What Are Our State Animals?

Reprinted from my November 8, 2009 column in the Morgantown Dominion Post 

The West Virginia state bird is the cardinal. Probably not very original so how did that come about? Actually for awhile, many thought that the tufted titmouse would be the state bird. The West Virginia Federated Women’s Clubs selected that bird as their state bird, and Nature Magazine then reported (in 1932) that West Virginia would follow. But it did not happen.

In 1949 our legislature adopted House Concurrent Resolution No. 12 and that resolution stated that pupils from public schools and civic organizations could name the state bird (and other animals), and the cardinal became our bird. With 800 species of birds in North America, that selection, though a beautiful bird, was not particularly original as six other states also have the cardinal. Most are neighbors (Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina). By the way, no state lists the tufted titmouse.

What is the most popular state bird? That’s a tie between the cardinal with seven and the western meadowlark also with seven states making that selection. There are some odd choices out there. For example, the yellowhammer is Alabama’s bird. Actually, that isn’t such an odd choice, because the yellowhammer is really the flicker. In fact, that term (yellowhammer) came into being because a company of Confederate soldiers from Alabama, had new uniforms with bright yellow colors on the collars and sleeves, and other soldiers greeted them with "yellowhammer", knowing that flickers had that band of yellow color as well. At subsequent reunions the Alabama confederate soldiers wore the yellow feather of flickers in their hat bands.

Our state mammal is the black bear. Louisiana and New Mexico both list the black bear as their state mammal, which is interesting because neither state has many black bears. Guess which mammal is the most common state mammal. No surprise here. It is the white-tailed deer. Ten states have the deer as their state mammal including neighboring Pennsylvania and Ohio. Not to pick on Alabama, but again, their state mammal is a bit different . . . the racking horse. The racking horse developed from the Tennessee Walking Horse, and is known for it’s singlefoot gait. A group from Alabama initiated actions that led to the racking horse being listed as a distinct breed, and the racking horse association is located in Alabama. You’ve got to give Alabama credit. Their state animals are different and unique choices.

California’s state mammal is the grizzly bears, but they have no grizzlies there today. New Jersey and North Dakota list the horse. I can see where a western state might select the horse, but New Jersey? Actually, when I looked into that, the choice makes sense. First, the horse is on their state seal. Second, there are 4,654 horse farms in New Jersey, and New Jersey is also home to the headquarters of the U. S. Equestrian Team. Thus, in 1977 New Jersey selected the horse as their state mammal.

Texas lists the Texas longhorn. Makes sense. Wyoming and Kansas list the buffalo. Again, that fits.

Some states have marine mammals as their state mammal. Connecticut lists the sperm whale, and Georgia of all places lists the right whale. That’s right. Massachusetts also lists the right whale, and Washington lists the orca (killer whale).

So, everyone has state birds and mammals, but let’s not stop there. We’ve got state flowers, reptiles, butterflies, fish, even insects. Our state reptile is the timber rattlesnake. Our state insect is the honeybee and Wikipedia shows that 41 states have state insects. Some, such as Alabama, list the monarch butterfly as their state insect, and we also list the monarch butterfly as our state butterfly. Actually several states list a state insect and a state butterfly (Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vermont). Sixteen other states have honey bees as their state insect, and monarch butterflies are listed by six other states. Seems that the public school students were working over time.

Twenty-six states list a state reptile, with a variety of turtle species being the most common reptile. The brook trout is our state fish. Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia also list the brook trout. (Yea, but our brook trout are larger than theirs. OK, that isn’t true, but I thought I’d give it a shot.)

Eighteen states have state amphibians, but we do not. In the states that do have a state amphibian, they run the gamut from bullfrogs to red-spotted newts. What, nobody lists spring peepers? Hmmm. Oh, I get it. It is not politically correct to be associated with spring peepers. Think about that one for a minute.

State animals can be changed. In fact, an article about what is happening in Florida, prompted me to write this column. The state bird in Florida is the mockingbird, and it has been so for 72 years. But other states also have that same species as their state bird. Thus, the Florida wildlife commission asked school children to select a new state bird. Interestingly, they chose the osprey, but the change won’t be easy as a few individuals are fighting hard to prevent it from happening. In 1999, school kids in Florida voted to have the Florida jay as their state bird. It didn’t pass. This past year, public schools used this effort as a teaching tool. Class assignments involved research, campaigning, giving talks, developing posters, etc., as they sought a new state bird. But, budget shortfalls prevented the legislature from dealing with this issue. Maybe next year.

Return To List

All Contents © Copyright 2005
Dr. David Samuel