Jurassic Bill: Official Massachusetts dinosaur named

By Adam Spector

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill making the Podokesaurus holyokensis the state’s official dinosaur in a ceremony at the Museum of Science in October.

State Representative Jack Lewis (D-7th Middlesex), who sponsored the bill, said he thought of the legislation during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At about 1 a.m., my Googling led me to realize that about 12 states had their own state dinosaurs,” Lewis said in an interview with The Beacon. “I also heard these bills came from classrooms wanting to learn about the legislative process.”

Two dinosaurs were discovered in Massachusetts: Anchisaurus and Podokesaurus holyokensis. To decide which would represent the state, Lewis, in collaboration with several paleontologists, created a poll with facts about each dinosaur. An estimated 35,000 children across the state voted, and the Podokesaurus holyokensis won. Not only did this teach children about the legislative process and the specific dinosaurs, Lewis said, but it also taught them the impact of voting.

Dr. Noel Heim, a paleontologist and professor of Earth and Climate Sciences at Tufts University, was one of several paleontologists contacted by Lewis for assistance on the project. He helped proofread and organize the facts page on the poll.

“I’ve never worked with state legislators, nor have I been asked about what the state dinosaur should be, so this was a unique experience. It was fun,” Heim said in an interview with The Beacon. “We thought it was fitting to have a dinosaur that was actually discovered in Massachusetts, and luckily there have been two dinosaurs discovered in the state.”

Tim Ritchie, president of the Museum of Science in Boston, views the passing of this bill as more than just an educational opportunity for children, but as a sign of a pro-science state government. 

“When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts sets aside an entire week for STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math, it’s about problem-solving,” he said at the signing event.  “We are in this common place where the general public can meet industry, academia, and government. We have the ability to think about what kind of world we want and what is our place in it. It’s a bill like the official state dinosaur that pulls us together.”

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito mentioned that museums such as the Museum of Science in Boston help create a sense of discovery and excitement for learning for children and adults.

“The Museum of Science is one of our many partners all across the Commonwealth that we are working with this week to intentionally spotlight what our STEM education opportunities look like here in Massachusetts,” Polito said. “Having this signing ceremony is perfect for us to celebrate what is happening in our classrooms.”

Although this legislation holds little political weight, Lewis still believes it is important. 

“While the main purpose of the bill was to help young kids understand how legislation works… [it] also shows people can work together,” Lewis said. “People across geographic and political spectrums can work on legislation that’s supported by the majority of folks across the state.”

While this bill may be mostly ceremonial, it was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and helped give people something to think about during the height of the pandemic, according to Heim and Lewis.

“This was during a time when people were sick of talking about the pandemic… and instead could talk about something fun… I was getting emails from parents who were excited because their kids were obsessed with dinosaurs, and they could talk to them about the legislative process.” Lewis said. “It’s no mystery that most kids, at one point, loved dinosaurs. What I didn’t expect was how much people needed something to talk about and to get excited about during the hard times.”