Massachusetts Dinosaur F.A.Q. (Frequently Asked Questions)
Why a State Dinosaur?
- Why not?! Massachusetts has a rich geological history that dates back millions of years and often tells us a lot about where we live today. There are three known species of dinosaurs from
Massachusetts and having our Commonwealth official designate one as our State Dinosaurs helps us celebrate the importance of this history. Massachusetts isn’t alone in this effort. There are currently 12 states in the U.S. that officially have designated a dinosaur.
Who came up with the idea of naming an official Massachusetts dinosaur?
- MA State Representative Jack Lewis (7th Middlesex District, Framingham) came up with the idea after helping his son’s Cub Scout troop earn a “Digging in the Past” pin. He hopes the initiative will help kids in Massachusetts learn more about science and prehistory in their area, along with the legislative process.
When was the decision made to file a bill in the state legislature to name an official state dinosaur?
- In January, 2021, Representative Jack Lewis used Twitter to announce plans to introduce a bill to name a state dinosaur. He launched a state-wide on-line poll and more than 35,000 votes were cast in only one month. The bill was officially filed on February 4, 2021.
Who says what dinosaur becomes the state dino?
- Thanks to our legislative process, you do! Through a public vote held in February, the Podokesaurus Holyokensis was chosen as the dinosaur to put forth in the proposed law. Now
that the bill is in the legislative process you have the job of reaching out to your state legislators to advocate for passing the bill into law!
What’s the process to name an official state dinosaur in Massachusetts?
- It is not a quick process and can take months and sometimes much longer.
- One of the first things that needed to be done was to get a bill number assigned so both the House and Senate will be able to review, discuss and pass it. “An Act establishing the official dinosaur of the commonwealth.” has been assigned House Number HD1392 and Senate Number SD698
- For more information about an idea becomes a law in the Massachusetts Legislature, you can read this document: How an Idea Becomes Law
What were the two dinosaurs to choose from?
- Podokesaurus holyokensis, a Jurassic era therapod was a fast-moving two-legged carnivore (meat eater) with grasping hands. It had hollow bones, weighed about 90 lbs and was 3-6 ft in length. It is estimated to have been able to run 9-12mph. It’s nicknamed the “swift-footed lizard of Holyoke.” Its bones were discovered in Holyoke, MA in 1910.
- Anchisaurus polyzelus was a prosauropod that was an herbivore (plant eater). It was also two-legged and weighed about 70 lbs. Its bones were first discovered in Springfield, MA in 1855.
How did these two dinosaurs get chosen to be on the ballot?
- These two dinosaurs were chosen because they were the only two dinosaur species that have been excavated in Massachusetts to date.
How many votes were cast?
- Podokesaurus holyokensis received more than 60% of the roughly 35,000 votes cast.
Who discovered the Massachusetts dinosaur?
- The Podokesaurus holyokensishas the distinction of being the first dinosaur to be named and described by a female scientist, paleontologist Mignon Talbot who was a professor of geology at Mount Holyoke College.The bones were found in 1910 near Mount Holyoke College while Professor Talbot was out for a walk with her sister. After being granted permission by the land owner to collect the specimen, she found the fossil consisted of much of the body, limbs and tail. It was recognized as a significant find and was studied by other researchers especially since no other early Jurassic theropod have been found on the East Coast. No other specimens have been found.
Where can we see the fossil of the Podokesaurus holyokensis that Professor Talbot found?
- Unfortunately, the original fossil of the Podokesaurus was destroyed in a museum fire in 1917 and no remains of the fossil were found in the ruins. Before it was destroyed, a cast of the fossil was made at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University. There is also a cast at the Amherst College Beneski Museum.
Have other dinosaurs or other prehistoric animals been found in Massachusetts?
- Although it’s not technically a dinosaur, the Stegomosuchus was a crocodile-like reptile from the Jurassic period. Dinosaur footprints from the late Cretaceous have also been found although paleontologist have not yet been able to identify what type of dinosaur they came from. Mastodon teeth, tusks and bone fragments have been found in Northborough, and fossil invertebrate trilobites have been found
- Local paleontologists believe there are many more dinosaurs to be discovered and described in Massachusetts, especially in the Hartford basin.
How many other states have official state dinosaurs?
- Nine other states have official state dinosaurs, the first of which was named in 1981: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming.
- Six other states have official fossils that happen to be dinosaurs: Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah and Oklahoma. The Massachusetts “state fossil” is dinosaur tracks.
What should you do if you think you’ve found a dinosaur fossil or bones in Massachusetts?
- Do not go looking for fossils on private property; always first ask the permission of the land-owner, just like Professor Talbot did.
- Do not disturb or pick up the bones.
- If you can, leave a marker that will help you find your way back to the site. In desert/badland we often use things called cairns (like the one pictured below) – which are piles of neatly stacked pebbles (usually a few in case they fall down) since they’re all natural materials and won’t be easily spotted by fossil thieves, but will help you remember your location.
- Take one or more photo of your find, including a few photos of the surrounding area. Send us an inquiry via the state dino contact page and we’ll tell you who you should send your inquiry to. Be sure to take careful notes about exactly where you found it – get the geographical coordinates (GPS coordinates) if you can from your phone or tablet by opening the Google Maps app and dropping a pin (and using the lat lon coordinates if you can).