10 Dinosaurs Named After Women

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Where Have All the Girl Dinosaurs Gone?

The Land Before Time (Universal Pictures).

Paleontology tends to be dominated by men--which explains why so many dinosaurs bear macho, aggressive names like Tyrannotitan and Iguanacolossus. However, as an increasing number of women enter the field--and as male professors realize that women constitute more than half of the population--that imbalance is starting to be redressed. Here are 10 dinosaurs that have been assigned female names, either because they were discovered by women (or even little girls) or because they behaved in a presumably "feminine" way.

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Maiasaura (Wikimedia Commons).

The prototypical "female" dinosaur, Maiasaura--the "good mother lizard"--received its name because so many presumably female specimens were unearthed in close proximity to their fossilized eggs and hatchlings. In fact, this is one of the few dinosaurs for which we have direct evidence of parental care--a behavior that was likely shared by many other hadrosaurs of the late Cretaceous period (which, however, continue to bear masculine names). If you're ever in western Montana, be sure to visit Egg Mountain, ground zero for ongoing Maiasaura research.

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Martharaptor (Wikimedia Commons).

For the past twenty years, Martha Hayden has been the industrious assistant to several successive Utah state paleontologists--for which service she was recently honored with her very own dinosaur, Martharaptor, a strange, gangly, feathered theropod that bore a close resemblance to Falcarius (pictured). Technically classified as therizinosaurs, both Martharaptor and Falcarius may have pursued omnivorous, or even strictly herbivorous, diets, a strange evolutionary development for the same dinosaur family that spawned meat-eating raptors and tyrannosaurs.

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Leaellynasaura (Australia National Dinosaur Museum).

Thomas Rich and Patricia Vickers-Rich, a husband-and-wife team, are two of the best-known paleontologists in Australia. And they certainly like to keep things in the family: in 1989, the duo named their latest discovery, a small ornithopod, after their young daughter Leaellyn. The most interesting thing about Leaellynasaura is that it lived extremely far south for a dinosaur of the middle Cretaceous period, and thus had to endure long stretches of darkness and frigid temperatures (for which it compensated with its large eyes and, just possibly, a warm-blooded metabolism).

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Trinisaura (Nobu Tamura).

Like Leaellynasaura, Trinisaura lived very far south--in this case Antarctica, which wasn't quite as frigid 70 million years ago as it is today but still required a comfortable sweater. This four-foot-long, big-eyed ornithopod was named after the geologist Trinidad Diaz, and much about it remains a mystery--such as how it managed to survive for months at a time in the dark and cold. It's possible that Trinisaura possessed hair, or hair-like feathers, and that it had something resembling a warm-blooded metabolism, which would have helped it to preserve valuable body heat.

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Gasparinisaura (Wikimedia Commons).

Say you're writing a love poem to Trinisaura, and you need to find a suitable rhyme. Your obvious choice is Gasparinisaura, the third in our trio of female-named southern-dwelling ornithopods (after Leaellynasaura and Trinisaura). While Gasparinisaura didn't live as far south as these other dinosaurs, it was comparably sized (about as big as your average first-grader), and it may have traversed the South American plains in sizable herds. Like Trinisaura, Gasparinisaura honors a female professional, in this case the Argentine paleontologist Zulma Brandoni de Gasparini.

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Sarahsaurus (Wikimedia Commons).

Not all fossil-hunting expeditions are sponsored by universities or state geological surveys--sometimes there's no choice but to resort to private funding. Sarahsaurus, a 250-pound prosauropod of the early Jurassic period, was named in honor of Sarah Butler, who has funded numerous educational and research endeavors (along with her husband Ernest) from her home base in Austin, TX. The odd thing about Sarahsaurus is that it possessed unusually strong and flexible hands, capped by prominent claws, which may shed light on the evolutionary kinship of prosauropods to the very first dinosaurs.

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Bonitasaura (Government of Argentina).

Somewhat unusually for this list, Bonitasaura doesn't pay tribute to a female scientist; presumably, the feminine suffix "-a" seemed more appropriate for a titanosaur unearthed from the La Bonita quarry in Argentina. (What's more, this dinosaur's species name, B. salgadoi, honors the male paleontologist Leonardo Salgado.) But let's not quibble; few enough of these giant, four-footed plant-eaters bear feminine names, and Bonitasaura was relatively petite by late Cretaceous standards, only about 30 feet long and 10 tons (compared to 100 feet long and 100 tons for "male" dinosaurs like Argentinosaurus).

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Laquintasaura (Mark Witton).

As with Bonitasaura, there seems to be no obvious reason why Laquintasaura was endowed with a feminine suffix; perhaps we can chalk it up to the desire of the (male) research team to redress the historical balance, or perhaps they just thought Laquintasaura rolled off the tongue more euphoniously than Laquintasaurus. Whatever the case, Laquintasaura was a tiny ornithischian dinosaur that straddled the Triassic/Jurassic boundary, only recently evolved from the very first dinosaurs of Triassic South America (as evidenced by its presumed omnivorous diet).

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Saichania (Wikimedia Commons).

When a paleontologist says "hey, beautiful!", he hopefully isn't making a pass at a research assistant; he's marveling at the articulated, nearly complete dinosaur fossil he's just unearthed in the middle of the desert. Saichania is Chinese for "beautiful," and this late Cretaceous ankylosaur fully merits the name, as much for fashionable accessories like its crescent-shaped neck armor as for its unusually thick forelimbs and complicated nasal passages. (And lest you think the name Saichania is sexist, consider another Chinese ankylosaur, Tarchia, which translates as "brainy.")

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Tataouinea (Nobu Tamura).

There seems to be exactly one woman in the classic Star Wars universe: Princess Leia. That imbalance may or may not be redressed by Tatouinea, a northern African titanosaur that was named not after Luke Skywalker's home planet of Tattooine but after a province in Tunisia. It's not inconceivable that George Lucas was inspired by this stark landscape, and it's also not inconceivable that the research team behind Tataouinea decided on the female suffix "-a" as a tribute to the Princess. Idle speculation? Yes. But until more dinosaurs are named after women, as they should be, that's all we have to go on!