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August 14, 2022

Newly discovered dinosaur named for Hopkins postdoc

By Mali Wiederkehr | February 3, 2011

A new dinosaur species was recently named for Hopkins postdoctoral student Marina Suarez and her twin sister Celina Suarez. Its name, Geminiraptor suarezarum, or “Twin Predatory Thief of the Suarezes,” honors the 29-year-old twins whose geology work led to the discovery of a rich bone site near Green River, Utah.

“My research was on understanding the depositional environment and stratigraphy (rock sequences) of that locality, which also involved me looking at areas lateral to the site. I found the site because we saw a gully with steep sides which is ideal for looking at stratigraphy,” Marina Suarez wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

When the sisters went to investigate the site, they found bones jutting out the side of a cliff. “There is a lot of material there but not all of it is diagnostic,” Suarez wrote. Skull parts are diagnostic, and the animal was designated as a new species by a partial maxilla that was found at the site.

The new species is believed to have lived in Utah 125 million years ago, making it one of the oldest dinosaur species ever identified. James Kirkland, a paleontologist with the Utah Geological Survey who worked with the Suarezes was quoted in a Hopkins press release as saying that “the recently discovered genus is one that is entirely new to science.”

Research on Geminiraptor suarezarum indicates that this carnivorous dinosaur stood at six to seven feet tall and had large eyes and dexterous claws. It also had a very large upper jawbone, which may have helped it vocalize. Based on the ratio between its cranial capacity and body, it was more intelligent than other dinosaurs.

The site where the bones were found, called Crystal Geyser Dinosaur Quarry area, is now referred to as the “Suarez Sisters’ Quarry.” It hosts Utah’s second largest collection of preserved dinosaur bones.

“There are many more bones to prepare and describe, and more to excavate. So this is probably not the only new species there,” Suarez wrote regarding the site.

Utah contains a large quantity of dinosaur remains. Geminiraptor suarezarum is the eighth new dinosaur species identified there this very year.

“[Geminiraptor suarezarum] comes from the Early Cretaceous, which is an interesting time in the climate history of the Earth because it was much warmer during this time and many consider the Cretaceous a greenhouse world,” Suarez wrote.

The bone deposits indicate that several different species of dinosaurs from this time period had gathered at the site, which was near a water source.

Although Suarez does not plan to continue studying the species, she intends to return to Utah in the near future in order to continue studying the paleoclimate and paleoenvironment represented by the rocks where Geminiraptor suarezarum was found. Studying rocks containing dinosaur remains can reveal crucial information about the physical conditions and habitat in which dinosaurs lived.

Researchers Phil Senter, Jim Kirkland, John Bird and Jeff Bartlett are currently studying Geminiraptor suarezarum in the hopes of unraveling new information about the species. Some of the bones that the sisters found are now exhibited at the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum.

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