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Massachusetts’ little state dinosaur, a ‘tough, spunky underdog from Holyoke,’ gets a big welcome

It’s a high honor for the Podokesaurus Holyokensis.

A Podokesaurus Holyokensis (cast ) with a rendering of what the dinosaur probably looked like above it.David L Ryan/Globe Staff

For such a small creature, it was a big day for the official dinosaur of Massachusetts, the shin-high Podokesaurus Holyokensis.

State officials, paleontologists, and museum leaders gathered at the Museum of Science on Wednesday in recognition of the cat-sized reptile, which roamed the region around 195 million years ago, for a bill-signing ceremony.

The formal recognition was the handiwork of State Representative Jack Lewis, who began pushing for the designation last year as part of a civics lesson for his den of 8-year-old Cub Scouts so they could earn their “Digging in the Past” adventure badges.

Their effort gained attention on social media after Lewis invited the public to take part in a poll between the Podekesaurus or the Anchisaurus Polyzelus, the only other dinosaur to be discovered in the state. More than 35,000 people voted, and Lewis brought the winner before the Legislature. A bill to make the Podekesaurus the state’s dino-ambassador was passed in May.

On Wednesday, Governor Charlie Baker credited the kids for giving “a tough, spunky underdog from Holyoke the opportunity to be the dinosaur here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

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Governor Charlie Baker's height compared to the 12-inch Podokesaurus dinosaur.Wikimedia Commons, Erin Clark/ Globe Staff

The Podokesaurus, about 1 foot tall and 3 feet long, is what’s known as a theropod — a type of dinosaur that walked on its hind legs with trios of claws. Paleontologist Mignon Talbot, the first woman to discover and name a dinosaur, found its fossilized skeleton near Mount Holyoke in 1910.

Lewis said Wednesday he hoped Talbot’s legacy will inspire young learners from all backgrounds.

“Paleontology is one of those fields — unfortunately, like many fields in science — where not enough women get into the field; not enough women are supported and inspired to get into the field,” he said. “If this project inspires just a couple young girls to grow up and explore paleontology, it would have been all worth it.”

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There is plenty to love about the newly heralded mid-Jurassic era dinosaur.

Seemingly cute but vicious, it’s believed to have been quick on its feet — its name, after all, translates to “swift-footed lizard of Holyoke.” It had a slender mouth full of sharp teeth and was swathed in what researchers hypothesize was a thin coat of feathers with a polka dot pattern.

It’s by far the smallest of the official state dinosaurs. Colorado, for instance, chose the mighty Stegosaurus, which was 28 feet long and weighed 4.8 metric tons. Texans picked the majestic Sauroposeidon, a giant that stood nearly 60 feet tall. The next-smallest among the group is Utah’s Utahraptor, which was about 18 feet long.

“I think it’s really good that our lizard is very fast,” said Baker, who stands about as tall as roughly 6 1/2 Podokesauruses.

He gestured to the large and imposing skeleton of a Triceratops — the state dinosaur of Wyoming — that stood next to him at the ceremony.

“Because that one is very big,” he said.

As part of STEM Week, the Museum of Science welcomed Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, state lawmakers, paleontologists, and the public to celebrate the signing of a bill to designate the official state dinosaur.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Spencer Buell can be reached at spencer.buell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerBuell.