By Haley Chi-Sing
Boston University Statehouse Program
BOSTON — A proposal to recognize the “swift-footed lizard of Holyoke” as the official Massachusetts dinosaur has passed its initial State House hurdle.
And swiftly, at least by State House standards.
The Podokesaurus holyokensis would earn that status under a bill filed by Rep. Jack Lewis, D-Framingham. It won unanimous approval last week from the Legislature’s Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.
The idea was originally spurred by Lewis’ own children during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown. A Cub Scout group discussion eventually led to the realization that 12 other states have an official state dinosaur.
After collaborating with local paleontologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Boston Museum of Science, it was decided the Podokesaurus holyokensis — one of two dinosaurs whose fossils were discovered in Massachusetts — would be the choice.
The dinosaur’s remains were discovered in 1910 near Mount Holyoke by geologist Mignon Talbot. That was the first record of a female scientist officially discovering, naming and describing a dinosaur in history, a fact that caught Lewis’ interest.
“There was great excitement about what that would mean for encouraging more young women to explore fields of science, especially paleontology,” the Framingham rep said.
Expecting to garner only about 500 responses to his popularity poll, Lewis instead received more than 35,000 positive replies. Teachers, students and parents alike supported the idea.
“Many folks — paleontologists, teachers, parents and students — took time out of their day to testify and to send letters of support. And I’m very grateful to the committee for voting,” said Lewis.
The bill prompted state Rep. Daniel Carey, D-Easthampton, to file a separate piece of legislation for a study to clarify laws around preserving fossil remains and artifacts found by residents in the state.
Alongside the educational efforts bolstered by the dinosaur bill, Lewis said he hopes to engage both children and adults in the legislative process.
“A lot of school kids, and parents and teachers have had fun learning about dinosaurs,” he said. “But a lot of those parents now have a connection with their state rep — that is already bearing positive fruit. So this project has exceeded all of my expectations. And daily I continue to learn of positive connections that have been made because of it.”
This story originally appeared in the MetroWest Daily News.