Scientists have always had to make a number of educated guesses when deciding what color dinosaurs should be in modern renderings. For the first time, we don’t have to guess. An exquisitely well-preserved Psittacosaurus (which means parrot lizard) fossil has allowed paleontologists to reconstruct the camouflaged coloration of this creature, which researchers note was “super-cute.”Most fossils contain only the remnants of bone, but a few include soft tissue. This is the case with a Psittacosaurus specimen, which comes with plenty of fossilized skin. That’s not bad for a creature that lived 120 million years ago in the early Cretaceous period. It was a small, 5-foot long herbivore that would have made a nice snack for the larger carnivorous dinosaurs that also existed in what would one day become China. As a result, Psittacosaurus had the first known example of countershading camouflage in dinosaurs.Plenty of animals use countershading today, including sharks, squirrels, and caterpillars. The same principals have even been applied to military aircraft. A countershaded animal has a lighter underbelly than its back, which exploits the fact that light falling on the top of a creature makes it look lighter. The result is a more uniform coloration that can prevent predators (or prey) from spotting the animal.Researchers were able to microscopically examine the fossilized skin of Psittacosaurus to study the melanosomes inside the animal’s skin cells. These organelles are what store pigment, giving us a good indicator of color. Not only did they realize that Psittacosaurus had countershading, but there was evidence of spots and stripes that would have helped it blend in with a dense forest backdrop.The team used its findings to build what may be the most accurate model of a dinosaur ever (see above). This may just be the first one of its kind. There are more examples of fossilized skin, so other species may get more accurate models in the future.
Paleontologists recreate camouflage coloration of supercute dinosaur