Discover the 9 Official State Animals of Wisconsin

Written by Mike Edmisten
Updated: May 25, 2023
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Every state in the United States has adopted official animal symbols. These animals reflect their states’ life, history, economy, and culture. Wisconsin has designated nine such state animals. Here is the complete list, along with the details that led to the recognition of these animals as official state symbols of Wisconsin.

This is the list of 9 state animals of Wisconsin.

1. State Animal: Badger

Wisconsin’s state animal may not be a surprise, considering the state’s nickname is The Badger State. The badger (Taxidea taxus) is the state animal of Wisconsin.

Interestingly, the state’s nickname didn’t come from the proliferation of badgers within the state but from miners in the 1820s. They were mining for galena, which was designated Wisconsin’s state mineral in 1971.

The miners who arrived from out-of-state had no quarters, so they had to “live like badgers” in underground tunnels. These tunnels were their only shelter from the brutal Wisconsin winter weather. So that’s how Wisconsin came to be known as The Badger State.

The University of Wisconsin adopted its mascot from the state’s nickname in 1889. “Bucky Badger” is still one of a kind, as UW remains the only school with a badger mascot in Division I collegiate athletics. 

The school’s mascot preceded the official declaration of Wisconsin’s state animal by almost seven decades. The badger wasn’t designated as Wisconsin’s state animal until 1957.

Animals in Wisconsin

The badger might only weigh 25 pounds, but much larger animals would do well to leave it alone!

©Warren Metcalf/

Official Recognition of the Badger

The original request came from four students at Jefferson County Elementary School. They discovered that, although many people assumed the badger was Wisconsin’s state animal, no official legislation had ever been passed to codify the animal’s official status. 

While the legislation appeared to be a slam dunk to many, some northern Wisconsin legislators balked at the proposition. They favored the white-tail deer as the official state animal. A compromise was reached, as will be discussed below, and the badger finally received its designation as the official state animal of Wisconsin. The badger is featured on Wisconsin’s coat of arms, state seal, and state flag.

The name “badger” comes from the 16th-century word “bageard.” At one time, the animal was also known as the Bauson or Brock, but the names are outdated and are not used anymore.

The badger is found throughout Wisconsin, although they are rarely spotted since they are primarily nocturnal. This member of the weasel family often remains in its den (or sett) for much of the day, emerging at night to hunt for prey that includes gophers, small birds, ground squirrels, worms, and rabbits. This omnivore will also forage for fruit and roots. The badger is certainly not a picky eater. It will even dine on carrion if the opportunity arises.

The badger’s ferocious reputation is well-deserved. A mature badger weighs less than 25 pounds but can fight off much larger predators. It will snarl and growl, and can also emit a foul skunk-like odor if disturbed. Its sharp teeth, large claws, and aggressive nature are enough to convince large predators to seek easier prey. This is an animal with an attitude!

The badger is featured on Wisconsin’s flag.

© Systems

2. State Bird: American Robin

In the mid-1920s, Wisconsin schoolchildren cast votes to select the state’s official bird. The American robin (Turdus migratorius) won by a 2-1 margin over the next closest competitor. But, while the children of Wisconsin made their wishes known, state lawmakers did not act on the measure for over 20 years. As a result, it wasn’t until 1949 that the American robin received official designation as Wisconsin’s state bird.

The American robin (known by most Americans simply as a robin) is a migratory bird that heralds the arrival of spring to midwesterners. When Wisconsinites hear the robin’s familiar song, they know that the doldrums of winter are coming to a close.

The American robin is a member of the thrush family. It is the most widespread and abundant thrush in North America. The bird’s instantly-recognizable black and grey body with its vivid orange chest is a familiar sight throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Along with Wisconsin, Connecticut and Michigan have also adopted the American robin as their official state bird.

American robin perched on a branchThe Robin is center frame., looking left. The bird has a rust-colored body, and medium brown wings and darker fromn head. indistinct green background.

The American robin’s orange chest is one of the most familiar sights among North American birds.


3. State Domestic Animal: Dairy Cow

This is another official Wisconsin symbol that is rather unsurprising. After all, milk is Wisconsin’s official beverage. The state is often referred to as America’s Dairyland, a moniker that has appeared on the state’s license plate since 1939. The dairy cow seems to be the only logical choice for the state domestic animal. The designation was made official in 1971.

The cow (Bos taurus) was domesticated by humans over 10,000 years ago. Today it is estimated that there is one cow for every seven humans on Earth. The cow is the second most common livestock animal in the world, trailing only the chicken

There are around 250 types of cows in the world, with about 80 breeds found on U.S. farms and ranches. The Angus cow is the most common beef breed in the U.S., while the Holstein is the most common dairy breed. The Holstein’s popularity is demonstrated through its depiction on Wisconsin’s commemorative quarter issued in 2004.

cow and calf

Holsteins are the most common dairy cows in the U.S.

© Kuhl

4. State Dog: American Water Spaniel

The persistent effort of students at Washington Junior High School in New London led to the official designation of the American Water Spaniel (Canis lupus) as Wisconsin’s state dog in 1985. The breed originated in Wisconsin and neighboring Minnesota when European immigrants were seeking a dog who could retrieve waterfowl from the cold waters of the northern U.S. 

The exact mix of dogs that were crossbred to create the American Water Spaniel is not known, but it is generally believed the Irish Water Spaniel, the Curly-Coated Retriever, and the English Water Spaniel (now extinct) are part of the dog’s lineage. The American Water Spaniel breed was standardized and accepted by the American Kennel Club in 1940.

This dog has a sweet, affable disposition. Its breeding as a swimmer and hunter means it needs routine exercise. Its curly coat needs to be groomed every few days. The American Water Spaniel is loyal and fun-loving, making it a wonderful family pet.

Types of water dogs - American Water Spaniel

Even super-active dogs like the American Water Spaniel need a break now and then!

©Steve Bruckmann/

5. State Fish: Muskellunge

Wisconsin lawmakers named the muskellunge (Esox masquinongy Mitchell) the official fish of the state in 1955. The muskellunge, commonly known as the muskie, is a fish unique to North America. This premier gamefish can be found in 711 lakes and 83 river segments in Wisconsin.

Muskies are light silver, brown, or green with dark stripes or spots and typically grow 24-48 inches long. A mature muskie averages 10-20 pounds in weight. A prodigious predator, this fish features a large mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth.

The muskellunge is sometimes confused with the tiger muskellunge. The tiger muskie is actually a crossbreed of a muskie and a northern pike. It grows significantly larger than either of the parent fish.

Wisconsin’s state record muskie was caught by Louis Spray on October 20, 1949. The behemoth fish measured 63.5 inches long and weighed 69 lbs. 11 oz.! At the time, it was considered the largest muskie ever caught, though there has been considerable controversy regarding that catch. Spray himself was a controversial character. He was a bootlegger and a well-known friend of Al Capone. There are still claims that Spray’s 1949 muskie catch remains the world record.

gold and green muskie fish on a river in winter at sunset on a partly cloudy day

Muskies are a prized sport fish in Wisconsin.

©M Huston/

6. State Fossil: Trilobite

During the late Cambrian Period, around 520 million years ago, most of Wisconsin was covered by a shallow inland sea. The sea persisted for the next 200 million years until the end of the Devonian Period.

The deposits of this prehistoric sea are found in sandstone and shale beds in the state. A few types of ancient fossils can be found in these beds, including the trilobite (Eldredgeops rana, formerly known as Phacops rana). 

Trilobites were marine arthropods. Some varieties were filter feeders, some were scavengers, and some were predators. Trilobites were the prehistoric ancestors of modern crabs, lobsters, shrimps, spiders, and insects.

Trilobite fossils are common because this ancient arthropod would molt and discard its outer skeleton multiple times during its life. One trilobite could provide as many as a dozen fossilized skeletons over its lifetime. Trilobite fossils ranging from one inch to 14 inches have been found in rock formations throughout Wisconsin.

It would be accurate to say that the trilobite was one of the very first animal residents of the land we know as Wisconsin. To recognize this earliest of Wisconsin animals, legislators adopted the trilobite as the state’s official fossil in 1985. Ohio and Pennsylvania legislators also named the trilobite as the official fossil in their states.


Trilobites were some of the very first animals to call Wisconsin home.


7. State Insect: Honey Bee

Third-grade students at Holy Family School in Marinette were learning about the legislative process in the 1970s when they decided to put their studies into action. With the full support of the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association, the students petitioned the legislature to adopt the honey bee as the state’s official insect. Other insects were under consideration for the official designation, including the monarch butterfly, dragonfly, ladybug, and mosquito. (Yes, the mosquito could have possibly been named Wisconsin’s state insect!) In the end, state legislators chose the honey bee as the official insect symbol of the state in 1977, in no small part because of the influence of that third-grade class.

There are eight species of the honey bee, but the western honey bee (Apis mellifera) is easily the most widespread. This bee is found in every part of the world except for the most extreme climates.

The western honey bee is the most common pollinator in the United States and the most important bee in domestic agriculture. Around one-third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by these bees, including many fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Our reliance on the honey bee for sustainable agriculture is difficult to fully quantify.

Because this insect is so vital, a total of 17 states have named the honey bee as their official insect. The honey bee is the most common state insect in the U.S. by a large margin.

Honey bee pollination is critical for Wisconsin gardens and farms.

©Daniel Prudek/

8. State Symbol of Peace: Mourning Dove

Doves have symbolized peace in many different cultures for thousands of years. There are multiple species of dove native to the United States and Canada, but the most widespread is easily the mourning dove (Zenaida macroura).

Through much of the 1960s, animal rights groups and activists pressured Wisconsin legislators to remove the mourning dove’s status as a game bird in the state. Lawmakers acquiesced in 1971 and named the mourning dove the official state symbol of peace, while also removing it from the statutory definition of game birds. 

Mourning doves on branch

The mourning dove is the most common dove in the U.S. and Canada.

©Bonnie Taylor Barry/

Hunting Reinstated

That decision was reversed in 2001. While the mourning dove retained its status as the state’s symbol of peace, it was added back to the state’s list of legal game birds due to the population growth. Lawsuits slowed things down, but mourning dove hunting was officially reinstated in Wisconsin in 2003. 

The mourning dove is the most popular game bird in North America. U.S. hunters harvest around 20-25 million birds each year. That number well exceeds the yearly harvest of ducks and pheasants. Even with such a large annual harvest, mourning dove populations are stable or even growing in much of the U.S., including Wisconsin.

The mourning dove is one of the most common of all birds in the United States. Their breeding and resident ranges encompass the entirety of the continental U.S. The mourning dove’s unique profile and lamenting call are known coast to coast in the United States, as well as in much of Mexico and Canada.

The bird’s name is sometimes misspelled as “morning dove.” While these birds are often heard in the morning, their actual name, “mourning dove,” derives from the seemingly sad, mournful sound of their familiar call.

Mourning dove with babies in the nest

Wisconsin is both a breeding and resident range of the mourning dove.

©Todd Maertz/

9. State Wildlife Animal: White-Tail Deer

As noted earlier, some northern Wisconsin legislators were initially not in favor of naming the badger as the state animal. Instead, they favored the white-tail deer (Odocoileus virginianus). A compromise was eventually reached, and two state animals were adopted in 1957: the badger was named the official state animal, and the white-tail deer was named the official state wildlife animal.

White-tailed deer standing in the snow in the winter.

White-tailed deer are found in every county in Wisconsin.

©Michael Sean OLeary/

The lawmakers who pushed for the deer’s official status noted the state’s large native deer population, the physical attributes of the animal, and the annual hunting season’s benefit to the state’s economy. All of these arguments are true. 

The white-tail deer is a beautiful, graceful creature that can run upwards of 30 miles per hour. The deer is found in abundance in all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. And the annual revenue from the state’s deer hunting season is estimated to be around one billion dollars. Those northern Wisconsin legislators certainly had a point in their desire to adopt the white-tail deer as Wisconsin’s state animal.

Deer Hunting

Deer hunting is a billion-dollar business in Wisconsin.

©Steve Oehlenschlager/

For what it’s worth, though, the choice of the badger as the official state animal sets Wisconsin apart from every other U.S. state. The white-tail deer is the official state animal in nine states. It has other official designations in three additional states, including Wisconsin’s designation as the state wildlife animal.

However, while many states honor the white-tail deer through such official recognition, only one state has chosen the badger as a state symbol. That honor, of course, belongs to Wisconsin, The Badger State.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © M Huston/

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About the Author

Mike is a writer at A-Z Animals where his primary focus is on geography, agriculture, and marine life. A graduate of Cincinnati Christian University and a resident of Cincinnati, OH, Mike is deeply passionate about the natural world. In his free time, he, his wife, and their two sons love the outdoors, especially camping and exploring US National Parks.

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