America is a continent-sized country of extraordinary natural diversity. While the bald eagle is the national bird and the North American bison the national mammal, each state has chosen different animals as symbols, reflecting the nation’s diversity.
State animals include cats that weigh a few pounds and whales that weigh tens of tons, dogs that are loyal and loving and bears that are carnivorous, panthers that number in the low hundreds and birds that number in the millions. 24/7 Wall St. identified the official pets and animals of every state and considered how they were selected.
The tradition dates back more than a century. The 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago featured a “National Garland of Flowers” with representative flowers from each state. This began a trend that led to the adoption of state animals and other symbols. Some were designated by state legislatures, while others were chosen by polling certain groups, such as school children, teachers, and sportsmen.
At times, the selection process has been surprisingly contentious. An effort to make the golden retriever the official dog of Georgia in 1991 was foiled in the state Senate by a campaign in favor of the bulldog, the mascot of the University of Georgia. Utah was similarly divided between supporters of the golden retriever and advocates for other breeds, such as the German shepherd and the cocker spaniel. A bill to make the labrador retriever the official dog of Maine was defeated, although the state does have an official cat, the Maine coon cat.
Unfortunately, many of the wild animals that serve as state symbols have declined in numbers over the years and quite a few are endangered. In the past, some were almost hunted to extinction. Even when protected by legislation, these state symbols still face threats such as habitat loss, collisions with vehicles, predation, disease, and climate change.