Newly discovered dinosaur had a "bandit mask"

Researchers have uncovered the first dinosaur ever discovered with a raccoon-like mask.
By Ian Marsh | Oct 28, 2017
A new dinosaur species unearthed in China had a "bandit mask" pattern on its face that is similar to modern day raccoons, a new study published in Current Biology reports.

The prehistoric reptile -- known as Sinosauropteryx --existed between 133 and 120 million years ago in north-eastern China. It had feather, a long tail, and short arms.

Researchers from Bristol University made this discovery by analyzing three well-preserved fossil specimens. This revealed it had a banded tail and a specific color pattern known as "counter-shading," meaning it was dark on top and lighter on the underside.

Such patterns are found in numerous modern species, including raccoons, badgers, and nuthatches. This is the first time it has been observed in a dinosaur, but scientists are not sure the reason behind the pattern because its use differs from species to species.

"In raccoons and badgers, it's an advertisement of the fact that they're aggressive," explained lead author Fiann Smithwick, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol,according to BBC News. "If you're a predator and you mess with them, they're going to fight back. We think that's probably unlikely in Sinosauropteryx because there's no real anatomical evidence that it could have defended itself well. It's a small dinosaur and quite gracile (lightly built)."

Rather, researchers believe the reptile's mask served a function similar to ones noted in modern birds. Some avian species have patterns around their eyes in order to reduce glare from light reflected off of their feathers. That would have useful to Sinosauropteryx because it lived during a time with a lot of direct sunlight. In addition, there is a chance the mask could have helped camouflage the reptile as well.

The team discerned the dinosaur's coloration by looking at fossilized pigmented feathers.They then used cross-polarizing filters -- which reduce glare and reveal dark-pigmented areas -- to capture high-resolution photos of the specimens.

Those methods revealed the unique patters and could give researchers insight intoSinosauropteryx's habitat and behavior. The team plans to continue their research into the strange animals to see what they could tell them about other dinosaurs that lived during the same time.

 

"By reconstructing the color 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," added Smithwick, according to USA Today.

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