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Dinosaurs may have used color as camouflage

Fossilized pigment pouches tell story of ancient animal’s habitat

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6:00am, November 16, 2016
Psittacosaurus

HIDE AND SEEK  Researchers hypothesized what sort of environment a parrot-beaked herbivore called Psittacosaurus (model shown) inhabited based on fossilized pigmentment patterns. 

The stories of dinosaurs’ lives may be written in fossilized pigments, but scientists are still wrangling over how to read them.

In September, paleontologists deduced a dinosaur’s habitat from remnants of melanosomes, pigment structures in the skin. Psittacosaurus, a speckled dinosaur about the size of a golden retriever, had a camouflaging pattern that may have helped it hide in forests, Jakob Vinther and colleagues say.
The dinosaur “was very much on the bottom of the food chain,” says Vinther, of the University of Bristol in England. “It needed to be inconspicuous.”

Identifying ancient pigments can open up a wide new world of dinosaur biology and answer all sorts of lifestyle questions, says zoologist Hannah Rowland of the University of Cambridge. “You might be able to take a fossil … and infer a dinosaur’s life history just from

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