The state of Virginia doesn’t have a single official state animal. Nonetheless, there is a state amphibian, two state fish, a state bug, a state dog, and even a state bat! The official state animals of Virginia are symbolic of the state’s varied ecology and wild animal population. Some of these Virginia state animals might even surprise you!
Let’s take a look at some of the Old Dominion state animals, from the eastern garter snake to the Virginia big-eared bat.
Virginia State Reptile: Eastern Garter Snake
Species Name: Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
The medium-sized, non-venomous eastern garter snake is a native of North America, including Virginia. A large portion of eastern North America is covered by the range of eastern garter snakes, which extends from southern Ontario and Quebec in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south and along the eastern coastlines of America to the Mississippi River.
The habitats that eastern garter snakes like to reside in include abandoned farms, outbuildings, grassy or shrubby areas, and trash dumps. They particularly enjoy living within stone walls that divide farms and forests. They can also be found around wet areas including quarries, lakes, rivers, marshes, bogs, and drainage ditches.
These snakes have a noticeable yellow or white stripe and are greenish, brown, or black in appearance. The undercarriage is usually cream to yellowish-green. In this species, females are generally bigger than males.
Eastern garter snakes are terrestrial and active both during the day and at night. They enjoy hiding behind logs, stones, and other objects of detritus so they may enjoy the sun and swiftly find safety from predators. These snakes have the potential to bite or strike but are generally harmless. They will produce a vile-smelling musk if they feel threatened, as do most garter snake species. While they may congregate in groups when they brumate, eastern garter snakes mostly live alone.
Virginia State Amphibian: Red Salamander
Species Name: Pseudotriton ruber
As one of the biggest stream salamanders in North America, red salamanders can grow up to six inches in length. They have short tails and a thick build. They have a belly that is a little bit lighter in color and is brilliant red to reddish-orange in hue with several irregularly shaped, black markings. The coloring of older salamanders and specimens from the Coastal Plain is often darker.
The red salamander can be found in the mountains and Upper Coastal Plain of South Carolina and Georgia, as well as throughout most of the eastern United States. They’re widespread throughout Virginia. While they can be found in a range of settings, red salamanders are most often seen along streams, springs, and small creeks. Adults will often migrate far from water into highland and woodland environments.
Around streams or seeps, red salamanders are most usually seen hiding behind rocks, logs, and other cover items to hide from predators. Even though they hide behind these things during the day, they hunt for invertebrates and small vertebrates for food at night. In some areas, other species of salamander make up the majority of the red salamander’s diet.
Virginia State Dog: American Foxhound
Species Name: Canis lupus familiaris
This is one of the most famous state animals of Virginia! The sweeping estates of Colonial Virginia and Revolutionary War heroes are both strongly connected to American Foxhounds. They are excellent hunting dogs because they have remarkable attention while focusing on scents. This breed, which was developed to pursue foxes, gets along well with horses as well. The American Foxhound is one of the first dog breeds to be created in the United States, with many historians believing they were the very first. This breed of dog is beloved by Virginians, as well as those in neighboring states.
These dogs are svelte, rangy hunters renowned for their quickness, stamina, and perseverance. The American Foxhound may be distinguished from its British relative, the English Foxhound, by the length of its legs. Compared to its English cousin, the American Foxhound’s legs are longer and more finely boned. American Foxhounds are regarded as having wide, sensitive eyes with a sweet, imploring look.
American Foxhounds are friendly, low-maintenance hounds who get along well with children, dogs, and even cats. That being said, they require particular care from potential owners.
Virginia State Bird: Northern Cardinal
Species Name: Cardinalis cardinalis
Southeast Canada, the eastern United States, and south to Mexico are all places where you may see the unmistakable red Northern Cardinal. In several places, like Bermuda and Hawaii, it is also an invasive species. It is Virginia’s official state bird and is present throughout the state.
The northern cardinal is a songbird of average size. It has a striking crest on its head and a black or gray mask covering its face depending on gender. The female has a reddish olive tint, while the male is a vivid red.
The northern cardinal is mostly a granivore. However, it also consumes berries and insects. The male displays a territorial attitude and sings to demarcate his domain.
In suburban and urban environments, northern cardinals can be found in gardens, shrublands, wetlands, streamside thickets, and vegetation close to homes. Within its area, this species does not migrate and remains there all year long. These birds are active during the day, especially in the morning and evening. They forage in shrubs and trees as well as in open thickets on the ground in big flocks of up to 70 birds throughout the winter.
Virginia State Freshwater Fish: Brook Trout
Species Name: Salvelinus fontinalis
The brook trout belongs to the char family of fish. In the Great Lakes, they can reach lengths of over two feet and weigh up to 15 pounds. They typically measure six to 15 inches and weigh one to five pounds in streams. The hues of brook trout dramatically intensify when the spawning season draws near, especially in the males, in which their flanks and underbellies turn orange-red with a black stripe running along each side.
Native to eastern North America, brook trout may be found in several high-elevation streams from the Great Lakes all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean and along the Appalachian Mountains as far south as Georgia. They are common in Virginia, where locals will often fish for them.
Little spring-fed streams and lakes with a sandy or rocky bottom and lake vegetation are preferred by brook trout. Ihey spawn over gravel in groundwater percolation or in the spring-fed sections of lakes and streams. Until they are adults, young brook trout eat plankton before switching to eating insects.
Virginia State Insect: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Species Name: Papilio glaucus
East of the Rocky Mountains in North America, the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly may be found from Ontario south to the Gulf Coast and northern Mexico. From the spring through the fall, it can be seen all throughout the state of Virginia.
The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly has a range of colors. Males have black tiger stripes and are yellow or yellow-orange in color. Their wings have black borders with yellow patches, and the tops of their wings have black tiger-like stripes. They have blue markings on their long, black tails.
The eastern tiger swallowtail prefers living a solitary life, as do all butterfly species. In search of a mate, males will fly from one location to another. The leaves of many different woody plants, such as cherry, birch, ash, cottonwood, and occasionally willow, are consumed by the larvae of the eastern tiger swallowtail. Adults consume nectar from several flowering plants, including milkweed, honeysuckle, lilac, and cherries.
Virginia State Marine Fish: Striped Bass
Species Name: Morone saxatilis
From northern Florida to the St. Lawrence estuary in southeastern Canada, the Atlantic coast of the United States hosts a well-loved fish known as the striped bass. The Midwest and the Pacific coast of the United States each have several inland lakes and reservoirs where this species has been introduced as well. Naturally, they are widespread along the state of Virginia’s shore.
Large expanses of deep, transparent water are ideal for striped bass. In Virginia, mature fish can be found inshore, in estuaries, and in freshwater settings. The majority of fish will be located within five miles of the shore, depending on the time of year and location. Rivers often host juvenile fish since they are an essential spawning environment.
A large mouth, showy dorsal fins, a laterally compressed body, and six to nine ongoing lateral stripes on both sides of the body are all characteristics of striped bass. The dorsum of striped bass is often pale green, olive, steel blue, black, or brown with a venter that is white or silver iridescent.
Virginia State Shell: Eastern Oyster
Species Name: Crassostrea virginica
This is one of the state animals of Virginia that may surprise you! Eastern North and South America is the natural habitat of the eastern oyster. It is a species of true oyster. From northern New Brunswick to some of the West Indies and south to Brazil, this oyster can be found. It is also farmed in all of Canada’s Maritime provinces, as well as in every state along the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. It is widespread at Pearl Harbor and was first brought to the Hawaiian Islands in the 19th century. In Virginia, this species is frequently farmed for food.
The eastern oyster is a bivalve mollusk, like other oysters, with a tough calcium carbonate shell that guards it against predators. It is a filter feeder, meaning that it takes in water, filters out the plankton and other debris for it to consume, then spits the water back out, cleaning the water all around it. Almost 50 gallons of water can be filtered by one oyster in a day.
Virginia State Mammal: Virginia Big-Eared Bat
Species Name: Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus
One of the two endangered subspecies of Townsend’s big-eared bat is the Virginia big-eared bat. It can be found in North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky.
Depending on its age, the Virginia big-eared bat’s fur ranges from pale to dark brown. Its long, velvety fur is the same color from root to tip. This species, which weighs less than half an ounce, is one of the bigger cave-dwelling bats in its area. This bat can be identified by its large, inch-long ears.
These are non-migratory bats that spend the entire year in caves. The caverns formed of limestone bedrock are preferred by this subspecies of Townsend’s big-eared bats. The areas where they are located are often covered with beech, maple, hemlock, oak, or hickory forests.
How cool are these Virginia state animals? There is so much variety in this list, and each and every animal really represents the natural diversity of the state’s ecosystem. Plus, not a lot of states have an official state bat!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Olga Aniven/Shutterstock.com
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