Having someone’s child named after you is quite an honor, but having T-Rex’s small cousin named after you is quite another thing. Hazel Wolfe was awarded that honor in May 2019 at the Arizona Museum of Natural History. White Mountain residents Chris, Hazel and Doug Wolfe run the Zuni Dinosaur Institute, now housed at the Blue Ridge Fab Lab.

PINETOP-LAKESIDE – How many people can say they have a dinosaur named after them? Well, there is one in the White Mountains — Hazel Wolfe.

Last spring the Wolfes — Hazel, Doug and Chris, were part of a special presentation at the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Mesa. A study published in the journal “Nature, Ecology & Evolution,” co-authored by Doug, along with the name and a model of the subject dinosaur, were revealed to the public for the first time.

Doug has over three decades of working as an earth science researcher, consulting geologist and science educator, specializing in biostratigraphy to interpret ancient environments, and was the principal investigator for the Zuni Basin Paleontologial Project. Hazel has been Doug’s field partner and tour coordinator for over 35 years, and Chris has over a decade of experience with information technologies and also working in the field. The family has started their own research non-profit, the Zuni Dinosaur Institute for Geosciences (ZDIG).

Mesa native Sterling Nesbitt, now a paleontologist and assistant professor at Virginia Tech, was the principal author of the study. Ironically, 21 years ago, Nesbitt was only 16 years-old and a museum volunteer when he went on an expedition led by Doug Wolfe to the Zuni Basin in New Mexico. Nesbitt found fossils which would take 20 years of puzzle-piecing research to identify as a new dinosaur species — a small and distant cousin to T-Rex. It was was a mid-sized, pack-hunting predator who lived about 25 million years before T-Rex. ZDIG notes that the importance of this find is that it provides an critical link between the smaller tyrannosaur ancestors and the giant super predator Tyrannosaurus rex.

Nesbitt named his find Suskityrannus hazelae — Suski for short. Suski is the Zuni word for coyote and hazelae is the species name which Nesbitt chose to honor expedition coordinator, Hazel Wolfe.

Thanks to the forward thinking and vision of Blue Ridge Unified School District and their FAB Lab, and the generous offer of an available building at Blue Ridge, the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Center offers learning opportunities for community students and community members. Through partnerships with Arizona Game & Fish, Arizona Elk Society, Blue Ridge School, and now Zuni Dinosaur Institute for Geosciences (ZDIG), the public will have access to yet another educational modality under the extension center’s purview. ZDIG’s cast Suskityrannus exhibit skeleton is on display at ZDIG’s room at Blue Ridge and was in part funded by a 2019 Rural Activation Innovation Newtwork (RAIN) STEM grant.

University of Arizona Extension Center Director Steve Gouker, said ZDIG fits in with the Agriculture and 4H youth development mission of the Extension Center. Gouker said many are under the misconception that the facility is only for Blue Ridge, but that is not correct – it is for everyone.

ZDIG has plans to construct a mobile Earth Science Museum which will be known as the ZDIG Dino-Mobile which will take the latest discoveries in earth sciences on the road. Wolfe says, “The Z-DIG Dino-Mobile will bring scientists from the field to the schoolhouse, sharing new scientific research and Earth-Science education with students and communities throughout the Southwest.” The Wolfes will be conducting tours, exhibits and presentations for the White Mountain community.

A grand opening of the ZDIG exhibit and learning center is planned for sometime in October. More information about ZDIG can be found at https://zdig.org

Reach the reporter at bbruce@wmicentral.com

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

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