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, reaching 8 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.