Former Governor Baker,Former Lieutenant Governor Polito and Fred Venne

One Meter Long, 40 Kilos, Sharp Teeth, and Feathers: The New Massachusetts State Dinosaur

Presented by Fred Venne, Museum Educator at Beneski Museum of Natural History, and Moderated by Annika Baldwin ’24

Alumni and friends enjoyed a night at the museum for One Meter Long, 40 Kilos, Sharp Teeth, and Feathers: The New Massachusetts State Dinosaur, a live, virtual event presented by Fred Venne, museum educator at Beneski Museum of Natural History.

Fred Venne is the museum educator at Beneski Museum of Natural History, part of a collaborative network of 10 museums located in and around Amherst. Fred has more than 30 years of experience in educational administration, science education, museum education and informal science learning. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts with degrees in business, educational leadership and educational administration, Mr. Venne began his career as a non-profit agency director where he redeveloped the vision, mission, and goals of a turn-of-the-century organization with a long history of serving immigrant populations.

Mr. Venne came to the Beneski Museum of Natural History in 2011 to help re-imagine its educational and outreach work. One critical aspect of this re-imagined effort involved multiple partnerships with educational, cultural, media and research organizations. Numerous on- and off-site projects have evolved as part of this partnership work. One recent project involved a successful effort to select a state dinosaur for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Beneski Museum worked with a statewide team of paleontologists, dinosaur enthusiasts, museum experts, state legislators and more than 30,000 members of our Massachusetts community over two years to move this effort forward.

Over the years, Mr. Venne’s work included serving as the CEO and program developer for several non-profits, consultant to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, adjunct faculty with Fitchburg State University, science teacher, science curriculum developer and school principal. Fred has presented at local and national conferences on the subjects of “Systemic Change,”  “Universal Design for Learning (UDL),” and “Inquiry Based Science.”

Annika Baldwin ’24 is a senior biology major from Princeton, New Jersey. She has been a docent at the Beneski Museum of Natural History since 2020 and was a summer intern in 2021. Her favorite part of working at the museum is getting to talk to all the ultra-enthusiastic kids with a passion for dinosaurs who come to visit the exhibits. Annika also works as a research assistant in the biology department on a project about eastward black bear migration in Massachusetts and is currently working on painting a field guide to birds of Amherst College.

Scientific notes about the song:

Note:  Songs are meant for enjoyment, so sometimes artists take a little artistic license during their creative process.  As Terry himself said, “It’s hard to be exact, when you’ve got to rhyme!”  Hey, if it gets people talking about Podokesaurus — we totally encourage that!  But, for the sake of scientific accuracy, we want to make sure we clarify a few things about the song.  This section is especially important for educators/mentors/parents who want to teach students about scientific accuracy in paleontology to avoid spreading misinformation.

Here are some minor pieces of misinformation we found in the lyrics:

  • Although many reptiles came from a long way away to see the show of the dino foot race, dinosaurs were not actually reptiles.  Dinosaurs are actually much closer relatives of birds (actually birds are classified as living dinosaurs)
  • Velociraptors weren’t really contemporaries (at the same time) of Podokesaurus.  They came a lot later in time, more than 100 million years later.  Prosauropods were around, and sauropods were just evolving, but the large sauropods we usually think of (like from the movies and museums), came much later in time.
  • Podokesaurus probably didn’t have skin like an artichoke (I I mean maybe it could have been a little bit like an artichoke, but maybe not likely).  In fact, it was around this time that dinosaurs evolved feathers (for many reasons), so we believe it’s possible Podokey (which was a very birdlike dinosaur) may have had a body totally or partly covered in feathers like a bird.
  • Madam Talbot actually wasn’t digging around with a rock hammer.  She found a portion of the Podokesaurus slab (which you can see below and on our homepage, including a 3D model of it) right out on the surface and people later came back to dig out the rest to bring back to the lab for preparation (preparation is what we call cleaning up the fossil).
  • Implying that the Podokesaurus might be a ‘6 foot salamander’ (when Mignon Talbot still wasn’t sure what she found) is equating the Podokesaurus to an amphibian — yet another whole group of animal (closer to frogs, like the DNA used to fill in dinosaur DNA in Jurassic park) that came much earlier than reptiles and birds.  Amphibians came much earlier; in fact, amphibians were the first four-legged animals to come up on land, after a long time of evolution in the sea).
  • If Podokesaurus could actually talk, as the lyrics state, he/she would probably speak up about being called a lizard so much.  To call Podokesaurus a lizard over and over again would probably make him/her cry.  As mentioned above, Podokesaurs were not reptiles, but in fact, were far closer to the pigeons and sparrows we see all around us today.  Podokesaurus was alive at a time when a major mass extinction had just occurred, so we’re sure he/she would definitely have an appreciation for taking better care of the earth.
  • Podokesaurus didn’t really live in what we think of now as Holyoke — it didn’t even live in the United States; it lived in a whole other place known as Laurentia, part of the original supercontinent Pangea that once existed and broke up into smaller pieces, to make all the continents we know today.  So, Podokesaurus could unfortunately not be President of the United States, because he/she was actually a born in, and was a citizen of, Laurentia!