SALT LAKE CITY — Had Utah's newest dinosaur not gone extinct, it might have evolved into a highly intelligent creature, scientists speculate.
"Its skull is six times larger than other dinosaurs'," said Scott Foss, regional paleontologist with the Bureau of Land Management.
But the new dinosaur, Geminiraptor suarezarum, has a large brain, inflatable upper jawbone and feathers on its arms and legs.
It has been a record-breaking year for dinosaurs in Utah, where eight new species have been discovered in the past 12 months.
The unique fossil was discovered by Celina and Marina Suarez, twin sisters from Temple University. They were investigating the site with Utah paleontologist Jim Kirkland and the Utah Geological Survey while working on master's degrees in geology.
"We were just following a geologic layer when we saw these bones sticking out of a hillside and reported it to the (UGS) crew," said Celina Suarez.
She said the site is rich in fossilized bones, and it took staff and students at the College of Eastern Utah in Price to help excavate the area and describe what was found at the dig.
Suarez said she and her sister were surprised when Kirkland suggested naming the creature after them. Its name translates to "Twin Predatory Thief of the Suarezes." "I told (Kirkland) I thought he was joking at first," Suarez said. "It's pretty cool."
Kirkland said the abundance of species discovered in Utah makes it the richest dinosaur bone yard in the country and second in the world only to China.
"One (find) is unusual, eight is outstanding," Foss said of the newest creature, featured in a new report for the online journal PLoS ONE.
The upper jawbone of the meat-eating creature, small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, was discovered in 2004 in a formation in the Crystal Geyser area near the Green River in eastern Utah, where it lived 125 million years ago. It is the oldest species found in North America belonging to the "raptor-like" troodon group of dinosaurs.
Foss said worldwide there are about 700 named dinosaurs.
"This string of dinosaur descriptions means that a full 1 percent of all known dinosaur species were described from lands in Utah during 2010," said Foss. "That's what's interesting and fun about this."
Kirkland, who co-authored the paper and was on site for the discovery, said the jawbone is hollow and could be inflated "like a balloon." He was unaware of that characteristic in other fossilized dinosaurs and can only speculate on its purpose. "There's no clue what it was used for," he said. "Maybe it was some kind of resonating chamber for vocalization."
Utah's isolated rugged areas and searing summer kept the deposits from being discovered, Kirkland said. Scientists were more inclined to hunt in cooler areas, such as Montana and Canada.