With wide open spaces and endless skies, the state of Nebraska sits in the heartland of the United States. This beautiful state is known for its sweeping prairies and agricultural heritage, as well as its scenic Sandhills, rugged Badlands, rolling hills, and abundance of wildlife. Let’s take a closer look at the official state animals of Nebraska that represent this incredible Midwestern state!
State Mammal: White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
With their big brown eyes and fluffy tails, white-tailed deer are a common sight in Nebraska. Designated as the official state mammal in 1981, these delightful deer can be found wandering around Nebraska in woodlands, farmlands, and brushy areas. Whitetail deer are pretty flexible when it comes to what they munch on, although they do love to graze on green plants during the spring and summer months. However, come fall they switch it up and chow down on corn, nuts, and acorns. When winter rolls around, white-tailed deer live on woody vegetation.
White-tailed deer are very skittish and shy. If something startles them, they raise their tails to show off a big flash of white just before they run away. And boy, can these deer run! Like four-legged forest ninjas, white-tailed deer jump and bound up to 30 miles per hour through tangled trees and bushes. They’re also great swimmers and often enjoy taking a dip in lakes or large streams.
State Bird: Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)
Found all throughout the state of Nebraska, the western meadowlark became the official state bird in 1929. These musical birds have a vibrant and cheerful appearance, with sunny yellow feathers and a sharp black “V”-shape on their chests. The rest of the bird is brown, black, and creamy white, with black and white streaks along their sides like a zebra. Western meadowlarks have striped heads as well, with warm shades of light brown and black patterns.
Their long and pointy bills are perfect for snatching up insects, which make up the majority of the birds’ diet. Western meadowlarks nest on the ground in meadows, prairies, and grassy fields. These beautiful birds also have lovely singing voices and produce many cherry melodies.
State Migratory Bird: Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)
In October 2022, Governor Pete Ricketts announced that the sandhill crane is now the official state migratory bird of Nebraska. Thousands of visitors come to watch up to one million sandhill cranes fly through the Platte River Valley in Nebraska from mid-March through late April every year. These elegant birds make up a whopping 80% of the entire world population of sandhill cranes!
Sandhill cranes are tall and slender birds with gray bodies and stunning crimson-capped heads. In addition to their stylish appearance, sandhill cranes also have some serious dance moves. When courting, they stretch out their wings, bow, pump their heads, and even leap into the air with surprising grace and energy. They also have extra-long and coiled windpipes, which create rich harmonics and low-pitched trumpeting calls.
State Reptile: Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata)
In addition to the new state migratory bird, in October 2022 Governor Ricketts also announced the ornate box turtle as the official state reptile of Nebraska. Ornate box turtles are remarkable reptiles that live in grassland areas all over the state. These unique little turtles get their name from painted shells. Their shells have ornate patterns, ranging from yellow lines that stretch out from the center, passing through various colors like gray, red-brown, or black. In addition, their unique shells are hinged, which means that these turtles can completely tuck themselves inside their shells!
Ornate box turtles are no bigger than your hand, measuring about 4 to 6 inches. While most turtle species in Nebraska like to hang out in the water, ornate box turtles prefer life on land, although they do still need plenty of water to help them regulate their body temperatures. These little turtles can be found chilling in short, mixed, or tall grass prairies and places like the Sandhills and southwestern areas of Nebraska.
State Fish: Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)
In 1997, the channel catfish became the official state fish of Nebraska. Channel catfish Have some pretty amazing senses. These cool fish have nostrils or nares with special odor-sensing organs that can detect certain smells in the water, even if it’s only one tiny part per 100 million! In addition, their bodies and long whisker-like barbels are covered in taste buds. Yep, you read that right — channel catfish have taste buds on the outside of their bodies on their whiskers!
Channel catfish use their super senses to help them find food even in dirty or murky water where it’s very hard to see. Those taste bud-covered barbels are especially helpful when it comes to finding yummy things to eat like crayfish, bugs, frogs, fish, and sometimes even some munchy plants. Many people think that those long whisker-like barbells can sting — but don’t worry, they can’t! However, the fish’s fins have sharp spines that can inflict pain if you’re not careful.
State Insect: Honeybee (Apis mellifera)
In 1975, the honeybee became the official state insect of Nebraska. There’s a whole industry in the state dedicated to collecting honey and beeswax produced by Nebraska’s hard-working honeybees. Honeybees also play a crucial role in helping plants reproduce by spreading pollen from one plant to another. Without these buzzing little pollinators, many of our favorite foods and flowers would cease to exist!
Honeybees live in their own miniature kingdoms called hives, which are constantly buzzing with life. There can be up to 80,000 honeybees living together in a single hive, and each one has a designated role to help keep the hive running smoothly. A single queen bee reigns supreme over her subjects, laying eggs and making sure everyone behaves themselves. Then there’s also a small group of male drones who hang around the queen bee and help her. And of course, the real superstars of any beehive are the female worker bees. These are the bees that you see out and about as they gather nectar and pollen.
State Fossil: Columbia Mammoth (Mammuthus columbi)
In 1975, Nebraska designated the mammoth as the state’s official state fossil. Thousands of years ago, these mighty mammals roamed across the United States, including what is now Nebraska. So today, there are lots of mammoth bones scattered throughout the state.
However, the abundance of mammoth fossils is not actually why the mammoth became Nebraska’s official state fossil. It was actually due to a unique discovery on a Lincoln County ranch back in 1921. After their chickens began pecking at a strange white object sticking out of a nearby hillside, the Karrigers discovered that there were some giant mammoth bones on their property. In fact, the fossilized remains were from the largest mammoth ever discovered!
Nicknamed Archie, the gigantic mammoth skeleton is now found inside Elephant Hall at the University of Nebraska State Museum. Archie stands 14 feet tall at the shoulder, but he wasn’t even a fully-grown mammoth when he died! If you ever get a chance to visit the museum, there are actually three different versions of this incredible animal on display. First, a large statue of Archie stands guard at the museum’s entrance. Second, Archie’s fossils lie inside the museum. And third, a huge mural in Elephant Hall shows Colombian mammoths trumping around on the Great Plains, with Archie leading the pack.
Summary of the 7 Official State Animals of Nebraska
|1||State Mammal||White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)|
|2||State Bird||Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)|
|3||State Migratory Bird||Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)|
|4||State Reptile||Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata)|
|5||State Fish||Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)|
|6||State Insect||Honeybee (Apis mellifera)|
|7||State Fossil||Columbia Mammoth (Mammuthus columbi)|
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.