In addition to a state dog (the Boston terrier) and a state bird (the chickadee), Massachusetts now has an official state dinosaur: the swift-footed lizard of Holyoke.
On Wednesday, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker, surrounded by a group of paleontologists and lawmakers, celebrated the law naming the swift-footed lizard, also known as Podokesaurus holyokensis, the official state dinosaur in a ceremony at the Museum of Science in Boston. The state legislature passed the bill in May, according to a statement from the Museum of Science.
The first – and only – known Podokesaurus fossil was discovered in 1910 by geologist Mignon Talbot near Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts, which gave the species its name. The two-legged, hollow-boned carnivore would have been around 3 to 6 feet in length and weighed up to 90 pounds, according to the Museum of Science.
State Representative Jack Lewis, who sponsored the bill, told CNN the idea for the bill emerged as a pandemic passion project. He was looking for ways to make the virtual Cub Scout meetings he ran more exciting for participants.
“Soon, I came across the fact that a dozen states had already declared an official state dinosaur, but that Massachusetts was not one of them,” he said in a statement emailed to CNN.
So he reached out to leading paleontologists, and “the idea of the state dinosaur project was conceived.”
Lewis set up a poll, and more than 35,000 residents voted for their favorite out of the two dinosaurs discovered in Massachusetts. “The Podokesaurus holyokensis emerged as a clear favorite,” said Lewis. The losing dinosaur was Anchisaurus polyzelus, discovered in Springfield, Massachusetts.
He filed legislation alongside state Sen. Jo Comerford and state Reps. Mindy Domb and Dan Carey to officially recognize Podokesaurus as the state dinosaur.
The project helped connect Massachusetts residents with their representatives, Lewis said. And it helped highlight the accomplishments of women scientists like Talbot, the first woman to be elected to the Paleontological Society.
“The Museum of Science and other STEM advocates brought the story of Professor Talbot and her discovery into classroom conversations with the hope of further expanding the number of women and girls in careers in science,” wrote Lewis.
“I could never have imagined the ultimate breadth and depth of this project, or how much we all needed something fun and educational to bring us together during the height of the pandemic,” he went on.
“I will never again doubt the power of dinosaurs to inspire, connect, and educate.”