Meet the official state animals of Arizona, a motley crew of creatures that range from the majestic to the mischievous. These animals embody the spirit of the state, with their rugged resilience and fierce independence, but also their surprising vulnerability and unique adaptations to a harsh and changing landscape. Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast or just looking for a new way to connect with the Southwest, these state animals will captivate your imagination. They will also leave you with a newfound appreciation for the wild and wonderful world around us.
What is an Official Animal?
Official animals are like the VIPs of the animal kingdom, appointed to represent a specific region, nation, or organization. These furry, feathered, or scaly ambassadors are not just cute and cuddly faces. They symbolize the values, history, and aspirations of their respective communities. Whether it’s the wise owl of Athens or the mighty lion of Ethiopia, these animal icons are respected and revered as proud emblems of their cultural heritage.
Official State Animals of Arizona
Let’s take a closer look at these fascinating creatures and see what makes them so special to the people of Arizona.
1. Official State Animal of Arizona, Reptile: Arizona Ridge-Nosed Rattlesnake
One of the venomous pit viper species, known as the Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake, inhabits the southwestern part of the United States, including Arizona. In 1986, the Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake was selected as the official state reptile of Arizona, mainly because of its strong presence and connection with the state. This species of snake is indigenous to Arizona. It is also one of the most recently discovered rattlesnake species in the United States.
This pit viper has yellowish-gray to reddish-brown coloring with narrow white bands outlined by black borders. It has ridged scales, a triangular head with an upturned snout, a narrow neck, a moderately robust body, and a short tail. Quite a unique appearance!
This rattlesnake is predominantly active during the day and enjoys sunbathing on rocks. It actively preys on lizards and typically remains concealed, waiting to ambush small rodents and birds.
Belonging to the Viperidae family, the Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake possesses long, needle-sharp front fangs that enable it to inject a hemotoxic venom into its prey, which is a characteristic feature of vipers. However, some experts classify this snake, alongside other pit vipers, under the Crotalidae family.
- The Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake lives in high mountain forests in southeastern Arizona.
- As an adult, this species typically measures an average of 18 inches in length and rarely exceeds 2 feet.
- Although no fatalities have been recorded due to bites from the Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake, a bite from this species can still result in pain and discomfort.
2. Official State Animal of Arizona, Amphibian: Arizona Tree Frog
The central mountains of Arizona are home to the Arizona tree frog, a species of amphibian that holds the distinction of being the state’s official amphibian.
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission held a program for schoolchildren to study amphibian species and vote for their favorite. The competition involved three toads and a treefrog, with the Arizona treefrog emerging as the winner with over 3,000 votes. This decision was approved by the state legislature in 1986, making the Arizona treefrog an official symbol of Arizona.
With a coloration that is typically bright green, the small frog can occasionally display a gold or bronze hue. The creature’s distinctive dark stripe begins at its blunt nose and runs through its dark brown eyes, extending along the sides. In addition, the hindlegs’ backs and groin region display orange or gold colors with a hint of green.
In line with all other frogs and toads in the region, Arizona tree frogs are mainly active during the night. Male frogs may also call out during overcast or rainy days.
You can find the Arizona tree frog within oak, pine, and fir forests at elevations exceeding 5,000 feet. Commonly referred to as the mountain frog, this small amphibian is known for its diminutive size, measuring only 3/4″ to 2″ in length.
- Arizona tree frogs are terrific climbers, as it is possible to spot them as high as 75 feet up trees.
- Despite their limited tongue range, the frogs are successful predators of various insects and spiders.
- They possess a keen sense of hearing and can detect ground vibrations.
3. Official State Animal of Arizona, Mammal: Ring-Tailed Cat
The ring-tailed cat, belonging to the raccoon family, was designated as the state mammal of Arizona in 1986 by the Arizona State Legislature. It was chosen due to its unique physical characteristics, social behavior, and the fact that it is native to the region.
You can recognize the ring-tailed cat from its long, slender body with a grayish hue, short legs, and distinct physical features. White rings of fur surround their rounded ears and large eyes. One of their most notable features is their long, bushy tail, with alternating bands of black and white fur.
They are nocturnal creatures that are most active at night and sometimes at dusk. Following a satisfying meal, the ring-tailed cat sits on its hindquarters and grooms itself in a manner similar to that of a cat, which helps maintain its coat’s cleanliness and hygiene.
The ring-tailed cat is a vocal mammal that has several distinct vocalizations. As adults, they can emit various sounds, including a piercing scream, an explosive bark, and a long, high-pitched call. Infants also produce distinct vocalizations, which include whimpers, metallic chirps, and squeaks.
- They have a diverse diet, including birds, rodents, carrion, reptiles, amphibians, insects, as well as native fruits and berries.
- Their body length measures between 12 to 18 inches, with their tail being approximately the same length.
- Ring-tailed cats are excellent climbers and jumpers.
4. Official State Animal of Arizona, Bird: Cactus Wren
The cactus wren holds the distinction of being Arizona’s official state bird. It is also the largest wren in the United States. Arizona officially designated the cactus wren as its state bird in 1973. The bird’s native status and its distinct song influenced the decision in the region.
With its unique features, the cactus wren is a distinctive bird species, boasting a speckled brown plumage, highlighted by striking white eyebrows extending from the bill across and above its red eyes, all the way to the sides of its neck. The bird also features pale cinnamon sides and a white chest with dark speckles, adding to its striking appearance.
These lively creatures are constantly in motion, engaged in a variety of activities, from hopping around on the ground to fanning their tails, singing from the tops of cacti, and arguing with their neighbors.
Typically, cactus wrens live in pairs and sometimes in family groups from late spring through winter. Although rare, there have also been reports of cactus wren flocks.
- The cactus wren often builds its nests in cacti.
- Its diet mainly consists of insects, but it also feeds on fruits, nectar, seeds, and occasionally small reptiles.
- Cactus wrens can survive for up to five years in the wild.
5. Official State Animal of Arizona, Butterfly: Two-tailed Swallowtail
The state butterfly of Arizona is the two-tailed swallowtail butterfly (Papilio multicaudata). In 2011, the two-tailed swallowtail butterfly was officially chosen as the state butterfly of Arizona, owing to its distinct physical attributes, vital function as a pollinator in the ecosystem, and symbolic representation of Arizona’s natural beauty and biodiversity.
With a wingspan ranging from 3 ½ to 5 inches, the two-tailed swallowtail butterfly is one of the largest butterfly species in Arizona. These butterflies have predominantly yellow wings with black stripes, and a notable feature that sets them apart is a small projection, or tail, on the hindwing.
The adult two-tailed swallowtail butterflies thrive near water sources, such as streams and creeks. They are active between spring and fall.
The female butterflies lay their eggs on the host plant individually, and the caterpillars that hatch from these eggs will fold the leaves of the host plant and secure them together using silk.
- They feed on nectar from a variety of plants, including thistles, milkweeds, California buckeye, and lilacs.
- This butterfly species lives in a diverse range of habitats, such as foothill slopes, cities, woodlands, roadsides, suburbs, and canyons.
- The caterpillars of this species consume leaves and often rest on mats made of silk.
6. Official State Animal of Arizona, Fish: Apache Trout
Oncorhynchus apache, also known as the Apache trout, is a freshwater fish species that inhabit the waterways of Arizona. In 1986, due to the Apache trout’s “vulnerable” status, it was declared the state fish of Arizona in an effort to raise awareness and promote conservation measures to increase the species’ population.
With their dark olive backs and yellow-gold sides, apache trout display a unique and vibrant coloration. These fish have sparse, irregularly shaped spots that can stretch beyond their lateral lines, and their dorsal and caudal fins are boldly marked with spots.
Feeding mostly during daylight hours, the Apache trout primarily consumes both aquatic and terrestrial insects, plucking them from the surface of the water.
The Apache trout thrives in cold, fast-flowing, high-gradient mountain streams that are small in size and have substrates made up of boulders, rocks, and gravel at elevations above 8,250 feet.
- Harsh winters tend to affect trout populations.
- Female Apache trout spawn from March to mid-June.
- Newly hatched fry migrate during nighttime to minimize the threat of predators.
7. Official State Animal of Arizona, Dinosaur: Sonorasaurus
Sonorasaurus is a type of dinosaur that belongs to the Brachiosaurid family. An 11-year-old from Phoenix named Jax Weldon played a significant role in recognizing Sonorasaurus as the official state dinosaur of Arizona in 2018. The young enthusiast had written a letter about the dinosaur to Governor Ducey and state legislators. It is worth noting that the discovery of Sonorasaurus in the Sonoran Desert contributed to its selection as Arizona’s state dinosaur.
The physical characteristics of the Sonorasaurus dinosaur are not fully known due to the lack of a complete skeleton. However, as a member of the Brachiosauridae family, it might have had a large body and long neck. Its skull fossil displayed a unique nasal opening and typical spoon-shaped teeth.
It is possible that Sonorasaurus was a solitary creature, much like its relative, Brachiosaurus.
Reproduction of Sonorasaurus occurred through egg-laying, as it was an oviparous dinosaur. The specific number of eggs laid by this species remains unknown due to limited fossil evidence. Typically, it is thought that they laid anywhere from 15 to 40 eggs.
- Sonorasaurus lived during the Early to Late Cretaceous period, which was around 93-112 million years ago.
- Ronald Paul Ratkevich named the dinosaur in 1998.
- It likely weighed around 35 tons.
Summary of the 7 Official State Animals of Arizona
|1||Arizona Ridge-Nosed Rattlesnake||Reptile|
|2||Arizona Tree Frog||Amphibian|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Sean R. Stubben/Shutterstock.com
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