Tag Archives: Dunkleosteus

Dunkleosteus (Paleozoic Pals by Jaag Plush)

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.

Dunkleosteus (The First Giants by Schleich)

Review and photos by Tim Sosa, edited by Suspsy

It isn’t often that a toy company offers us a prehistoric fish, but when they do, it’s usually Dunkleosteus. Small wonder, since this gigantic arthrodire was imposing and distinctive, possibly reaching 10 meters in length. It was probably the largest animal alive during the Devonian period, 100 million years before the first dinosaurs. This year, German toymaker Schleich has produced one more rendition, their first prehistoric fish figure.

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This figure is part of the “First Giants” sub-line from their standard range of dinosaur figures, which emphasizes early members of major groups. As such, it stands in for the earliest jawed vertebrates. This figure is mostly done in medium grays, with a red-orange wash over the back and along its fins. The head armor is a shiny silver, like a knight’s armor, and along the sides are a row of dark bony scutes. The toothplates are painted a splotchy white. The sculpt is very attractive and subtly dynamic, with vertical folds along the inside of the gentle curve described by the body as it swims.

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Zooming in on the head, the first thing I notice are the eyes. They are represented with a small black dot within a ring of silver, the same silver as the dermal armor of the head. Dunkleosteus, like many animals from sharks to birds, had a series of eye bones called a sclerotic ring, which help to hold the shape of the eyeball. These bones are inside the eyeball, but this figure makes them look like external features, and as a result this figure reminds me a bit of a chameleon. The tooth plates are bare, which is common in reconstructions of arthrodires, although in life they probably had lips that covered them at least partially (the Safari version comes closest to getting this right). The jaw is articulated, although the jaws don’t fit together very cleanly. Still, I like that I can close the mouth most of the way, because fish spend most of their time with their mouths closed and it gets a little tiresome having an entire shelf full of yawning gapes.

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The back 2/3 of Dunkleosteus is not well-known, as most fossils are pieces of the head armor. So this part of the animal requires some speculation. The fins and tail resemble those of Coccosteus, a much smaller relative of Dunkleosteus. But being the size of a large shark makes swimming a lot harder with an eel-like tail, so it’s possible that Dunkleosteus had a crescent-shaped tail like a mako shark or a tuna. The skin on the body has a pebbly texture, which is not likely given known remains, but hard to reject completely. The sturgeon-inspired scutes are an attractive touch, but pure speculation–arthrodires are no more closely related to sturgeons than we are. Moreover, scutes are usually the best-preserved remains of fossil sturgeons, so I think if arthrodires had such scutes we would have found some by now.

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The Schleich Dunkleosteus is a big toy, about 24 centimeters long measured along the spine (the Safari Ltd and Favorite Co. Ltd versions are a bit smaller). Like other fish, Dunkleosteus didn’t have a single fixed adult size, so estimates for various specimens range from 6 to 10 meters. That means this figure could be anywhere from 1:20 to 1:40 scale, depending on what toys you choose to be its unfortunate prey.

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Overall, the Dunkleosteus is a welcome bit of variety from Schleich, and I’d recommend it to fans of fossil fishes or scary-looking sea creatures generally. It isn’t the first one I’d recommend to people looking for the best or most realistic Dunkleosteus, however, as several more accurate figures exist. You can find this one at shops all over the world, and any number of online retailers.

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Leaps in Evolution (Kaiyodo)

Review and photographs by Tim Sosa

From July-October 2015, the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo hosted an exhibit called “Leaps in Evolution: Tracing the Path of Vertebrate Evolution.” To commemorate the exhibit, Kaiyodo made a set of five vending machine capsule figures, most representing a stage in the evolution of vertebrates. Each of these can be tied to a “key innovation,” or an adaptation that enables a lineage to diversify at the expense of potential competitors, predators, or prey. Let’s take a look at the five figures, starting with our closest relative and going back through time.

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First up is the skull of a Neanderthal Homo neanderthalensis, a species which lived until about 40,000 years ago, well after modern humans had started spreading outside of Africa, and may have interbred with them. This skull, showcasing the large braincase that is the hallmark of humans, is a fitting visual reminder of what makes us us. It’s well-made in about 1:10 scale and identifiable as H. neanderthalensis by the prominent brow ridges and large teeth, although in actual specimens the teeth are much less tidy, probably because of decay of the remains between death and fossilization.

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We travel pretty far back in time to reach Dimetrodon limbatus, which lived in the early Permian period over 270 million years ago. Dimetrodon was a synapsid, an early member of a lineage whose only survivors are the mammals. Synapsids did a couple of interesting things that ended up being important for mammals. One, they reduced the role of the articular and quadrate bones in the jaw joint, which freed them up to later become part of our middle ear. And two, they evolved the ability to regulate their own body temperature metabolically. It isn’t clear when that occurred, but one hypothesis for the function of the sail of Dimetrodon is temperature regulation, so it makes sense that it would be included in this set. This is a big improvement on the Dimetrodon from Kaiyodo’s Dinotales line back in 2001, with excellent detail and a pose that reflects recent suggestions that their stance was somewhat more erect than previously thought. It’s about 1:45 if it represents a large specimen of D. limbatus.

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Next up is Ichthyostega, an early tetrapod relative. Ichthyostega lived during the Devonian period, and was one of the first fishes to have well-developed limbs with digits, and could probably have walked around a little bit in addition to swimming. This figure is in about 1:12 scale and looks great, with the characteristic broad, flat head and tail still adapted for an aquatic lifestyle. When Ichthyostega was first discovered, everyone assumed it had five digits just like us, lizards, and the earliest dinosaurs. But later preparation of the fossils revealed that some of the earliest tetrapods, like Ichthyostega, had seven or even eight digits. Some of those wouldn’t have been obvious externally when covered with muscle and skin, and this Kaiyodo figure is therefore well within the range of possibility, showing six external toes. Nice work!

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While Ichthyostega was learning to crawl, Dunkleosteus was the top predator in the world’s oceans. It was an arthrodire, a group that had already been around for tens of millions of years. Arthrodires were among the first vertebrates with jaws, which are not only great for eating things, but also became important for hearing for some vertebrates. This little ~1:40 scale skull replica features a hinged jaw, calling attention to its importance in the evolution of vertebrates.

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Finally we reach Anomalocaris, a major predator of the Cambrian period, over 500 million years ago. This is the only figure in the set that isn’t a vertebrate, and in fact the only one that isn’t relatively close to a direct ancestor of humans. Maybe that’s because at the time of Anomalocaris, our ancestors were essentially jawless, spineless little worms with a gill basket, which would look a little less awesome as toys. So Kaiyodo went with Anomalocaris, an arthropod distantly related to insects, spiders, and barnacles. Anomalocaris probably ate our distant relations for breakfast! It was part of the so-called “Cambrian Explosion,” a sudden (by geological standards) profusion of life that evolved in the world’s seas and set the stage for major lineages of animals, such as arthropods, mollusks, vertebrates, and echinoderms. This figure is similar to the one Kaiyodo made for their Dinotales line, but more finely detailed, a fitting homage to this extremely important time in Earth’s history. Like the Dinotales version, it’s about 1:10-1:15 scale.

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Overall, this set is a fantastic miniature review of evolutionary history (biased a bit toward our own ancestors). The exhibit in Tokyo has ended, but a fair number of these seem to have found their way to the secondary market, so you might be able to find them through web sites such as eBay or through a friend with a connection in Japan. They’re already fetching fairly high prices, so if you want them, sooner is better than later!