University of Bristol researchers reveal the most lifelike depiction of a dinosaur ever. The dinosaur, called Psittacosaurus, was found to have a light underside and darker top.

As reported in the journal Current Biology, the dinosaur, which is actually an early relative of Triceratops, had horns on the side of its head and long bristles on its tail. It roamed China during the early Cretaceous period.

The color pattern, which is called countershading, helped in camouflage. This allowed the dinosaur to appear optically flat while inhabiting a forest or areas with diffused light.

The remains of Psittacosaurus, which means parrot lizard due to its parrot-like beak, were found well preserved in China, the same area where other feathered dinosaurs have been found. Now, the lifelike 3D model of the dinosaur can be seen at the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Germany.

What they thought were artifacts or dead bacteria were actually melanosomes, which carry melanin pigments in an animal skin or feathers. Eventually, they determined that this countershading hid Psittacosaurus from predators that use patterns of shadow on an object to determine shape.

Constructing the dinosaur involved taking measurements of the bones, as well as analyzing the preserved scales and the dinosaur’s pigment patterns. Palaeontologists also provided the muscle structure.

“Our Psittacosaurus was reconstructed from the inside out,” says palaeoartist Bob Nicholls. “There are thousands of scales, all different shapes and sizes, and many of them are only partially pigmented. It was a painstaking process but we now have the best suggestion as to what this dinosaur really looked like.”

The research team adds that the color patterns can also provide clues about the dinosaur’s ecology and habitats. They concluded that this cute but weird parrot lizard lived in a forest.

The research team plans to investigate other dinosaurs with other types of camouflage. This could help us understand how predators viewed their environment and how they changed evolution and biodiversity of the planet.