New research shows that the long-lost species Psittacosaurus (meaning “parrot lizard,” a reference to its parrot-like beak) most likely lived in an environment with diffuse light, such as in a forest.
This, a team of scientists from the University of Bristol, United Kingodm, inferred by studying the colour pattern of the species. The scientists found a pattern of ‘counter-shading’ — light on its underside and darker on top — which they say is a common form of camouflage in modern animals.
Countershading most likely served to protect Psittacosaurus against predators that use patterns of shadow on an object to determine shape, just as humans do.
University of Bristol researcher Innes Cuthill apparently describes Psittacosaurus as “both weird and cute, with horns on either side of its head and long bristles on its tail”. It lived in the early Cretaceous of China and has been found in the same rock strata where many feathered dinosaurs have been found. Those deposits also include evidence for a forest environment based on plant and wood fossils.
But, says Cuthill’s colleague Jakob Vinther , closely related species lived in Mongolia in an environment that would have resembled a savannah with much less vegetation and so, the researchers predict, would have had different camouflage patterns.