The fossil itself shows patterns without using a microscope.
A fossil of a small dinosaur called Psittacosaurus which means ‘parrot-lizard’ due to its parrot-like beak, has had its color and camouflage patterns revealed by scientists.
The use of counter-shading – in other words, dark on the topside and lighter on the underside – was the main way the Psittacosaurus hid from predators and is a technique developed by species today including the famous Great White shark.
The international team based at Bristol University in the UK analyzed the fossil and worked together with an artist to produce a 3D model of the pint-sized dinosaur in order to research scales, pigment and pattern shapes. They projected the various patterns and colors found in the fossil onto the life-sized model creating a replica of what the dinosaur would have looked like.
From the counter-shading it is thought the creature lived in an environment with diffused light such as a dense forest in order to scavenge and hide easily.
“We predicted that the psittacosaur must have lived in a forest. This demonstrates that fossil colour patterns can provide not only a better picture of what extinct animals looked like, but they can also give new clues about extinct ecologies and habitats. We were amazed to see how well these colour patterns actually worked to camouflage this little dinosaur,” stated co-author Jakob Vinther.
The final model creation of the dinosaur caused the researchers to conclude that it was “super cute” unlike its ferocious counterparts.
“Our model suggests it was super, super cute. I think they would have made fantastic pets. They look a bit like E.T.,”
Details of the findings were published in the journal Current Biology.