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6 Alaska State Animals (with Photos)

Alaska, known for its beautiful scenery and expansive wilderness, houses a diverse array of animal species. As the northernmost state, it serves as a haven for a plethora of creatures, from the magnificent marine life in its coastal waters to the formidable mammals roaming its rugged terrains, all of which have deeply resonated with both residents and tourists. In this article, we will take a journey to explore the world of Alaska state animals. We aim to uncover the interesting backgrounds of these creatures and their distinct significance in the state’s natural heritage.

6 Alaska state animals

1. State Marine Mammal: Bowhead whale

Bowhead Whale in the ocean
Bowhead Whale in the ocean | image by svetlanakhanty via iNaturalist
  • Scientific Name: Balaena mysticetus

The Bowhead whale is the only baleen whale endemic to Arctic and subarctic waters.  It gets its name from the massive triangular shape of its skull, which it uses to crack ice. These whales travel long distances in extremely cold water, and if no open water is available they will find the thinnest ice spot and push up on it to break through and create a breathing hole.

Early whaling activities nearly wiped out this species, but through protections they have slowly returned. Bowheads are currently listed by the Alaska department of fish and game and the U.S. government as federally endangered.

These creatures are crucial to Eskimo subsistence hunters in northern Alaska coastal villages due to their large quantities of blubber, meat and oil. They are overall nonaggressive, slow, and float when killed. This enabled eskimos to hunt them using small boats and hand weapons. 

They have the largest mouth of any animal, filled with massive baleen plates. These slow-moving swimmers use their 4-meter-long baleen plates to filter zooplankton from the water. They may also be the longest living mammal we know of, able to reach more than 200 years old. 

2. State Insect: Four-spot skimmer dragonfly

Four spot skimmer dragonfly
Four spot skimmer dragonfly | image by pete beard via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Libellula quadrimaculata

The four-spotted skimmer is a common species of dragonfly across North America, Asia, and Europe. In Europe, they go by the name “four-spotted chaser”. In 1995, it became official as Alaska’s state insect. You can spot adults in late spring and summer near water features like ponds, vernal pools, and slow-moving rivers. Here, they mainly eat midge flies, gnats, and mosquitoes. 

Schoolchildren in the state chose it for the state insect from among four other insects because of its impressive aerial abilities, such as stopping on a dime while traveling at 35 miles per hour and flying in reverse. The fact that they feed primarily on mosquitoes also contributes to their widespread acclaim in Alaska, where the population of mosquitoes during warm months can become quite bothersome to those trying to enjoy the outdoors.

3. State Land Mammal: Moose

Moose
Moose | Image by David Mark from Pixabay
  • Scientific Name: Alces alces

The moose is the largest member of the deer family and can be identified by its slightly humped back, long face with rounded snout, and males large plated antlers. Moose also have a fold of skin that hands below their chin called a dewlap. In the Northern Hemisphere, moose inhabit boreal forests and temperate climates and were designated the Alaska State Land mammal in 1998.

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Moose eat both land plants and aquatic plants in their varied herbivore diet. Fresh shoots from birch and willow are favorites, as well as aquatic plants like lilies and pondweed. Adult moose weigh hundreds of pounds, and can eat up to 70 pounds of plant material a day to maintain their size. They choose plants high in nutrients but lower in fiber. 

Moose are typically solitary, but during mating season, the males can become quite aggressive toward one another. 

The indigenous people of the state traditionally relied on moose for various resources, including food, clothing, and tools. They’re now common sights in urban areas and backyards across Alaska during the winter, causing occasional friction with humans over crop damage and other incidents.

4. State Fish: King salmon

chinook salmon
Spawning Fall Chinook Salmon | image by USFWS Fish and Aquatic Conservation via Flickr
  • Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus tshawytscha

Among the Pacific salmon found in North America, the King salmon (also called Chinook salmon) stands out as the largest and most valuable. King salmon, which were named the official state fish in 1962, are anadromous, meaning that they travel up rivers from the sea to spawn.

These salmon hatch in fresh water and grow for one year in rivers before migrating to salt water estuaries. They spend 1-5 years living in the ocean, then “run” back up the rivers to the freshwater where they were born to spawn. But not just any water will do. The water needs to be cool, clean, oxygenated and free from sediment for proper development of eggs. 

Anglers place a high value on them due to their size and the difficulty of the fight they present. The species is vital to the ecosystem of the state, providing food for grizzly bears and other animals that depend on the annual salmon run. King salmon are also important to the state’s economy and culture because of their delicious and nutritious flesh.

5. State Bird: Willow ptarmigan

Willow ptarmigan on rocky ground
Willow ptarmigan on rocky ground (adult male in breeding plumage) | image by Peter Swaine via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Lagopus lagopus

In northern Europe, Scandinavia, Siberia, Alaska, and Canada, you can spot the willow ptarmigan, a member of the grouse family. Its feathers, which serve as camouflage, change from brown in the summer to white in the winter. The willow ptarmigan, which has thrived in Alaska’s Arctic wilderness, was officially recognized as the state bird in 1955. 

Plants make up the bulk of their diet during the warmer months, while mosses, lichens, and willow buds are their main food sources during the colder months. Ptarmigans are flocking birds that congregate in large numbers during the winter months before scattering to their respective breeding grounds in the summer.

Their scientific name “lagopus” is Greek for “hare-footed”, referencing their feet and toes completely covered in feathers. 

6. State Dog: Alaskan Malamute

Alaskan malamute
Alaskan malamute | image by Seongbin Im via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Canis lupus familiaris

The Alaskan Malamute is a dog breed that was originally developed to pull heavy loads on sleds. Designated as the State Dog in 2010, the Alaskan Malamute has a rich history in Alaska and played a vital role in various eras, including Arctic exploration, polar expeditions, the Gold Rush, and World Wars. 

Malamutes tend to be around 75-85 pounds and have a double coat of fur. Their oily undercoat has a wooly texture and traps heat, while their outer coat is coarser. They typically feature white fur mixed with black, gray, or reddish-brown. 

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Its long history in the region, dating back over 5,000 years, and its significance in the state’s development and survival were key reasons for its selection as the State Dog. They’re resilient enough to survive in the winter, and their friendly demeanor makes them desirable as household pets.