This Small Dinosaur Had a Raccoon-Like Bandit Mask

May 1, 2018 2:39 pm Last Updated: May 1, 2018 2:39 pm

Researchers from the University of Bristol have revealed how a raccoon-sized, feather-clad dinosaur, the Sinosauropteryx, had multiple types of camouflage which enabled it to survive in a world roaming with larger meat-eating dinosaurs.

The Chinese dinosaur, the Sinosauropteryx, which lived 130 million years ago, had a dark stripe around its eye or “bandit mask,” a striped tail, and a “counter-shaded” pattern with a dark back and light belly.

Scientists reveal that these camouflage patterns were advantageous to the Sinosauropteryx. For example, the bandit mask helped to hide the eye from would-be predators; the striped tail confused both predators and prey; and the “counter-shaded” pattern made the body look flatter and less 3D, preventing it from standing out in the background.

These color patterns can also be seen in modern animals, such as today’s birds, where they serve as different types of camouflage.

Paleontologist Fiann Smithwick added, “By reconstructing the colour of these long-extinct dinosaurs, we have gained a better understanding of not only how they behaved and possible predator-prey dynamics, but also the environments in which they lived.”

The countershading on the Sinosauropteryx for example, went from dark to light high on the body, suggesting that it would be more likely to live in open habitats with minimal vegetation.

The Sinosauropteryx measured about 3.5 feet (1 meter) long, was two-legged with short arms, large thumbs and a very long tail, and was covered in filament-like feathers. 

It possessed small, sharp teeth, and ate small vertebrates like lizards.

“It would have looked like a skinny version of a raccoon mixed with a turkey,” said University of Bristol molecular paleobiologist Jakob Vinther.

Reuters contributed to this report.