September 15, 2016

Psittacosaurus: Chinese Parrot Lizard Dinosaur First Found To Use Camouflage


It had a parrot-like beak, horns on the sides of its head and long bristles on its tail. Now a prehistoric Chinese reptile has a new claim to fame: the only dinosaur in battle fatigues.
A British-led study has found that the “Psittacosaurus”, which lived more than 100 million years ago, sported a form of camouflage commonly seen in animals today. The “countershading” colour patterns — dark on the back and light on the belly — would have helped conceal the creature, which was the size of a large dog, from the tyrannosauroids and other larger beasts inclined to eat it.

The discovery, reported in the journal Current Biology, means Psittacosaurus — or “parrot lizard” — is the first known camouflaged dinosaur. It might not be the last, though, as scientists hone techniques for reconstructing dinosaurs’ colours patterns.

Colour is difficult to infer from fossilised impressions in rocks, but eight years ago, lead author Jakob Vinther discovered a way to determine colour ­differences in ancient birds and dinosaurs.

He found that small structures on fossilised dinosaur feathers, thought to be bacteria, were organelles that stored the melanin pigments still found in animals’ feathers and skin.
Armed with this knowledge, he and colleagues have recreated the colours of feathered ­dinosaurs.

“This is the first time someone has looked at a ‘naked’ dinosaur and inferred its colour patterns,” said Dr Vinther, of the University of Bristol in England.

He teamed up with Innes Cuthill, an expert on animal ­vision, and local “paleo-artist” Bob Nicholls. Together they produced what they say is the most scientifically accurate, life-size model of a dinosaur with its real colour patterns.

The project yielded details not only of the animal’s appearance, but also its environment. “We were able to see how the patterns of shading changed over the body, (and) that it matched the sort of camouflage which would work best in a forested environment,” said Professor Cuthill.

This interpretation gels with fossil information from the sites where parrot lizards have been excavated, which also contain plant and wood remnants consistent with forest.

Dr Vinther said countershading worked by counter-illuminating shadows on animals’ bodies, making them appear flat. This protected them from predators that used patterns of shadow to determine objects’ shapes.

By John Ross
With many thanks to The Australian 

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