SALT LAKE CITY — Years of dedication to a profession that includes hours of volunteer work can earn an employee a gold watch, a plaque of appreciation or even a financial bonus.
In Martha Hayden's case, she gets something every grade-school boy would think is super cool: a dinosaur named after her.
Martharaptor greenriverensis, a puzzling dinosaur lacking a complete skeleton, was named after Hayden, who was the creature's co-discoverer.
"My mom likes it," Hayden said, laughing. "I was a little embarrassed."
Hayden, a dedicated advocate of paleontology, has worked for more than 20 years as the assistant to several Utah state paleontologists. In addition to volunteering her time, she is an employee of the Utah Geological Survey.
Her dinosaur was found in the roughly 125-million-year-old rock of the Cedar Mountain Formation southeast of Green River in Emery County, and collected under permit from the Bureau of Land Management. "Martha" has been placed into the collections of the Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City.
At first, researchers thought the "Martha" was a meat-eating dinosaur because other theropods — such as the famous Utahraptor — have been discovered in the same rocks. Some of the remains, however, resemble the pot-bellied, bipedal dinosaurs called therizinosaurs. These meat and plant-eating dinosaurs stand out because of their long necks and large hand claws.
Until a complete skeleton is found, the Martharaptor greenriverensis is destined to remain a mystery.
Hayden admits she doesn't get out in the field as much as she used to. The excursions take scientists, excavators and volunteers to remote areas of Utah's vast dinosaur graveyards and involve packing in their own water and other supplies.
Most of her time, she says, is spent maintaining the state's paleo database — a monumental inventory of fossil discoveries — and doing outreach through Utah Friends of Paleontology.
The "Martha" discovery has also been described in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed, open access journal that provides additional details about the findings.