The murky pond lays silently in the riparian forest of the Late Devonian, 365 mya. Dragonfly like insects soar and hunt for smaller airborne relatives, their quiet buzzing is the only sound disturbing the lethargic scene. A pair of those hunters engages is their distinct mating ritual, the “heart”. Abruptly they land on a small twig, that sticks out of the dark waters. A moment later, fallen leaves in the turbid wet begin to move, slowly, steadily. Unhastingly a dark shape distinguishes itself from the debris – and stops. A soft wind produces a rustle in the surrounding trees. The mating pair lazily moves its wings, preparing for a start as suddenly – faster then their awkwardly bend bodies are able to lift their own and their mates’ weight into the air – the waters part and open into a needle bristling abyss. Bony jaws clash with a soft chop and the disturbed surface of the water closes, silencing the dying whir of the hapless pair.
Acanthostega is a stem tetrapod, one of the first known vertebrates with recognizable limbs. Skull fragments were discovered in 1933, a way more complete fossil that allowed to discover its significance was found in 1987 in East Greenland by Jennifer A.Clack. In life Acanthostega probably appeared like something in between a lungfish and a salamander, though it is not closely related to any of them. Unlike the old theory that some sort of coelacanth, trying to make its escape from drying out pools is the ancestor of all quadruped land animals, our ancestors probably developed their limbs in a more consistent environment, like those murky swamps, where the mass of fallen debris forbid swimming, but still allowed successfull (water-)surface hunting for those, who could use their limbs to propel their weights through the obstructive plant material.
Despite their significance for our own evolution, stem tetrapods are rarely made into toys. Well, you know Kaiyodo, it also isn’t exactly a toy we discuss here, but rather a model, tiny and financially cheap, but worthy and highly collectable.
With a life size of approx. 60 cm, Acanthostega wasn’t really large, the model shown here measures around 8 cm along the spine, so the scale is at roughly 1:8. As common with Kaiyodo Dinotales, one can only admire the amount of detail that went into this gem. It is not know if Acanthostega had a scaly skin as some fish or rather a smooth, slimy one like most amphibians. The sculptor deceided to go with the smoother variant, but decking the surface of the head with soft grooves and wrinkles and folds on the body and limbs. A bony seam runs along the upper and lower side of the tail. The head seems to be of the right shape as does the whole of the body. Accuracywise there are very few issues: Acanthostega is thought to have eight digits on each forelimb, the number of digits on he hindlimbs is uncertain. Kaiyodo gave its reconstruction seven digits in front (counted from the underside, the white markings are not accurate to the sculpt) and six in the back, maybe that’s a concession to the tinyness of the figure. Other than that some may notice that the figure has two openings for the gills on each side. I wondered about that, but thinking about, there are modern groups of fish with a varying number of gill openings (think of lampreys, trouts and sharks for example) so I guess this is within artistic license. The limbs may appear very stiff but in fact Acanthostega could not bend those in the ellbow and knee, so would have used those limbs more like paddles than true legs and could not bear its own weight on them.
The figure is made from translucent purple plastic, which gives a nice effect on the tail and digits where the darker coloration fades out. The underside is held in a fish-like metallic silver with black spots that also apply to the flanks, the upper side is shaded in dark grey spotted with dots and streaks of pale yellow. The eyes are very accurately painted and give the figure a lot of character and liveliness.
Got hooked up? As with all those long since discontinued Kaiyodos, ebay or forum member brettnj is your best guess. Highly recommended.