This one goes out to Ben Hillier, who both wins the coveted Reader of the Month award* and shall be treated to various non-dinosaurs from 1977’s The World of Dinosaurs (see parts one and two). As befits the book’s title, here are a couple of animals from, er, the Permian.
That’s right – it’s everyone’s favourite synapsid menace Dimetrodon, alongside Diadectes, which was certainly a tetrapod. Yes. As is tradition, Dimetrodon is shown inhabiting an arid, upland landscape, quite unlike the types of environments in which it’s thought to have lived – but it does mean fewer troublesome plants to draw. Besides which, the dramatic, jutting rocks here are quite lovely. The effort taken to portray the foreground Dimetrodon from an unusual perspective is admirable, and mostly pulled off, although the skull does lose a few characteristic features in the process (note that the background individual sports the ‘notch’ in its jaw). Well executed and quite atmospheric, even if it is the wrong habitat.
One creature that is shown inhabiting wet, low-lying areas is Lystrosaurus, the much-beloved insanely successful disaster taxon. It’s depicted – not unreasonably (although not necessarily quite accurately) – as acting a bit like a hippo. Nice shiny highlights on the individual on the left – like it’s just been for a dip. The angry-looking fellow in the background is Erythrosuchus, which really does seem a bit wasted here – it was a huge predator for its time, with an oversized, metre-long, theropod-like head. I can’t help but feel that such a dramatic-looking animal could have been used much more effectively to make this piece more memorable, but there we go. As it is, he’s either saying “grrr” or trying his best to smile for the artist, but just looking awkward.
Moving further into the Triassic, and here we have Cynognathus. Yes, that’s really what it is. I’d say there’s a fair bit of perspective fudging going on with that head, not to mention those oversized paws with their sprawling toes and evil-looking claws. I don’t think Andrea Cau would approve of the fleshy external ears, either. Not the most successful reconstruction here, but those plants are, once again, very pretty. The ferny background behind the scraggly cynodont is just gorgeous.
Besides Cynognathus, we’re also treated to a reconstruction of Beinotherium, another cynodont. It, too, is a bit bedraggled and stiff-looking, almost looking like bad taxidermy, although there’s a definite spark of life in its eyes. Once again, the foliage surrounding the animal is quite lovely. I almost want to see a version with the cynodont removed, so that we can fully appreciate all the lovely ferns and cycads and the like, without the hairball getting in the way.
Pterosaurs were basically just reptilo-bats that reached impossibly huge sizes, right? Right! So here’s Pterodactylus hanging upside down in a cave. Back in the day, no dinosaur book was truly complete without an image like this (up until the late ’90s, when everyone realised it was silly). These are really very typical of their time; although they appear to lack pteroid bones, they are definitely fuzzy, on their backs at least. It’s possibly noteworthy that a Pteranodon featured elsewhere is actually completely fuzzy, perhaps hinting at the idea that pterosaurs got fuzzier over time. (The Pteranodon is white, too, which is quite nice. I probably should have scanned it.) I do very much like the lighting in this scene, again making it clear that these were accomplished natural history artists, even if prehistoric animals weren’t their forte.
Onto aquatic creatures now, where the artists’ talents really shine. The bubbles! Look at the bubbles, and the sense of movement! The dappled light on the animals’ backs! Superbly done. These are also rather good reconstructions that look convincingly like real animals, and we get to see them from multiple angles, too. I’m very fond of the sharply delineated, countershaded colours of the ichthyosaurs – one could consider it a ‘safe’ choice, but it’s also an attractive and rather likely one. (They are only identified as ‘ichthyosaurs’, by the way.)
Haven’t seen a nothosaur in a while? Well, now you have, although it’s again not identified beyond being a ‘nothosaur’ (I’d guess that it’s likely based on Nothosaurus itself, but if you happen to know a thing or two about marine reptiles, do weigh in). It’s not too bad, even if the eyes appear to have been placed in the wrong holes (a classic problem with plesiosaurs, too), and it seems to have borrowed a fin from a fish. Still, I mainly scanned this one because, yet again, the background is magnificent. Just look at that surf! The water cascading down through cracks in the rocks! The, er, subtle blending of different shades of blue, green, and turquoise. Lovely stuff, and a striking double-page spread when one turns the page to meet it.
And finally…a suitably retro 1970s mosasaur, complete with spines, meets Archelon. The latter looks very much like a modern-day green turtle here, at least to my eye – but again, if you’re more well versed in turtley matters, leave a comment. Rather unusually (and not to mention, strangely), the mosasaur has been given turtle-like skin along with a lipless, quite croc-like face. There’s good tension here – is the mosasaur eyeing the turtle as potential prey, or just glancing up as it passes by? We’ll never know, but it doesn’t half look reticulated.
And that’s that! I do have another book lined up, which happens to be all about…marine reptiles. I should probably do a little more research so that I actually have something to say. ‘Til next time!
*Not a real award