Meet Massachusetts’ Official State Dinosaur

The ‘swift-footed lizard’ won 60 percent of 35,000 total online votes

The image shows a light brown feathery dinosaur with dark brown spots. The dinosaur is shown in a sprinting pose against a white background
Podokesaurus holyokensis, lived during the Mid-Jurassic period, 195-180 million years ago, in what is now Massachusetts and could sprint up to 9 to 12 MPH. FunkMonk (Michael B. H.), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Meet Massachusett's official state dinosaur: Podokesaurus holyokensis, a mid-Jurassic era dino with a "light and delicate frame" that likely weighed in at 90 pounds and measured about three to six feet in length.

After more than 35,000 total votes were cast in an online poll, the dinosaur was crowned the winner in a virtual event hosted by Museum of Science on February 4, reports Heather Morrison for Mass Live.

To decide which dinosaurs to pit against each other for the title of state dinosaur, state legislators consulted various researchers, reports Jessica Leigh Hester for Atlas Obscura. Selecting the candidates was easy because only two dinosaur species have been excavated in Massachusetts: Podokesaurus holyokensis and Anchisaurus polyzelus.

The idea of picking a state dinosaur came to Massachusetts state representative Jack Lewis while brainstorming Covid-safe projects for his child’s cub scouts chapter that would engage the scouts in both science and the legislative process.

In January, Lewis used Twitter to announce his plan on introducing a bill to declare a state dinosaur. He asked Massachusetts residents to vote between two dinosaurs: Podokesaurus holyokensis and Anchisaurus polyzelus, reports Morrison for Mass Live on January 4. The online poll received an overwhelmingly positive response, and on the first day of putting out the initial tweet, the poll already had 7,500 votes reports, Christopher Gavin for Boston.com. The bill was originally going to be filed on January 15, but after continued immense support, the voting period was extended by two weeks until January 29, reports Charlie McKenna for the Boston Globe.

Naming a state dinosaur is meant to serve as an educational tool for younger students.

"Dinosaurs already serve as a gateway to science for many young people," Mark McMenamin, a paleontologist at Mount Holyoke College, told CNN's Lauren Kent on January 17. "As we move forward with naming a state dinosaur, kids will learn the names of dinosaurs that lived here in Massachusetts. This emphasizes the fact that dinosaur bones and tracks exist right under our feet."

The voter favorite, Podokesaurus holyokensis, lived during the mid-Jurassic period, 195-180 million years ago, in what is now Massachusetts. In 1910 near Mount Holyoke College, the swift-footed lizard's remains were first unearthed by American paleontologist and professor Mignon Talbot. Talbot, the first female scientist to name and describe a dinosaur, wrote in The American Journal of Science in 1911 that the dinosaur had a "light and delicate frame" and was excellently preserved, reports Atlas Obscura. Lewis hopes that selecting a state dinosaur inspires students to learn about the legislative process and paleontology and inspire young girls to explore STEM careers.

Meet Massachusetts' Official State Dinosaur
The 'swift-footed lizard' remains were first unearthed by American paleontologist and professor Mignon Talbot. The first female scientist to name and describe the dinosaur. Asa Stephen Kinney(Life time: 1873-1961), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“There is also such great energy around how this project can not only elevate Professor Mignon Talbot, and make sure that her story is more well known, but also how to ensure that fields like paleontology, which historically have not been fields of study that women have been attracted to in the same numbers as men, but how we can reflect on the role of women in science and the role of inspiring today’s younger generation of women,” Lewis tells Mass Live.

If the two bills submitted on February 4 by Lewis pass, Massachusetts will join 12 other states and Washington, D.C., in selecting an official state dinosaur. Lewis hopes the effort revitalizes interest in paleontology and inspires more excavation projects in Massachusetts, reports Atlas Obscura.

“If this project helps even one museum to revisit some of their specimens long locked away and the vaults of the museum, then who knows what we’re going to discover in Massachusetts in the future,” Lewis tells Mass Live.