KU News Release

Jan. 31, 2011
Contact: Mary Jane Dunlap, University Relations, 785-864-8853

New dinosaur species named for twin KU graduates

LAWRENCE — Childhood dreams — if you hold on to them — can come true. Just ask University of Kansas graduates and identical twins Celina and Marina Suarez, who have a new species of dinosaur named for them.

On Dec. 15, the Public Library of Science journal PLoS One released a paper announcing that one of the oldest dinosaurs of its type ever identified in North America would be named for the Suarezes, the 29-year-old twin geochemists from San Antonio, Texas, who found the bones in 2004 during a research expedition in Utah. Its name: Geminiraptor suarezarum.

Celina, who completed her doctorate in geology at KU in spring 2010, begins as a postdoctoral researcher at Boise State University in Idaho in February. Marina, two minutes younger than her twin, completed her KU doctorate in fall 2009. She is the Morten K. and Jane Blaustein Post-doctoral Fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s earth and planetary sciences department. In fall 2011, Marina will begin a tenure-track position in geology at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

Both are still surprised at their discovery of a new troodontid, or bird-like raptor, and their new distinction. Worldwide there about 700 named dinosaurs.

“It really was a dream come true when we found the bones,” Marina said. “I was so excited. So much has happened between then and now though, that it seems like it’s been so long ago. I never thought of a dinosaur being named for us though.”

Marina says she and her sister began hunting dinosaurs in the second grade.

“Since then, I’ve never looked back,” she said. “Finding a dinosaur is something every kid dreams of, so it was really exciting to be the first people to see the remains of animals that have been gone for millions of years.”

Celina agreed.

“I never thought it would happen,” she said. “We — and I mean all of us paleo nerds — always dream about such a thing happening, but never think it will. As kids, though, we always wanted to find a new dinosaur. Again, one of those things you dream about happening. And, well, it did, so we were really excited about the find and even more thrilled that it was named after us.”

The twins were master’s degree students at Temple University when they found the troodontid bones. The discovery occurred while they were working in a fossil-rich site in eastern Utah with James Kirkland, state paleontologist with the Utah Geological Survey. Kirkland was researching possible causes of a mass mortality site of another meat-eating two-legged dinosaur, Falcarius utahensis, when the twins found what would be named the Geminiraptor bones.

The Geminiraptor site is in a slightly younger layer of earth and is now known as the Suarez Sisters’ Quarry. It has since yielded at least two, possibly three, new dinosaur discoveries. Kirkland and the Suarez sisters think this quarry and others nearby may be a mass mortality site and are trying to determine what caused so many animals to die in that area. Ten new dinosaur species have been found in the quarries — all in Utah on Bureau of Land Management sites. Eight of the new species, including G. suarezuam, were announced in 2010 by the Bureau of Land Management, the Utah Geological Survey and Temple University.

Geminiraptor came to light when Marina spied what appeared to be bone protruding on a steep hillside. She scrambled onto the slope and with Celina began uncovering bones and fragments. Later, fragments of a hollow upper jawbone were uncovered — clearly indicating the bones belonged to a new troodontid species.

Analysis and cataloging of the bones revealed that the twins had found the remains of a six- to seven-foot-long bipedal meat-eating raptor that lived about 125 million years ago. Most of the known troodontids discovered in North America date to between 72 million and 75 million years ago.

Kirkland theorizes that G. suarezuam was fast, smart and had big eyes and dexterous hands or claws. The unusual hollow upper jaw bone may have helped the dinosaur vocalize. Although it was much smaller, Kirkland has compared G. suarezuam in appearance to the Velociraptor, featured in the 1993 film “Jurassic Park.” The G. suarezaum bones reside at the College of Eastern Utah’s Prehistoric Museum in Price.

Honoring the twin sisters reflected not only their discovery, but also their passion for paleontology, Kirkland told reporters. He described the twins as “two whimsical pixies, always smiling. They should have their own kids TV show.”

Luis Gonzalez, chair of the Department of Geology at KU, added that the twins are great team players and known in the department for their twin-speak.

“One is always finishing a sentence for the other,” he said.

This summer, the Suarez twins hope to make their second trip to China to join a team researching rocks in northwest China similar in age to those found in Utah. They will work with Hailu You of the Chinese Academy of Geology in Beijing and Peter Dodson, professor of anatomy and paleontology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The twins were KU doctoral students in 2006 when they first met You and Dodson in China. That year, Celina and Marina were among seven KU students who accompanied Gonzalez and Ludvigson on a National Science Foundation-funded trip to research some important sites in China’s Gansu Province.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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