Thursday, June 8, 2017

Safari Ltd Review: Coelophysis

It's always exciting when I get verification that Prehistoric Beast of the Week is getting noticed.  I love hearing from friends and family that they take the time to read what I post.  However, hearing it from strangers, especially in person, whether they come to see me at a museum, or other special event, has a certain surrealism to it.

I recently experienced a third kind of excitement when I was noticed by a major toy company that want's me to help spread the word about their dinosaur products.  Safari Ltd, known for making detailed, hand-painted, educational toys of dinosaurs since 1982, sent me an email, saying they would like to partner up with Prehistoric Beast of the Week, in hopes that I would review some of their models on here.  Of course, I said yes, and a few weeks later I got a big box in the mail from them, containing some of there awesome dinosaur figures.  So without further ado, let's get to know Safari Ltd's version of Coelophysis!

If you aren't already familiar with Coelophysis, it was a relatively small, meat-eating dinosaur that lived during the late Triassic period, about 200 million years ago, in what is now the Western United States, especially New Mexico, where it is the official state fossil.  Adults measure about ten feet long from snout to tail.  The genus name translates to "Hollow Form" in reference to the dinosaur's hollow bones, which was a trait common to lots of dinosaurs, actually.  For more detailed information on this dinosaur, be sure to check out my Beast of the Week post on it from 2015.

Full body shot of Safari Ltd's Coelophysis.  In my opinion, it's the best available toy of this dinosaur.

Safari Ltd's Coelophysis is part of their newest line of dinosaur toys for 2017.  When I first saw they were making Coelophysis for this year I excited for a few reasons.  First of all, Coelophysis is very rarely made into a toy, despite how well-known it is.  In fact, before this, I can think of only three or four other instances when Coelophysis was specifically made into a toy (and none this detailed)  The second reason I was pumped for this figure is because Coelophysis was a dinosaur who's bones I had the privilege of excavating  a few years ago with the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum in New Mexico, so it has a special little place in my heart in that respect.

The proportions are great on this model.  Most of Coelophysis' length is tail and neck, which this toy showcases.  The shape of the head matches almost perfectly with some of the real Coelophysis skulls that have been unearthed.  We know, thanks to many well-preserved, and complete individual specimens of this animal, that Coelophysis skulls likely became longer and more slender as they aged, or maybe even differed depending on sex.  Judging by the long snout and two bony ridges on the top of the face, this model is probably supposed to be of an adult.  The legs are not too skinny, which is great.  Yes, Coelophysis was a slender animal, but it still would have needed muscles to get around!

My cast of a Coelophysis skull.  The Safari Ltd model matches this wonderfully.

I am hard pressed to find anything really wrong with the proportions of this model, actually.  If I were to really nitpick, I'd say the lengths of the fingers are off.  In reality Coelophysis' first finger was shortest, middle finger was longest, and the third finger was in the middle.  This toy has the third finger longer than the first two.  On a good note, they did include the tiny, almost unnoticeable vestigial fourth finger.  In fact I only just noticed that fourth finger now as I'm reviewing it.

Note how the third digit is longer than the first and second.  But check out that vestigial fourth finger!

Another tiny note is the fact that Coelophysis would have held its tail out in the air behind it for balance in life, while this model has the tip of the tail resting on the ground.  HOWEVER I completely understand that in order for a model of a dinosaur made of plastic, and not of muscles and a sense of balance, would need the tail as a third point of contact to the ground in order to stand.  Safari Ltd has made other bipedal dinosaurs that balance just on their feet, but the feet had to be proportionally larger and wider, which would be much more noticeable if they tried to do it on a dinosaur as lightly built as Coelophysis.  I have also seen Safari Ltd and other toy companies put bipedal dinosaurs on a platform stand to get rid of the balance issue, but personally, I kind of hate the stands.  It sort of kills the play value of a toy.

I love the fact that the sculptor decided to add texture of feathers to this model.  This model goes all out with an even coat over most of the body except for the feet, hands, and face.  It even has feathers down the whole length of the tail!  We actually have no direct evidence of feathers on Coelophysis, but we have found feathers in a lot of other theropod fossils, as well as a few non-theropod dinosaurs.  Because of this, we have reason to think that basal theropods, like Coelophysis, may have had some kind of feathering on their bodies, too.  Using relatives that surround a kind of organism on a family tree to infer a feature, in this case feathers, is called phylogenetic bracketing.  Coelophyis may have used feathers in a variety of ways.  Feathers could have helped keep Coelophysis' body temperature regulated, keeping body heat in when then environment was cold, and shielding the animal's skin from the sun, when it was hot out.  Feathers could also help parents keep their eggs warm.  Maybe mom/dad sat with their eggs and kept them warm that way, or perhaps parents plucked their feathers out and used them as nest material?  Feathers also can slightly obscure an animal's profile, making it easier for it to hide in certain environments.  So the next time someone tells you a prehistoric dinosaur wouldn't have needed feathers, you can list at least three reasons why it would!

Texture on the face showcases small scales, which is totally plausible, and looks good.  This model has the teeth from the upper jaw sticking out despite the fact that the mouth is closed.  Whether or not certain dinosaurs had visible teeth when the mouth was closed is the subject of a lot of debate among paleontologists and paleoartists right now.  The look that this model chose to go with regarding this is still plausible as far as I know.

The feet show the same wide-rectangular scales that you see on the toes and tarsals of modern birds, which I think is a great touch.  In modern birds, these scales were found to be made of the same material as veined feathers, and is therefore used against artists who depict these scales on featherless dinosaurs, or dinosaurs with basal feathers.  The only problem with this assumption is the fact that crocodilians have similarly shaped scales on their fingers and toes so the structure is totally capable of popping up from different materials...OR crocodilians have ancestors with veined feathers.  Whichever idea you want to go with those kinds of scales are totally fine on any kind of dinosaur reconstruction, feathers or not, including this sculpt.

This toy showcases wide, rectangular scales on the toes and feet, which is totally plausible for this dinosaur.

The colors of this model are pretty, but still believable.  Most of the body is painted orange.  The ventral parts of most of the body are white.  There is a lateral black stripe that separates the orange and white parts on the neck, torso, and tail.  This part of the color scheme reminds me of a Thomson's Gazelle. There are also perpendicular black bands on the end part of the tail.  The hands and feet are greenish gray and the snout is painted pale blue.  The two ridges on the top of the snout are painted red, as are the thin rings around the eyes.  This splash of red could possibly be intended to show a sort of intraspecies display for Coelophysis.  Of course we have no idea what colors Coelophysis was in real life, but what Safari Ltd has going on here is definitely within the wide realm of possibility.

Overall I think this is currently the best toy form of Coelophysis on the market so far.  It's not very often that you can get an accurate toy of a Triassic creature, so this Coelophysis is a much welcomed addition to Safari Ltd's line.  It can be purchased anywhere Safari Ltd toys are currently sold, the Safari Ltd website, or the Safari Ltd Amazon site.

Special thanks to Safari Ltd for shipping this beautiful little model over to me to review.

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