasonable that they would be outlined so prominently here. Paired pectoral and pelvic fins are present as well as a long dorsal fin. An anal fin is absent.
The “teeth” of Dunkleosteus weren’t actually teeth, but modified plates. On this toy they’re made of felt but in color that matches the rest of the armor which is nice, it seems unlikely that they would be white. The toy is filled with polyester fiber and small pellets which add some weight to it and allow it to be propped up. From what I can tell this is a well-constructed plush with sturdy seams and should hold up to play from kids and adults alike.
The Paleozoic Pals Dunkleosteus is a really cool plush that I can’t recommend enough. It’s not every day you get to give your child a soft and cuddly arthrodire placoderm fish and I doubt you’ll see another one of these from another company anytime soon. This is a must have in any prehistoric fishes collection.