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7 Colorado State Animals (Pictures, Facts)

Beyond Colorado’s rugged peaks and beautiful valleys is a treasure trove of wildlife that shows off the state’s wild spirit and varied ecosystems. Each of the official Colorado state animals was chosen over the years with care and respect, as each one represents a different part of the state’s natural heritage and biodiversity.  

7 Colorado state animals 

From the grace of the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep to the mysterious allure of the Western Tiger Salamander, this article will show you the creatures that were chosen to represent and celebrate the wild heart of the state.

1. State Animal: Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep

Rocky mountain bighorn sheep
Rocky mountain bighorn sheep | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Ovis canadensis canadensis

On May 1, 1961, the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep was officially designated as the state animal of Colorado. These animals are native to North America, and you can easily identify them by their robust build and the rams’ impressive, curved horns. As their names imply, they’re capable of living in the Rockies and traversing steep, rocky terrain while exhibiting incredible agility and balance. 

It’s also not uncommon to see males weighing up to 500 pounds and females weighing up to 200 pounds among these mammals. Since these animals are mainly found in the Rocky Mountain region of North America, which includes Colorado, they were chosen as the official animal to represent the state. 

2. State Fish: Greenback cutthroat trout

Greenback cutthroat trout
Greenback cutthroat trout | image by Rosenlund Bruce, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus clarki somias

The greenback cutthroat trout, the cutthroat species with the largest spots, is the official state fish of Colorado. This species used to be common throughout the Arkansas and South Platte River drainages in Eastern Colorado and Southeast Wyoming, but it has since suffered a significant population loss and now only resides in a fraction of one percent of its former range. 

One of the factors that contributed to their extinction was the intense competition for resources with other types of trout in the state’s countless tributaries, creeks, and rivers. However, some populations were found in Rocky Mountain National Park, and they were then reintroduced in numerous lakes and streams throughout the state. 

3. State Insect: Colorado hairstreak butterfly

Colorado hairstreak butterfly
Colorado hairstreak butterfly | image by Chris Quirin via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 4.0

Scientific Name: Hypaurotis crysalus

If you are curious about what the official state insect of Colorado is, it’s the Colorado hairstreak butterfly. This is a native species to the state, and the oak scrublands are the most likely places to look for it. The vibrant purple wings of this butterfly, with their distinct dark borders and striking orange spots, are one of its most eye-catching features. 

This species was designated as the state insect on April 17, 1996, due to the efforts of Melinda Terry, a fourth-grade teacher from Aurora, who led her class to the state legislature to advocate for the Colorado hairstreak butterfly. 

4. State Bird: Lark bunting

Lark bunting perching
Lark bunting perching | image by Bettina Arrigoni via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Calamospiza melancorys stejneger

The Lark Bunting, a medium-sized American sparrow that can be seen wandering through the state in the springtime, was selected as the bird that best represents the state of Colorado. This lovely bird can be recognized by its distinctive characteristics, with males having black bodies with white patches on their wings during breeding and females being slightly smaller in size and having a more subdued grayish-brown hue. 

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They were selected as the official bird of the state due to the acrobatic courtship dance, melodious song, and vibrancy that they bring to the state’s springtime. 

5. State Reptile: Western painted turtle

Western painted turtle basking
Western painted turtle basking | image by USFWS Midwest Region via Flickr

Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta belIii

Due to the efforts of the Denver schoolchildren, the Western painted turtle has been designated as the state’s official reptile. The unique anti-freeze-like substance in their blood allows these species to endure freezing temperatures, making them a common sight in slow-moving freshwater habitats. 

They’re also easily recognized by their elaborate shell patterns, which consist of light irregular lines on a smooth olive- to brown-colored carapace. Since they live in many lakes and ponds in Colorado, they were chosen as the state reptile. 

6. State Pets: Colorado shelter pets

Dog and cat
Dog and Cat

Scientific Name: Canis lupus familiaris & Felis catus

If you’re an animal lover in Colorado, you’ll be happy to know that the state’s official pets are shelter pets. This includes both canine and feline companion animals that are currently in need of a new home and are available for adoption in the state. 

By designating a pet from a shelter as the official state pet, the state is sending a message about the importance of adoption and encouraging citizens to consider shelter pets as an appealing option for expanding their families. 

7. Western tiger salamander

Western tiger salamander
Western tiger salamander | image by Ashley Wahlberg (Tubbs) via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Scientific Name: Ambystoma mavortium

Status: Colorado State Amphibian

The Western tiger salamander takes great pride in its status as the official state amphibian of Colorado. It’s one of the species of salamander found in North America that can grow to be up to 30.5 centimeters long, making it one of the largest. 

Since this salamander species is present in all 64 counties of the state, students from George Washington High School, Steck and Westerly Creek Elementary, Bill Roberts K-8 School, and Stanley British Primary School proposed for it to be designated as the state amphibian. 

Sources:

  • “What Is The Colorado State Amphibian?”, G. Migiro, World Atlas, March 22, 2019, worldatlas.com