A model of an Sinosauropteryx prima in the exhibition "Dinosaurs" at the LWL Natural History Museum in Muenster, Germany, 25 September 2014.
Caroline Seidel/picture-alliance/dpa/AP
By Billy Perrigo
October 27, 2017

Scientists said this week that a “diminutive” dinosaur from China is the first to sport a so-called “bandit mask” pattern around its eyes, an evolutionary feature common in modern-day mammals and birds, including raccoons.

The revelation came in a study released Thursday by researchers in England. “This is the first time it’s been seen in a dinosaur and, to my knowledge, any extinct animal that shows color bands,” a co-author of the study, Fiann Smithwick, told the BBC.

The roughly turkey-sized dinosaur, called Sinosauropteryx, was incidentally one of the first fossils to show evidence of feathers on dinosaurs, suggesting to paleontologists that the feature was widespread. Researchers said the new study analyzed specimens from the dinosaur’s feathers to reveal its appearance: bandit mask, light-colored underbelly, dark-colored back and striped tail.

Sinosauropteryx probably lived in an open savannah, researchers said, with the bandit mask pattern helping to reduce glare on the eyes.

“The color patterns we found are all known to be associated with camouflage in modern animals,” Fiann Smithwick, a paleontologist from Bristol University, told Reuters. “And so it is likely that Sinosauropteryx was under strong predation pressure as well as needing to hide from its own prey. It was likely both the hunter and the hunted.”

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