Author Archives: Halichoeres

Tylosaurus (Wild Safari by Safari Ltd.)

Lizards have been around about as long as dinosaurs, and during their time on Earth they have produced some weird side branches. One is snakes (yes, all snakes are lizards, but not all lizards are snakes). Another is the mosasaurs, a group of large aquatic lizards that included some of the largest predators of the late Cretaceous. They weren’t dinosaurs, but true lizards, more closely related to modern monitor lizards than either is to, for example, geckos.

One of the best known mosasaurs is Tylosaurus, and it’s roughly tied with Mosasaurus as the one most commonly made into toys. Safari Ltd has released a new Tylosaurus for 2017, and it’s a very nice piece of work. Tylosaurus was one of the largest lizards of all time, up to 15 meters long. This figure is about 26 cm long measured along the spine, so it’s about 1:55 scale if it represents a large individual. That puts it roughly in scale with Safari’s Elasmosaurus. It’s mostly a sort of yellow ochre all over, slightly darker on top, with irregular bold black markings and a big black spot over each eye.

The maw is carefully rendered, including teeth borne on the pterygoid bone on the roof of the mouth. Like any inexpensive mass-produced toy, there is a bit of paint bleed from the gums to the teeth and vice versa, but overall the paint is well-executed. Based on a cursory glance at some Tylosaurus skulls, it looks like the number of teeth varies, with this figure at the low end of that variation.

The head correctly shows the front of the dentary and premaxillary (i.e. the very front of the mouth) without teeth. The folds of skin around the neck are expertly done, reminiscent of mosasaurs’ monitor lizard cousins.

This is the first mosasaur from Safari to include the two-lobed tail fluke, which was described in 2010 and 2013 based on smaller relatives. If anything, a gigantic animal like Tylosaurus would find a fluke even more useful to move its bulk. This is a realistic depiction, with the main bore of the spine deflected slightly downward, and soft tissue making up the top half of the fluke.

The whole figure is texturally rich, and the flippers in particular show very lizardlike scales. Each digit is discernible, which was likely true in the living animal as well.

Compared to the Carnegie version that was discontinued two years ago, this Tylosaurus is somewhat smaller, with an updated tail, and with a much brighter palette. This color scheme is a bit vibrant for an adult 14-meter animal. Some melanosomes have been observed in large mosasaurs, and their concentration suggests a very dark color, perhaps similar to a sperm whale. Tylosaurus did live in a vast inland sea, a habitat that is no longer widespread on Earth, so it’s at least possible that such an environment would have been friendlier to big bright animals. All the same, the coloration of this figure is probably more appropriate to a smaller mosasaur. Platecarpus was only about 4 meters long, and Dallasaurus was even smaller, comparable to a living monitor. Those were probably more often found in shallow-water, complex habitats where it might be beneficial to have your outline broken up in sun-dappled water. Some sharks that are pelagic as adults, but live near shore when young, have bolder coloration as babies. Perhaps large mosasaurs had a similar progression.

On balance, this is a wonderful replica, and should make both adult kids and regular kids happy. You can find it at museum gift shops, online, and at better toy stores everywhere.

Mandschurosaurus (Age of the Dinosaurs by PNSO)

Beijing-based PNSO (Peking Natural Science and Art Organization) made a splash this year with the release of several large hollow vinyl figures. Besides being imposing due to their size, the new figures are notable for their high level of detail and the unconventional species choices. Today we’ll look at their Mandschurosaurus, the first plastic figure of this genus ever released.

Mandschurosaurus is not the most famous dinosaur, but rather an obscure genus known from just a few bones discovered in the Amur region of Russia’s far east. The figure is bulky, like the others in its line, about 40 cm long measured along the spine. I couldn’t find reliable length estimates for the animal, so to figure out the scale I actually found a copy of the holotype description in a Soviet paleontology journal (thanks, interlibrary loan and Stanford University!). Incidentally, the author, A.H. Рябинин, died in 1942 and under Russian copyright law his work is now in the public domain.mandschurosaurus_amurensis
The description is mostly in Russian, with parts in English and French. But all I needed was some measurements, and numbers are a global language! I got measurements from both the original specimen and the toy for three bones:

scapula: 76 cm, 4.8 cm on the toy
ulna: 62.4 cm, 3 cm on the toy
tibia: 90 cm, 5.2 cm on the toy

On the toy they’re not quite all to scale with each other, but if you average them together, this figure is about 1:18. That’s a big hadrosaur!

It’s a very nicely sculpted figure, although the preceding measurements suggest some minor proportion problems. The entire piece is painted in various shades of brown, with a glossy finish. It’s slightly paler underneath, with a finely detailed wrinkled texture with tubercles and spiky scales along the back and a nice saggy dewlap.

The head is not well known for Mandschurosaurus, so this one is sculpted to resemble a generic crestless hadrosaur. The eyes are the sole spot of color, painted a cool blue.

This hollow figure is molded in multiple pieces, and assembled with glue. Despite the reasonably nice paint job, the seams are still visible around the midsection and across the lower thigh. I don’t find the seams terribly distracting, but your mileage may vary. My copy stands well on its own, but I have heard from other buyers that it can be unstable. It comes on a clear plastic support that you can use to keep it steady, or you can prop it up against another dino on your shelf.

This might be a good figure for older kids, but probably not for the very young, since the paint chips easily and one incautious child could bonk another one pretty good. I get the impression that it is aimed more at adult collectors, and the price reflects that. It’s an attractive replica that looks very impressive on the shelf, and depicts a unique animal, so I’d recommend it for any fan of hadrosaurs, expert sculpting, or large-scale dinosaurs in general.

Groenlandaspis (Lost Kingdoms by Yowie)

The Devonian period, commonly known as the Age of Fishes, was home to a wide variety of bizarre aquatic animals. One of these is was Groenlandaspis (“shield of Greenland”), a tiny relative of the fearsome Dunkleosteus. Like Dunkleosteus, Groenlandaspis was an arthrodire, part of one of the earliest lineages of jawed vertebrates. This little fish was first made into a toy by Yowie, a company that sells miniature animals packaged with chocolates, as part of the Lost Kingdoms line in 2001. Most Lost Kingdoms figures were based on Australian fossils, and Groenlandaspis fossils are fairly abundant in Australia, as well as in Greenland where they were first discovered. It’s funny that they chose a fish named after Greenland rather than something more typically Australian like Buchanosteus.

Yowie Groenlandaspis

But on to the figure! It comes in 4 easy-to-assemble pieces. The name of the animal is printed on the inside of the belly, so if you were to find it in a flea market, it might be hard to know what you’re looking at. (The other inscription, “CSPL,” stands for “Cadbury Schweppes Proprietary Limited,” Yowie’s parent company in Australia.)

Yowie Groenlandaspis
Once you’ve assembled the pieces, you have a serviceable, if cartoony, rendition of a small arthrodire. The most distinctive feature of Groenlandaspis, relative to other ancient armored fishes, is the tall spine on its back behind the head. This figure clearly shows that spine, although it is a bit blunted. Some of the sutures between the plates match up with the actual fossils if you squint, but it almost seems coincidental when they do. The seam where the head piece of the figure meets the body pieces does roughly lines up with the joint between the thorax of the real animal and its head.
Yowie Groenlandaspis
Groenlandaspis had a broad lateral flange, part of the thoracic armor, just in front of and above each pectoral fin. The flange would have been continuous with the rest of the armor, rather than having a strong seam as this figure suggests. The seam is where the two pieces of the main body meet, but it has the unfortunate effect of making it look as though the fish has a long armored pectoral fin like some antiarchs had. Coupled with the high dorsal crest of the armor, it makes this figure look a lot like a Pterichthyodes in particular. What saves it is the face, with a relatively pointed profile and the mouth all the way at the front, rather than oriented downward as in Pterichthyodes. The overall slope of the head is actually spot-on.
Yowie Groenlandaspis
With the lateral flanges, Groenlandaspis would have looked like a caltrop when viewed head-on, an impression that isn’t conveyed in this figure. Also, until I took this photo, I never noticed that the nostrils are painted slightly crookedly.
Yowie Groenlandaspis

Like other Yowie figures, this is a small one, about 7 centimeters long. That makes it about life-size. Groenlandaspis was tiny and no doubt adorable.

Yowie Groenlandaspis
On balance, this figure does a reasonable job as a caricature of a highly distinctive prehistoric fish–right number of fins, roughly correct overall shape. If you like your figures highly realistic, it might not be for you. But if you’re willing to tolerate stylized, slightly goofy figures for the sake of having obscure animals in your collection, this and the rest of the Yowie Lost Kingdoms line might be right up your alley. I wouldn’t recommend it for very young children given that it comes apart into some pretty small pieces. Yowie Lost Kingdoms figures have been out of production for over a decade, so you’ll have to find them secondhand from auction sites or maybe a friend in Australia.