In Utah’s arid, wind-swept deserts, paleontologists would be shocked to go an entire year without stumbling across the remains of a rock-encrusted dinosaur. Yet naming eight new species in 2010 was beyond their annual optimism.
“It’s actually a banner year,” said Mark Loewen, research curator and paleontologist for the Utah Museum of Natural History and adjunct assistant professor in geology and geophysics at the University of Utah. “Even back in the 1870s, when people first discovered dinosaurs here, there was never a year in which eight dinosaurs were named.”
Utah’s oldest, new stars include creatures like the Abydosaurus mcintoshi, Utahceratops gettyi and Hippodraco scutodens, horned, spiked and long-tailed creatures who inhabited Utah as far back as 125 million years ago.
“I’m not sure I could say one is more important than the other,” said Dan Chure, park paleontologist at Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal. “They’re all interesting depending on what type of scientific problem you’re working on. Some are more complete than others, but they’re all providing evidence on the evolution of dinosaurs that is important.”
The carnivorous terrors and prehistoric plant eaters were all found on Bureau of Land Management land in eastern Utah, except one, which was found in Dinosaur National Monument on National Park Service land.
Although the actual discovery of bones may have been several years ago, the process of excavating, lab research and getting a paper published in a journal constitute a dinosaur’s official “naming” — which happened eight times this year, said Don DeBlieux, paleontologist with the Utah Geological Survey.