Research | Oh, golly, they are both absolutely wonderful feelings. Its hard for me to put in words, to compare one over the other. I guess I simply cant, says Dr. Peter Dodson, professor of anatomy in the School of Veterinary Medicine and professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.
The noted dinosaur expert is tryingand failingto pick the more satisfying of two recent achievements. In a paper published in Acta Geologica Sinica last September, Dr. Hailu You Gr02 named a dinosaur in honor of Dodson, his former teacher, in recognition of his contribution to the study of horned dinosaurs. And this past spring, Dodson himself was the lead author on a paper describing another newly discovered dinosaur published in the journal Acta Paleontologica Polonica.
In the case of the dinosaur-naming, Dodson compares his feeling to the pleasure a parent takes in a childs accomplishments. My students are my intellectual children, he says. And Hailu has turned out absolutely splendidly, everything that I hoped he would be. With evident parental pride, Dodson tells how, in 2003, You managed a feat that may be unprecedented in the history of paleontology by describing five new dinosaurs in a single year, which is extraordinary.
One of these was Magnirostris dodsonia fairly small, plant-eating dinosaur, with a fan-shaped frill or shield at the back of the skull, which lived in the Late Cretaceous Period some 90-65 million years ago, says Dodson. It is related to the great dinosaurs like triceratops that everybody knows, but it was a much smaller, primitive kind of creature. (The first word translates as large beaka reference to the specimens robust rostral bone and not any physical feature of Dodsons.)
The specimen was actually collected in the Bayan Mandahu area of Inner Mongolia by the Sino-Canada Dinosaur Project in the early 1990s, and had been displayed at the Museum of the Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, where You received his masters degree and is currently a research associate.
Dodson recalls visiting him there in 1997, and telling him that the specimen was mislabeled as a Protoceratops, a kind of dinosaur that had been described almost 100 years before, he says. Hailu had just become my student, and he processed it, but I didnt know what was going on in his head at the time. That was the last time we ever discussed itthen, sure enough, six years later he described the specimen and named it after me.
In his latest contribution to the field, Dodson and a team of Penn researchers have described a new dinosaur species discovered in southern Montanathe first to be found in the area in more than a century. The specimen was actually found by an emeritus professor at the veterinary school, William Donawick, an equine surgeon, who noticed the bones sticking out of the ground while horseback-riding on a visit to his daughter and son-in-laws ranch in Wyoming. Donawick brought a few of the bones back to Philadelphia to be examined by Dodson, who allows that he was pretty excited.
The initial discovery was in 1998, and the rest of the specimen was collected by Dodson and his team the following summer, followed by the long process of discovery and analysis and description and publication, which, at five years, was typical, he says. Suuwassea emilieae, as the species has been designated, was a sauropod dinosaurrelated to, but at 50 feet long, somewhat smaller than Diplodocus and Apatosaurusthat lived about 150 million years ago. Its most surprising feature, says Dodson, is the presence of a second hole in its skulla first for a North American dinosaur, and of unknown function. (Similar species have a single hole on the top of the skull related to the nasal cavity.)
Suuwassea refers to the Native American Crow word for ancient thunder, as well as thunder lizard, the original nickname for Apatosaurus. The emilieae part of the name is for Emilie deHellebranth, a very dear elderly lady noted for her philanthropy for a number of causes, including the School of Veterinary Medicine, says Dodson. She took a shine to my work and [supported it] for a number of years, and so we did want to honor her.
Continuing to weigh the comparative joys of naming and being named, Dodson says: In a certain sense, I suppose having a species named after you is even sweeter, particularly when you dont anticipate it coming. Some 25 years ago in the Gazette, Dodson doubted that such an honor would ever come his waythe story was about his view that certain so-called new dinosaurs were more likely juveniles of known species, which would have the effect of reducing prestige-enhancing naming opportunitiesbut Magnirostris is actually the second species dodsoni.
In the first instance, however, the specimen in question was a tiny
piece of a fossil frog, maybe a centimeter long, Dodson recalls.
While he describes it as a great surprise and very pleasing, he
adds that he could not tell one fossil frog from another. Considering
2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette