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Yorker discovers and names new lizard-bird-like dinosaur


No, it's not a requirement that all dinosaur names be impossible to pronounce.

But the ability to sound out a word like "Saurornitholestes sullivani" clearly separates the paleontologists from the paleontolo-nots.

Take it from Steven Jasinski, a New Freedom resident and Susquehannock High School graduate who recently attached that alphabet jumble to a new species of dinosaur he discovered about two years ago.

Those 26 letters basically mean the Saurornitholestes sullivani was kind of lizard-like. And bird-like.

For the record, the word "Saurornitholestes" did not originate with Jasinski. That's actually the name of the appropriate genus within the theropod dinosaur family.

Jasinski added the word "sullivani" to distinguish the species and to honor his former boss, Robert Sullivan — the guy who actually pulled the bones of this animal out of the New Mexico dirt in 1999.

For years, scientists thought the specimen belonged to another type of theropod dinosaur, Jasinski said.

About two years ago, Jasinski was examining the bones when he noticed some odd features. Turns out, this animal had "an especially large olfactory bulb surface."

That meant two things: This wasn't the dinosaur scientists thought it was. And Saurornitholestes sullivani had a darn good sense of smell.

Jasinski said he spent the next few years conducting research to confirm his hypothesis. His findings were published in a peer-reviewed journal last month.

Similar to the better-known velociraptor, the Saurornitholestes sullivani would have been two-legged meat-eating predators that probably preferred to hunt in packs, Jasinski said.

"They could take down very large animals," he said.

The dinosaurs would have stood about 3 feet tall and had feathers on their bodies.

Jasinski estimates the Saurornitholestes sullivani lived about 74 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous period.

Most likely, these dinosaurs went extinct a few million years before all dinosaurs disappeared, he said.

Day job: These days, Jasinski is the curator of paleontology and geology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg — the same job formerly held by his former boss and the namesake of the world's newest known dinosaur.

People might assume scientists assign their own names to the species of newly discovered species, but that's not the way it usually works, Jasinski said.

"It's not really against the rules," but most scientists use the opportunity to honor someone else, he said. Just add an 'i' to the last name.

At just 30 years old, Jasinski has plenty of time to find his own apprentice with a knack for discovering dinosaurs.

He "absolutely" would love to be the inspiration of a dinosaur name some day.

"It's something that would kind of live in infamy," he said.

But would it be the Jasinski or the Jasinskii?

— Reach Erin James at