Review and photographs by Grant Harding, edited by Suspsy
The item I’m reviewing today is not a dinosaur toy per se. Rather, it’s something that (if you’re a kid) makes your dinosaur toys even more fun. It’s the Dino-Mat Habitat, manufactured in 1992 by the Original American Kazoo Company. This four-by-five-foot playmat features a diversity of prehistoric environments for your toy dinosaurs to explore, all labelled with imaginative and evocative names.
There’s “Quetzalcoatlus Cliffs” and “Elasmosaurus Bay.” Watch out for “Meeteetse Volcano” (an interesting choice, as the Meeteetse Formation only has indeterminate dinosaur fossils) and steer clear of the “Predator Trap” (a real term for sites like Rancho La Brea, where prey animals are trapped, then so are the predators who try to eat them, then more and more predators and scavengers on top of that). “Deinosuchus Beach” boasts the warning “No Swimming!” And the “Archaeopteryx & Cycad Forest” is just waiting for a toy sauropod to step in and start munching away.
Some of these animals are pictured on the mat, but others (most notably, Tyrannosaurus) are named but absent, allowing your toys to fill the roles. And yes, the animals depicted represent an anachronistic mixture of Jurassic and Cretaceous. But this just gives the mat more versatility: you can use it to play with dinosaurs of any time period.
It was illustrated by scientific artist Bill Parsons (who went on to name the nodosaur genus Tatankacephalus in 2009), and he was clearly up on the science of the day. Consider the “Maiasaura Nesting Island”; Jack Horner’s book Digging Dinosaurs had come out just a few years earlier, and the Egg Mountain site was indeed an island or peninsula in Cretaceous times. Similarly, Centrosaurus is known from bonebeds to have travelled in herds, and the Quetzalcoatlus is depicted in the bipedal, Kevin Padian-esque style of the early nineties.
For kids, this mat is excellent. It’s made of heavy, durable plastic, and it folds up for easy storage when not in use. It’s covered with fun details: footprints, bones, plants, caves, winding paths for your dinosaurs to follow, and a river for your aquatic reptiles to swim. All of this enhances playability and inspires imagination. Older collectors might be less into it, though. Its sheer size gives it limited display potential, except maybe as a wall hanging.
There isn’t much online about the Dino-Mat Habitat, but it deserves to be much better known. It has enormous potential for imaginative play, and I’m speaking from experience; I had great fun with it as a kid. Here’s a photo taken around 2000 of my mat in heavy use.
The mat originally came with a booklet, but I don’t have one; my Dino-Mat Habitat was a display version that my mother bought off the wall of a toy store. This photo of the booklet is stolen from eBay. If anybody out there has the booklet, I’d love to see the inside of it!