Science | February 6, 2021 7:05 pm

Massachusetts Has a State Dinosaur Now

It joins the small group of states with official dinosaurs

Skeletal reconstruction of Podokesaurus
Skeletal reconstruction of Podokesaurus.
Richard Swann Lull

Delve deeply enough into a state’s history and laws and you’re liable to discover some interesting facts that can come in handy on your next trivia night, or when showing off at parties. State birds, state plants and state animals are all pub quiz questions waiting to happen. Did you know that South Dakota’s state bird is the ring-necked pheasant? If you didn’t before, you do now. New Jersey’s state flower is the violet, and Oregon’s state animal is the American beaver; all facts you can use to stump your friends and family.

Some states go beyond honoring wildlife that you can find there now and hearken back millions of years resulting in the phenomenon of official state dinosaurs. Not every state has gone this route, and some have preferred to name an official state fossil. The latest entry into this pantheon comes from Massachusetts, who recently named Podokesaurus holyokensis as their state dinosaur.

Writing at Atlas Obscura, Jessica Leigh Hester has more information on the recent declaration. Jack Patrick Lewis, the state Representative behind the effort, was initially inspired by looking into, as Hester phrases it, “ways to make paleontology accessible and engaging for his kid’s Cub Scout den.” Cue the effort to write a bill to name a state dinosaur.

As it turns out, there are only 2 species of dinosaurs that have been discovered in Massachusetts: Podokesaurus holyokensis and Anchisaurus polyzelus. The former was a small carnivore between 3 and 6 feet in length; the latter was an ancestor of large sauropods. The matter was put to an online vote, and from there, Podokesaurus holyokensis emerged as the victor.

Will this declaration make paleontology more accessible to students? One hopes it will. Hester writes that Lewis is hoping it will also lead to more fossil digs within the state. Jurassic Park with an on-site Dunkin’ Donuts, perhaps? The mind boggles.

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