Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario. Those are the names of the Great Lakes of North America that boarder the central/east United States and Canada. In total area they represent the largest freshwater lakes on Earth, holding roughly 20% of the world’s surface freshwater and 9/10ths of the water supply for the United States. The broader region that surrounds these lakes is known as the Great Lakes region and it is there that I spent 20 years of my own life, exploring the region’s wild places and having many firsthand encounters with its wildlife. When it was announced that Safari Ltd. would be producing a toob dedicated to what was essentially my home I was quick to claim it for review, for me this was a must have. The Great Lakes toob is new for 2020 and contains 10 figures. We’ll be looking at and reviewing each figure individually and then assess the toob as a whole.
Dragonfly: Although the toob does not specify what species it is I’ve been told that it’s likely a Hine’s emerald (Somatochlora hineana) and this makes sense. The Hine’s emerald is unique to the Great Lakes region; living in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin. The figure has the species’ emerald-green eyes but the body is black instead of green with yellow stripes like the Hine’s. Whatever the species is it’s still a beautiful little figure, sculpted in a perched position so that you could attach its legs to a small stick or some other kind of base.
Yellow Perch (Perca flavescens): The yellow perch is native to much of North America and in places where it is not native it has been introduced due to its popularity as a sports fish. For this reason I think Safari could have come up with something more unique for the toob. My vote would have been for the now extinct blue walleye (Sander vitreus glaucus) that lived solely in Lake Erie but all well. This is still a splendid figure that nicely highlights the striking colors and patterns of the yellow perch. The figure is painted in a shiny coat of green and yellow with a white underside, a dark green back, dorsal and caudal fins, and banding down the sides. The pelvic and anal fins are orange. Fine details such as the individual scales, fin rays, operculum, and lips are all included.
Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens): The lake sturgeon is the only sturgeon species found in the Great Lakes and the largest fish species in the region, reaching 8’ (2.4 meters) in length. The figure is very well executed and one of my favorites in the toob. It’s painted a steely gray color with white underbelly and is highly detailed for its size. Four barbels can be seen on the underside of the snout, and rows of bony plates run down the back and sides. I imagine that this figure will have a lot of appeal to fish collectors, and collectors of ancient fishes in particular.
Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus): The mudpuppy is a fully aquatic salamander that occurs throughout the central United States and portions of southern Canada. It’s a large species, capable of reaching 12” (30 cm) in length. This is another favorite of mine in the toob and a stunningly detailed little figure. The mudpuppy is painted brown with darker brown speckling, red external gills, and yellow eyes. Fine details include the 3 external gills on each side of the head, four toes on each foot, a laterally compressed tail, costal grooves down the side and another groove running down the length of the back. Safari actually made a mudpuppy figure back in 1997 for the Tennessee Aquarium but this one, though considerably smaller, is a sufficient alternative.
Lake Erie Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum): Now this is a really special addition to the toob, and an animal you’re not likely to see produced by another company any time soon. The Lake Erie water snake is a subspecies of the northern water snake (N. sipedon) and only found on a small group of islands off the west coast of Lake Erie. This figure is stunningly realistic, looking just like a neonate water snake. How true it is in appearance to the Lake Erie water snake is hard to discern because they’re visually similar to their parent species but the bold markings and coloration are suggestive of it being a younger animal. The detail work is phenomenal, with a complete covering of scales along the body, scales on the head, and ventral scales on the underside. This might be my favorite figure in the entire toob and for reptile enthusiasts in particular it might make the entire toob worth its purchase price.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias): Despite its abundance across North America we’ve never gotten a figure of this species from Safari which makes this a great choice for the toob. Unfortunately, I think this is the weakest figure of the bunch. It’s not all bad, the body and plumes coming off the chest are especially well detailed and the head and neck are sufficient enough. It’s the legs. They’re incredibly thick and proportionately absurd looking. I understand why, it’s so the toy can stand straight without bending over. Still, it’s distracting, and so are the toes which are painted white, giving them an odd skeletal appearance. The legs are brown and white, body blue-gray, neck brown and white, and bill yellow. It stands on a brown base.
Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus): A number of gulls live in the Great Lakes region but herring gulls are certainly abundant there and a fine addition here. If Safari wanted to do something really unique they would have made a “Great Lakes gull” which is a hybrid between the herring gull and great black-backed gull (L. marinus) that is particularly unique to the region. No matter, it’s just nice to see a plastic gull. Gulls are not terribly popular animals and to have a toy that represents a specific species is a treat. And it’s a fine little figure too, with intricate feather detail. The back is gray, wing tips black, bill yellow, and feet pink (as is the base it stands on). A small orange dot is present on the lower mandible as well.
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis): The Canada goose, despite the name, is not just restricted to Canada and depending on the time of year can be found nearly anywhere in North America. It’s one of the most iconic and recognizable animals on the continent, even in extremely urban places. This goose is my personal favorite of the three birds in the toob. It’s the most well proportioned, highly detailed, and cleanly painted of the three. The feather detail on this tiny figure is jaw dropping. The chest and belly are painted white, back brown, neck black, and cheeks white. The base is brown, as are the feet.
Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifungus): Living in the Great Lakes region this species of bat was the species I encountered more than any other but it is not restricted to the Great Lakes, it has various sub-species distributed across the continent. The sub-species of the Great Lakes is M. l. lucifungus and can be found from Georgia north and west through Canada and into Alaska. The wings of this figure are outstretched with each finger clearly defined and veins sculpted in-between them. The tiny head is painted with a glossy black finish but there is even a tiny pink tongue that can be seen within the open mouth. The wing membranes, legs, and tail are all dark brown and the fuzzy body a tan color. Specific bat species are seldom produced by any company and this one is another favorite in this toob.
Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis): Although its range barely extends into the United States the Canada Lynx lives across Canada and Alaska, including the northern boarders of the Great Lakes. Safari has already made a standard size Canada lynx so that makes this figure a bit less exciting. That said it’s still a fine figure and a great choice to represent the large mammals of the region. The figure has a predominantly gray body with gray and white legs and underside. The ear tufts and cheeks are painted black, and the eyes yellow. The tail of this figure lacks the black tip found on the species. The figure is striding forward and nicely illustrates the lynx’s long hind legs, forward sloping back, and broad feet.
Although I would consider all the species included iconic to the Great Lakes region a lot of them also have ranges that extend far from the Great Lakes. I would have personally liked more attention paid to little known and more geographically restricted species but I also realize that you need these high profile animals too. As for me, animals like the mudpuppy, sturgeon, and Lake Erie water snake are the highlights and the main motivation behind my own purchase of the toob. Most of the species included, although abundant and wide ranging throughout North America are also mostly neglected by toy companies so seeing them get some love here is still a bonus. The toob as a whole is a nice balance of common, charismatic animals and more obscure and locally restricted species.
The craftsmanship and attention to detail applied to these small toys is admirable and continues to improve with the release of every new toob. The Great Lakes toob is a must have for anyone that has an affinity for North American wildlife in general but has a little something for everyone too, whether you collect amphibians, reptiles, fishes, or bats. On a final note, I no longer live near the Great Lakes. I now call the Chesapeake Bay my home, so if Safari is reading this, maybe consider a toob dedicated to that region as well? Hit me up if you need ideas, I have them.