Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.
- A remarkable fossil of Psittacosaurus is the first to exhibit evidence of camouflage. What is camouflage? Take a look at our nice encyclopedic entry for some help.
- Camouflage, also called cryptic coloration, is a defense or tactic that organisms use to disguise their appearance, usually to blend in with their surroundings. Organisms use camouflage to mask their location, identity, and movement.
- According to our encyclopedic entry, camouflage “allows prey to avoid predators, and for predators to sneak up on prey.” How did Psittacosaurus use camouflage—as predator or prey?
- Psittacosaurus was definitely a prey species. It used camouflage to avoid predators such as other dinosaurs (the article mentions two T.rex relatives, Yutryannus and Dilong) and even mammals of the early Cretaceous. Here’s a great image of Repenomamus, a mammal, with the remnants of a juvenile Psittacosaurus still in its belly.
- Read through our encyclopedic entry. There are a number of different camouflage tactics, from background matching to disruptive coloration. What tactic did Psittacosaurus use?
- Psittacosaurus used a basic tactic called countershading, in which the top of an animal’s body is dark and its belly or underside is lighter.
- How does countershading help camouflage a prey species such as Psittacosaurus?
- “[P]redators rely on an object’s shading to assess its shape … and when prey is darker on top than on the bottom … shadows are minimized and the animals look flatter.” “Flattened” shapes blend into their background.
- Do any living animals exhibit countershading?
- Yes, lots!
- The Nat Geo News article mentions antelopes, in which their tawny-colored backs blend in with grassy or rocky habitats. (Take a look at the beautifully camouflaged ibexes here.)
- Our encyclopedic entry uses the example of sharks: “When seen from above, they blend in with the darker ocean water below. This makes it difficult for fishermen—and swimmers—to see them. When seen from below, they blend in with lighter surface water. This helps them hunt because prey species below may not see a shark until it’s too late.”
- Yes, lots!
- How did countershading camouflage help paleontologists determine Psittacosaurus’ habitat?
- “To learn more about the dinosaur’s environs, the researchers built a life-size model of the Psittacosaurus and painted it a dull gray, providing a neutral background for assessing shadows on the body. At a nearby botanic garden, the model was photographed on both clear and cloudy days, out in the open and under cover of vegetation. The images show that the Psittacosaurus’s coloring provided the best camouflage in diffuse light [a “closed habitat”], not full sun [an “open habitat”]. So the reptile probably lived in the forest rather than on the savanna, the researchers conclude.”
- Cryptic coloration in Psittacosaurus is a new discovery. Is Psittacosaurus itself a newly discovered species of dinosaur?
- No! In fact, Psittacosaurus is one of the most well-known species of dinosaur in the world. Fossils from hundreds of individuals have been collected, identified, and studied. The species is so well-known that an entire time period is named after it—the Psittacosaurus biochron.
Nat Geo: This Dinosaur Wore Camouflage
Nat Geo: What is camouflage?
(extra credit!) Current Biology: 3D Camouflage in an Ornithischian Dinosaur