State Animals of the Midwestern United States

State Animals of the Midwestern United States

Now that we've tackled the state animals of the Northeast, let's travel a bit to the Midwest! Known as "America's Heartland," the Midwest boasts production of most of the nation's manufacturing and farming. Home to more than a quarter of all U.S. presidents, the Midwest is considered to be incredibly diverse with abundant nature from the Great Lakes to the Northwoods. With its rich history and vast populations of wildlife, state animals for this region can be quite varied, though we may run into the illustrious white-tailed deer a few more times.

Check out the state animals in the Northeast!
Check out the state animals in the South!
Check out the state animals in the West!

Ohio — White-Tailed Deer

Ohio is our third state to select the white-tailed deer as their state animal! These deer have a rich history in Ohio, with the species being present in the area since the end of the last Ice Age. Indigenous groups in the area relied heavily on the deer, using every part of the animal as a way to both honor and thank the animal for providing for the community while also committing to limited waste. European colonizers, too, recognized the benefits of the white-tailed deer, and soon began using the hides to barter for other supplies. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates an incredible 600,000 white-tailed deer inhabit Ohio today.

Michigan — Robin

The white-tailed deer makes yet another appearance on our list as Michigan's state animal, however this was only made official in 1997. The state's oldest animal symbol is, in fact, the robin, designated in 1931. However, the state of Michigan did not come to this decision easily. In 1929, the Michigan Audubon Society held an election to designate the state's official bird. After more than 190,000 Michiganders cast their vote, two birds remained: the robin and the chickadee. Despite the tied vote, the Michigan Audubon Society publicly backed the robin, calling it "the best-known and best-loved of all birds in the state of Michigan." Although legislators were swayed by the Society's opinion and made the robin the official state bird a few years later, chickadee lobbyists continued to fight for their pick! The most recent effort to oust the robin from the throne came in 2000. Despite their best efforts, the robin still holds strong as the official state bird.

Indiana — Cardinal

Indiana is a curious exception because they have yet to designate an official state animal. However, they did select a state bird in 1933: the cardinal. Cardinals are beautiful birds. With the most common cardinal sporting bright red feathers, these birds have distinct cone-shaped beaks that are perfect for cracking open seeds and nuts - their favorite snack! Although most cardinals live an average of three years due to the risks they face, including predators, disease, and starvation, the oldest known cardinal lived to be 15 years and 9 months old. The cardinal lives in Indiana all year long, and is the state bird of six other states.

Illinois — White-Tailed Deer

The white-tailed deer is making yet another appearance on our list of state animals, however it is always intriguing to dissect the different histories around the states that have designated this creature. Illinois left the adoption of their state animal up to a vote among Illinois schoolchildren, who selected the deer in 1980. Although, like many other states, the white-tailed deer played in essential role in providing for native and settler communities alike, Illinois almost eliminated their deer population entirely. Due to unregulated hunting and greedy hunters, the white-tailed deer was nearly extirpated by the late 1800s. Thankfully, the Department of Conservation stepped in and, through management techniques and habitat restoration, were able to bring the deer back from the brink of extinction in the state.

Wisconsin — American Badger

Many of us may know Wisconsin as the Badger State, but this isn't due to the fact that the black-and-white mammal happens to be the official state animal. In fact, Wisconsin did not even adopt the badger as their state animal until 1957. The history around the nickname dates back to the 1820s, when the mining industry sent thousands of Wisconsin men to the iron ore mines. These miners would dig small caves within the rocks of the mines as temporary homes so they wouldn't need to travel home constantly. Badgers are known for digging underground tunnels for shelter and safe traveling, earning the miners the nickname "badger boys." As time went on, badger pride swelled in Wisconsin as newspapers, steam ships, and even University mascots were named after the creatures. However, it wasn't until four elementary school students from Jefferson County noticed that the badger, despite being present on the state flag and coat of arms, did not have any official status in Wisconsin that a state animal was selected. Although northern legislators pushed for the conventional white-tailed deer due to its strength and economic value, the American badger was finally given its rightful spot as the official state animal.

Missouri — Missouri Mule

In May of 1995, Governor Mel Carnahan signed a bill into law making the Missouri mule the official state animal of Missouri. But it was more than the shared name that inspired this designation. The mule is a unique equine, being the offspring of a mare, or female horse, and a jack, or male donkey. Missouri mules were introduced to the state in the 1820s, where they quickly reached popularity amongst the farmers who appreciated the animal's strength and endurance. These mules provided essential help throughout time as they pulled pioneer wagons to the wild west and helped move troops and supplies during both world wars.

Iowa — White-Tailed Deer

We've circled back to another mention of our dear friend, the white-tailed deer. But what makes Iowa's history with the mammal any different than Illinois or Ohio? White-tailed deer thrive in Iowa's urban forests and remote croplands. However, the deer haven't always blossomed in this state. At the beginning, when they shared the land with Native communities as well as elk, bison, wolves, and mountain lions, the white-tailed deer happily participated in maintaining the balanced ecosystem of the habitat. However, when European settlers arrived in the mid to late 1800s, that balance was disrupted. Due to unregulated and unsustainable harvesting, which in turn created widespread destruction of the wildlife habitats, the white-tailed deer was driven to complete extinction in the state by the turn of the the 20th century. Thankfully, conservationists worked tirelessly to transform the habitat back to its original form, and by 1936 about 500 deer found their way back to Iowa, migrating from neighboring states. To honor the creatures, the white-tailed deer was made Iowa's state animal, which will hopefully serve as a reminder to respect and preserve the natural habitats of the animals that we depend so heavily on.

Minnesota — Black Bear

Minnesota is one of many states that has multiple state animals! Among them is, of course, the white-tailed deer as well as the black bear. Found primarily in the northern third of Minnesota, the black bear lives in forests, swamps, and any area with dense cover. With a hardy population of 12,000 - 15,000 in the state, Minnesota offers heavily restricted bear hunting licenses, which allows the continuation of the sport without harming the overall population density of the creatures. Black bears participate in their owns form of seasonal migration, which is commonly known as the "fall shuffle." These bears will roam long distances in autumn in search of food-rich areas to help them prepare for the winter. After their hibernation, which can last up to six or seven months, the bears emerge in the spring with little loss of muscle mass or strength, and begin their trek back to their summer den.

Kansas — American Buffalo

The American Buffalo is not only the state animal of Kansas, but the national mammal of the U.S.! The buffalo can be found on Kansas' state flag and seal, as well as on the U.S. Mint's bicentennial commemorative Kansas quarter. A mature buffalo can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and reach a height of about 6 feet at their shoulders, making them the largest land animal in North America. When the Great Plains area was resident to and maintained by Native and Indigenous groups, an estimated 40 million bison roamed the area. However, as European settlers flooded in, the buffalo was hunted to the brink of total extinction. It wasn't until 1889, when there were only about 300 of the animals left on Earth, that the federal government passed strict game laws to protect the creatures. Although the buffalo population has since rebounded and is no longer in danger of extinction, cross-breeding with domestic cattle in an attempt to make a robust "beefalo" breed and exposure to livestock diseases threaten their continued health.

Nebraska — Channel Catfish

Nebraska, like many of its neighboring states, has designated the cherished white-tailed deer as their state animal. However, to explore an intriguing, new animal, let's examine Nebraska's state fish: the channel catfish. Adopted as the state fish in September of 1997, the channel catfish has many names, including spotted cat, river catfish, fiddler, and lady cat. It has a small, narrow head with eight barbels, or whiskers, and a white belly. The channel catfish feeds primarily at night, using these barbels to locate potential prey. Typically, they feed along the bottom of the water they're inhabiting, feasting on insect larvae, clams, snails, crayfish, crabs, and some aquatic plants. These incredible fish can live up to 11 years and can grow about 20 pounds, though the average is typically two to four pounds. Commonly found along to bottom of large rivers or streams, the channel catfish is an incredibly popular sport fish and is often used for food.

South Dakota — Coyote

Native to the desert southwest, the coyote can now be found from Alaska to Canada and throughout America. South Dakota designated the coyote as their state animal in 1949, where the largest population of the animal can be found in the Black Hills and along the Missouri River. Coyotes are extremely vocal animals, with their classic howl earning the name "the song of the west." They are able to communicate with each other through their varying yips, barks, and howls as well as changes in body language like tail and ear movements. Coyotes also mate for life! Litters of 5-10 pups are born in the spring, and the pups are cared for by both parents throughout the summer. The male tends to the female during her later stages of pregnancy and shortly after her birth. Once the pups begin opening their eyes and gain some strength, both the mom and dad teach them hunting and survival skills, until the little ones go off on their own in early fall.

North Dakota — Nokota Horse

The Nokota Horse was named the honorary equine of North Dakota in 1993. This rather rare horse is believed to be the descendant of the last surviving population of wild horses in the state. These wild horses used to inhabit the Little Missouri badlands, deemed as such because of the lack of water, rocky terrain and extreme temperatures. However, when the Theodore Roosevelt National Park was developed in the 1950s, the wild horses' habitat was accidentally fenced in. Though this provided the horse population with some protection, the National Park Service (NPS) has a law against the inclusion of wild horses in their national parks, resulting in decades spent on attempts to remove all of the horses from the area. During the 1980s, Frank and Leo Kuntz started purchasing the horses the NPS was rounding up, naming the Nokotas and registering them as a new breed. Wild horses have been present in North Dakota since the late 1800s or early 1900s, making them a essential part of the state's history.

To learn more about the incredible creatures that roam the U.S., check out the state animals of the Northeastern, Southern, and Western states!

Sabrina Colonna

Sabrina is an Arizona native with a background in English, marketing, art, and photography. When not writing, she loves to read, paint, and go on long walks with her dog, Blueberry.

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