Category Archives: dinosaurs

Cenozoic Mammals That Should Be Made Into Toys

… And not just the Smilodon and the Woolly Mammoth.

What is the Cenozoic Era, you ask? Without going into too much scientific detail, it’s the era following the Mesozoic (Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous) that lasted 66 million years ago. It’s divided into three periods: the Paleogene, the Neogene and the Quarternary (popularly known as the “Ice Age”). The dinosaurs are gone and the mammals and birds have taken over. But these aren’t the mammals and birds we’re familiar with today. It’s the time of giants. A time when sloths ate from the trees instead of climbing them (Megatherium). When camels had necks as long as giraffes (Aepycamelus). When rhinos were woolly. When whales looked like reptiles (Zeuglodon/Basilosaurus). When birds were as tall as trees (Gastornis). When horses had three toes (Mesohippus). And when the largest animal ever to walk the earth was a hornless rhinoceros (Paraceratherium).

I’ve been a dinosaur lover since that time in my childhood when my father came home with dinosaur toys for me to play with. I even owned a red dress with dinosaurs all over it. But when I was in the fifth grade, I came across a book written by Tom McGowen, with spectacular illustrations by Rod Ruth, called Album of Prehistoric Animals – which became my first exposure to Cenozoic Mammals (for more details on that book – read this post at my Tumblr blog). I’ve been loving these animals as much as dinosaurs ever since and have championed them to anyone who’ll listen. So you can guess how frustrated I feel when I can’t find that much merchandise featuring these amazing animals.

There’ve been more diverse depictions of prehistoric reptile life in toys thanks to media like the Jurassic Park franchise and the Walking With Dinosaurs tv series and exhibit. You can find toys of Carnotaurus, Spinosaurus, Nigersaurus and Therizinosaurus alongside the usual suspects (T.rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, etc.). Thanks to companies like Safari Ltd. you can even find non-dinosaur prehistoric creatures like Postosuchus, Dunkleosteus, and Megalodon. And since we’re on the subject of Safari Ltd., the education-based company, bless their hearts, has made some Cenozoic mammal toys besides the two usual suspects (Smilodon, Woolly Mammoth). They’ve added Doedicurus, Megatherium and Ambelodon. But these toys are sold only through Michaels or Joann’s and are rare finds (at least where I live). Your only other option is to buy them online. Another company that makes superb, detailed dino toys is a German-based company named Schleich. You’ll find most of their products at Toys R Us, but if you were to look at their official website, you’ll see anything but Cenozoic mammals. And when it comes to stuffed animals – forget it. I’d love to have me a stuffed Indricotherium but that’s not going to happen anytime soon. I do own a stuffed Smilodon (saber-toothed cat, for those of you still wondering) and recently bought a woolly mammoth from the Children’s Natural History Museum in Fremont, CA. Both were made by Wild Republic – a company that specializes in educational stuffed animals – but, predictably, those are your only two options. So if I were to contact these companies about making more Cenozoic toys (both plush and plastic) here are my seven choices:

Indricotherium

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Once known as Baluchitherium and also called Paraceratherium, this creature lived during the Oligocene period in what is now Mongolia, China and the Balkans. It was estimated to be 16 ft high and 24 ft long, making it, as I said before, the largest land animal to walk the earth at the time.

Megatherium

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Commonly known as the giant ground sloth, this animal was the size of an elephant and lived in South America (where else?) during the Neogene period. Whether it was as slow as its modern-day relatives is up for debate but you sure didn’t want to get swiped by its claws.

Brontotherium

Brontotherium

Another member of the rhino family, famous for its Y-horn. It too was the size of an elephant and lived in South Dakota and Nebraska during the Paleogene period. Some of the earliest fossils were discovered by Native Americans (Sioux) who believed that thunderstorms were caused by their stampedes (bronto = “thunder”, therium = “beast”).

Entelodont

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Believed to be related to pigs, these omnivores lived on the plains of North America, Europe and Asia for 21 million years during the Neogene period. Their most famous feature is the bony lumps on the side of their heads, making them resemble warthogs. The average Entelodont stood 6 ft tall at the shoulder.

Zeuglodon

Basilosaurus

I chose to call this creature by the name Sir Richard Owen chose when he came to the conclusion that this was the earliest ancestor of the whale and not a marine reptile like Mosasaurus. But today it’s still called Basilosaurus even though that name means “king lizard”. Fun fact: it’s the state fossil of Mississippi and Alabama.

Thylacosmilus

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No, you’re not seeing another species of Smilodon. In fact this animal isn’t even a cat. It’s a marsupial that lived in South America during the Neogene period (that means it’s distantly related to POSSUMS!!!).

Xenokeryx amidalae (heck, any one of those prehistoric giraffes. They had some crazy horns!)

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Star Warriors should already be familiar with this one because it was named after Padme Amidala for its distinctive “hairdo”. Can you imagine the types of Star Wars toys made with this one? It lived during the Neogene period. Also believed by scientists to be related to deer as well.

ChalicotheriumChalicotheriumDB2

 

The weirdest one on my list. Nobody can pinpoint what species it was related to: it looks like a cross between a gorilla, a horse, a bear and a giant sloth. It was named for its pebble-like teeth. Can you imagine the looks on people’s faces when they notice the plush toy your baby or toddler is holding in his or her arm and the first thing that comes out of mouths is what is it??!! 

So join me in my quest to make these products happen. Contact these companies (or any other toy company you can think of. Read: I did contact Hansa toys one time suggesting they make an indricotherium but I never got a response.):

wildrepublic.com

hansatoysusa.com

schleich-s.com

safariltd.com

and give them your two cents for what type of Cenozoic mammal (or any other non-dinosaur prehistoric animal) you’d like to see on the shelves. By the way, what prehistoric animal is your favorite?

And does anyone know if Build-A-Bear lets you make other animals besides bears?

 

 

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Filed under dinosaurs, natural history, paleontology, prehistory

3 Short Stories Worth Reading From “Warm Worlds And Otherwise”

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“Who is Tiptree, What Is He?” asked the introduction to the 1975 anthology, Warm Worlds And Otherwise. It’s one of the most infamous introductions in the history of literature, because the author that wrote it made this now-awkward statement:

It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing.

I wonder if Robert Silverberg’s still eating his words.

James Tiptree Jr. was the pen name of Alice B. Sheldon, who published her first sci-fi story in 1968. She took the surname, “Tiptree” from a brand of marmalade and her husband suggested the title, “Jr.”. She chose a male name because:

A male name seemed like good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.

She kept up this ruse until 1976, when fans discovered that “he” was in reality a “she” and that’s when, according to Pamela Sargent: ” a lot of people had to reexamine their assumptions about the differences men and women writers.”

Four years after her death in 1987, fellow SF writers Pat Murphy and Karen Joy Fowler, initiated the James Tiptree Jr. Award, an annual literary prize for works of science fiction and fantasy that explore the concept of gender.

But I’m not going to talk about that. Today, I’m going to talk about three stories from the aforementioned anthology that stood out to me. They are:

“The Girl Who Was Plugged In”: In this 1974 Hugo Award winning novella, a sickly girl named P. Burke is used by a corporation for product placement. Through electronic implants she “controls” an artificially grown beautiful girl named Delphi and becomes an international celebrity. But then everything unravels when she falls in love…

“The Night-Blooming Saurian”: A scientist promises a big game hunter that his team can go back and time and bring him back a dinosaur to hunt…

“Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death”: Poor Moggadeet! Because of instinct, his species go through a bug-eat-bug cycle (literally) every winter’s eve. He so desperately wants to break that cycle but nature is stronger than love… A 1973 Nebula Award winning short story.

If you want to learn more about Alice Sheldon, see the book, James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips

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Filed under dinosaurs, feminism, Short Stories Worth Reading, speculative fiction

Of Dinosaurs and Dames: A Feminist’s Take on the Jurassic Park Franchise – Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about the women of the first three Jurassic Park movies and how they were written. Now this time, I’m going to focus on the heroine of the latest film, Jurassic World.

Her name is Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and she’s the operations manager of Jurassic World.

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She’s been the subject of much controversy, from her choice of footwear to the way she’s been “mommy shamed” by her sister (for lack of a better word). Even Joss Whedon got in on the criticism (the one that put him at odds with The Mary Sue). I’m not going to go into every detail about what made Claire so “problematic” (according to her critics) that would go into spoiler territory (and I’ve already posted a link in part 1). But I will talk about what makes her a great character.

The more I think about it, the more I realize Claire is actually a step up from the previous female characters of the last two films. And unlike Dr. Satler, who was a secondary character, the film mostly focuses on her and the way she runs her park.

 I like Claire. She’s professional, she’s hands on and she’s not afraid to face a challenge, even if it means leaving her comfort zone. This ranges from riding in a helicopter flown by someone whose just got their pilot’s license to trekking in the jungle with Owen to find her nephews. Unlike the other women, who were supporting characters, Claire is the main character of Jurassic World. The story is about her, how she runs her park and how she handles the chaos that erupts when the I. Rex breaks loose. She even saves Owen (Chris Pratt) at one point.

So why has the film garnered so much controversy for “shaming” Claire for not having children? Well there was that scene where she’s talking with her sister and the sister is chastising her for neglecting to spend time with them. Her sister says, “you’ll feel differently when you have children” to which Claire responds, “if I have children” and her sister insists “when you have children”. This, however, is a reflection of what pressure people get from their families when they don’t start one of their own. Heck, I’ve been pressured to get married by family and friends, even though I’ve stressed time and again that marriage wasn’t for me, I still get a “you might change your mind when you meet the right man” argument. A teacher once told me about an aunt she had who never married or had kids and how family would whisper among themselves, “what’s wrong with her?!” So basically this scene is simply art imitating life. What’s also ironic about this scene is that her sister is lecturing her about the joys of parenthood while she’s in the middle of getting a divorce (after all don’t kids need a father and a mother?) And she’s keeping the news from her sons by dumping them on Claire. This doesn’t score her Mother of the Year points.

If anything, the problem was Claire’s lack of maternal instinct towards her dinosaurs. She viewed them as nothing more than theme park commodities instead of living (dangerous) creatures with needs and feelings. Maybe if she had been more in touch with her nurturing side, she would’ve never created the I. Rex.

Speaking of I. Rex, I’ll end this post by asking all you Jurassic gals to be honest with yourselves: what impressed you most about the films, the humans or the dinosaurs? Were you impressed when the I. Rex tricked security by camouflaging herself? Did you spend most of your sleepovers engaged in T.Rex vs. Velociraptor debates? Did you ever pretend that you were the Spinosaurus and your little sister was the T. Rex so you could have an excuse to kick her butt? Did you imagine yourself as a Dilophosuarus when you pulled out the pepper spray on your would-be assailant as he tried to attack you? Did you feel sad when the I. Rex was defeated by being pulled in the sea by the Mosasaurus (I was)? And remember, all these dinosaurs were female and deadly, the most feminist aspect of the Jurassic Park franchise. So while I’m not offended with the way Claire was written, I was offended that Hasbro turned all the dinosaur toys male. No really.

Note: If you need further convincing of Claire’s awesomeness, here’s a link to an article on bustle.com.

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Filed under dinosaurs, feminism, Jurassic Park, Jurassic World

Of Dinosaurs and Dames: A Feminist’s Take on the Jurassic Park Franchise – Part 1

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On Tuesday June 23, I finally went to see Jurassic World, bracing myself to see if all the sexist accusations I’ve been hearing non-stop were true.

And all I have to say is: it could’ve been worse.

The arguments are that this current installment “ruins” the “progressiveness” of the series. Especially when it comes to the characterization of the most important female character in comparison to the character of paleobotanist Ellie Satler from the first film.

I think either some of these people have been wearing the nostalgia googles for too long or they haven’t paid much attention to the series .

Is the Jurassic Park franchise really that “progressive”? I’ve always had issues with the way women are portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s movies. They’re either forgettable, non-existent, or just plain problematic (why no one else notices this is a mystery to me). And Jurassic Park is no exception. Sure Dr. Satler (Laura Dern) was an expert in prehistoric plants, she examined triceratops poop, she made quips about “sexism in survival situations” and “dinosaurs eat man, woman inherits the earth”, faces off against the first velociraptor seen in the film and lectures Hammond about the futility of the park.

Buuuutttt, there’s that one scene that’s always irked me. The one where she wants Ian Malcolm to explain his “chaos theory”:

How could she not tell that Malcolm was flirting with her? Heck, he flirts with her the minute he meets her and he only stops after he learns that she’s romantically interested in Dr. Grant (back off she’s taken!). If I were in that situation, I’d have given Malcolm a roundhouse kick to the groin.

I once read in The Making of Jurassic Park that the writers did not want to make her “a Sigourney Weaver type”. I kind of wish they did. I like Ellie but I wish she had been a bit more rough around the edges and more professional-minded. She doesn’t have to be an Ellen Ripley clone but she could come close… she does share the same name after all… (I will also take this moment to say that she’s never been the star of any JP sequels and her story ends up with her becoming a wife and mother with no clue given about whether she’s still working as a paleobotanist.) Another question I’d like to ask is if she’s a paleobotanist, what’s she doing at a dinosaur excavation? Why was she invited to give her expert opinion on Jurassic Park when the film never confirms whether she’s a dinosaur expert or not? Because she’s Dr. Grant’s girlfriend? Couldn’t the screenwriters make her the paleontologist and Allen Grant (Sam Neill) the paleobotanist? Just saying.

Then there’s that other problem with the second most important female character in the movie:

Lex, Lex, Lex. Why did you turn the damn light on? And why did it take you forever to turn it off! You should’ve listened to your little brother. He’s the dino expert, remember? Your stupidity nearly got you and Tim killed, you put Dr. Grant and Ian in danger and had to get lost in the woods with said doctor and brother. You made a bad situation worse.

Now let’s look at JP Problem No. 3 in the hotly contested sequel, The Lost World. Raise your hand if you remember Dr. Sarah Harding. Anyone? Anybody? I didn’t think so. All I remember about her is that she was played by Julianne Moore. Why is she such a forgettable character? I’m not going to list her faults. Tv Tropes will do the honors. And let’s not forget that she never even bothered to remove her bloodstained shirt knowing that mama and papa T. rex will recognize the smell of their baby’s blood!

Moving on to JP Problem No. 4. Two Words: Kelly Malcolm.

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My problem with this character has more to do with her ethnicity than her gender. Are we supposed to believe that Malcolm, played by the Jewish Jeff Goldblum, could have a daughter with skin that dark? Yes, I know what you’re going to say: “maybe he married a black woman”. Yes, I get it. I’m the daughter of a white man and a black woman myself but there’s no way any child of an interracial union would come out looking like that. She would’ve looked more like Zoe Kravitz or Rashida Jones or Maya Rudolph, not Vanessa Lee Chester.

I also know what some of you might be thinking: “maybe she was adopted, maybe she’s his stepdaughter”. If she was the film would’ve said so.

JP problem no. 5 (note: I like this film more than The Lost World but it does suffer from the Smurfette Principle):

Miss Amanda Kirby (Tea Leoni)? I know you want to rescue your son, but tricking a respected paleontologist and his protégé into joining you on an expedition to an island ruled by deadly reptilian giants and then not listening to his expertise is not cool. You also come across as a selfish jerk in your behavior. You can’t even drive a car without crashing it! You’re only awesome moment was when you handed those stolen eggs back to the main mama raptor.

So how does Claire Dearing of Jurassic World measure up to the aforementioned women? Find out in part two!

 

 

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Filed under dinosaurs, female characters, feminism, Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg