Psittacosaurus was first discovered in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia, during an expedition organized by the American Museum of Natural History in 1922. Psittacosaurus was described and named the following year. Its name translates as ‘parrot lizard’ because it had a deep, curved beak reminiscent of a parrot’s.
A wealth of fossil material, including adults, juveniles, and babies, makes Psittacosaurus one of the best-known of all the dinosaurs. Soft tissues have even been found preserved in a Psittacosaurus skeleton discovered in Liaoning Province, China. This impressive fossil shows the outline of the body and even indicates the color and pattern of the skin, which was darker on top and lighter underneath. It also shows a row of bristles running along the top of the tail, which may have been for show.
Psittacosaurus was a ceratopsian dinosaur, the group that includes the famous horned Triceratops. Both of these dinosaurs share key characters such as a beak and cheek spikes. However, Psittacosaurus is a much older and smaller cousin, only about the size of a large dog.
Some species of Psittacosaurus lived in the arid environments of Early Cretaceous Mongolia, while others occupied the forested wetlands of Early Cretaceous China.