Around New England

Legendary Lizard Now State Dinosaur of Massachusetts

October 19, 2022

A prehistoric lizard that may have weighed about as much as a Doberman Pinscher or as little as a chicken is now the official dinosaur of Massachusetts.

State officials celebrated the occasion Wednesday, October 19 with a ceremonial signing at the Museum of Science in Boston by the outgoing governor, Charlie Baker, a Republican.

Podokesaurus holyokensis – which in Latin means “swift-footed lizard of Holyoke” – is named for Mount Holyoke, a 935-foot-high elevation in the towns of Hadley and South Hadley in western Massachusetts.

It was first discovered in 1910 by geologist Mignon Talbot (1869-1950) near Mount Holyoke, which lent its name to nearby Mount Holyoke College, where Talbot was a professor.

“Her discovery of the approximately eighteen-centimeter dinosaur, Podokosaurus holyokensis, in the Triassic sandstone near Mount Holyoke, established her reputation in vertebrate paleontology,” according to The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science:  Pioneering Live from Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century (page 1263).

Talbot theorized that the animal was a two-legged meat-eater; modern scientists believe it may have weighed about 90 pounds, though a writeup a few years after it was discovered guessed it was about the size of a chicken. Talbot thought a reconstruction of the animal showed it had what looked to her like “a sardonic smile.”

Eighteen centimeters, the size of the specimen, is about 7 inches, which about the length of two crayons placed lengthwise.

Yet even that remnant is gone. The fragmentary specimen was lost during a fire at a museum on the college’s campus in 1917, and no one has ever found another specimen known to be the same type of animal.

The primary sponsor of the dinosaur bill, Massachusetts state Representative Jack Lewis (D-Framingham), said he got the idea for suggesting a state dinosaur in 2020, early in the coronavirus shutdowns, while trying to organize a Zoom presentation to Cub Scouts as their den leader.

Experts pointed him in the direction of Professor Talbot’s discovery, according to State House News Service. She is the first female known to have discovered a non-bird dinosaur.

The state legislature approved the dinosaur bill earlier this year, and Baker signed the bill into law April 29, 2022.

“If this project inspires just a couple girls to grow up and explore paleontology it would have all been worth it,” Lewis said Wednesday.

 

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