Florida’s coastline covers 1,350 miles, many of which are host to mangrove forests and white sand beaches, and the state has over a dozen distinct ecosystems. This exceptional diversity fosters a remarkable range of state animals, each more unique than the last. Florida has 10 of these official state animals, the only U.S. state with more is Texas, which has 12.
These are the animals that Florida has highlighted because they are found to be especially emblematic of the sunshine state. This article takes a look at many of the state symbols of Florida. These symbols have been instituted as far back as 1909. The most recent state animal was established in 1987.
Keep reading to learn about the state bird, butterfly, flower, mammal, and fish. You’ll discover their scientific names and facts about them. If you live in Florida, you may have already seen some of these state symbols. Next time you visit the Sunshine State, keep an eye out!
10 Florida State Animals
The 10 animal species that were chosen to best represent Florida are the Florida panther, northern mockingbird, zebra longwing butterfly, Florida largemouth bass, Atlantic sailfish, Florida manatee, bottlenose dolphin, American alligator, horse conch, and loggerhead turtle.
1. Florida Panther
- Status: Florida State Animal
- Scientific name: Puma concolor coryi
The Florida panther takes the cake as the most emblematic animal of the state of Florida. These tan panthers were once thought to be extinct. Fortunately, environmental conservation efforts and careful monitoring established their presence in the thickets and deep, tangled forests of Florida’s swamps and wetlands.
Florida panthers thrive in areas farther away from people. The population is the highest in the Everglades, a national park at the southern tip of the state.
Currently, conservationists have the number of wild Florida panthers estimated at 200. This may seem small, but it’s a dramatic improvement from just 25 individuals in 1995.
The Florida panther was added to the list of Florida state animals in 1982, 15 years after it was listed as an endangered species. It didn’t get much attention until the late 1990s, but it’s now a well-known animal to Floridians and those living outside of Florida.
2. Northern Mockingbird
- Status: Florida State Bird
- Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos
The northern mockingbird is a common songbird native to most of the southeastern United States. It makes dramatic swooping flights and calls out its repertoire of mimicked songs from other birds. Florida is home to this songbird year-round throughout all the state.
It settles in well to suburban areas, so it has thrived as urbanization in Orlando and Miami has increased. A group of Floridians added the northern mockingbird to the Florida state symbols list in 1927.
This group was the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs, which decided to lobby the government to select a state bird. Their actions were successful, and the northern mockingbird was selected over other species.
3. Zebra Longwing Butterfly
- Status: Florida State Butterfly
- Scientific name: Heliconius charithonia
The zebra longwing butterfly is a sight to behold as it flits between the brightly colored flowers of Floridian gardens. It strikes a bold contrast between the natural tones of trees, water, and shrubbery because its dramatic black and white stripes are less common in nature. The zebra longwing was added to the Florida state symbols list in 1996.
People chose it above other insects because it has a long lifespan, is easy to spot, and are gregarious. Zebra longwings roost in groups of up to 60! This helps protect them from predators.
If you are in Florida, keep an eye out for this butterfly. Its wingspan is usually between 7 – 10 cm and they live up to 3 months. They’re most active in the summer.
4. Florida Largemouth Bass
- Status: Florida State Freshwater Fish
- Scientific name: Micropterus salmoides floridanus
Because of the pull of the coast, many residents and visitors to Florida forget about the abundant freshwater fish in the state. The Florida largemouth bass is one such fish. It was made the state freshwater fish back in 1975. They live throughout the state in freshwater bodies of water like rivers, ponds, and lakes.
Florida fishermen have known for over 100 years that there is something special about the state’s largemouth bass. Consider this: a ‘trophy’ bass is any fish over 8 pounds. Conditions for this fish are so optimal in Florida that it grows up to 20 inches long and can weigh over 15 pounds.
It’s genetically different from other largemouth bass, so it’s considered a subspecies of the bass that live in the southeastern United States.
5. Atlantic Sailfish
- Status: Florida State Saltwater Fish
- Scientific name: Istiophorus platypterus
Almost anyone can recognize a sailfish. These saltwater fish are extremely popular among fishermen and environmental enthusiasts alike. They are easy to identify, are beautiful in color and shape, and pack a great chase if you like to fish.
The sailfish was given the title of Florida saltwater fish also in 1975. The best places to fish for or observe a sailfish is in the southern part of Florida. Many fishermen vacation in the Florida Keys during the winter to get a chance to catch a sailfish.
These fish are extremely efficient swimmers that can reach up to 60 mph! They’re no small fry either. The average sailfish is about 6 feet long.
6. Florida Manatee
- Status: Florida State Marine Mammal
- Scientific name: Trichechus manatus latirostris
The sweet Florida manatee is also known as the ‘sea cow.’ This lovable marine mammal spends its life grazing on grass, much like a cow does. However, unlike a cow, the manatee’s favorite food source – seagrass – is underwater.
Manatees first made it into the historical record because of their use as food in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were easy for explorers and sailors to catch because of their lack of natural predators and visibility in shallow waters. After their population numbers decreased dramatically, conservation efforts began.
Today, the biggest risk of injury or death for a manatee comes from a common feature in Florida’s coastal waters – boat propellors. Over 50% of manatee deaths originate from being hit by a boat or its propellor. Mitigation efforts include blocking off areas frequented by manatees, no-wake zone requirements, and planting sea grass in areas boats can’t access.
The manatee was added to the Florida state symbol registry in 1975, the same year as the state freshwater and saltwater fish were added.
7. Bottlenose Dolphin
- Status: Florida State Saltwater Mammal
- Scientific name: Tursiops truncatus
The legislators who named Florida’s state saltwater mammal left the moniker intentionally ambiguous. However, the ‘porpoise/dolphin’ title usually refers to the bottlenose dolphin, a common mammal at home in the saltwater oceans of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
Dolphins have had a legendary relationship with humans for thousands of years. These marine mammals are social amongst themselves and friendly to people. Dolphins have been recorded saving shipwrecked fishermen by towing them to dry land.
At other times, pods of dolphins have herded schools of fish into fishermen’s nets in order to be rewarded with some of the catch. Bottlenose dolphins frolic and cooperate in two areas of Florida: the inner coasts and the outer offshore coasts.
Inner coast dolphins live in small pods with a maximum of ten members. Offshore pods can contain up to 100 of the creatures. Regardless of location, they always work together to hunt and find prey.
8. American Alligator
- Status: Florida State Reptile
- Scientific name: Alligator mississippiensis
Alligators are common throughout the southeastern United States, but they are the most abundant in Florida. The swamps, lowlands, and lagoons of the state are perfect habitat for these scaly water-dwelling reptiles. They hatch from eggs, are cared for by their mothers for several weeks, and can grow over 8 feet long.
Many a pond in Tampa or Miami have signs saying, “Beware of Gators” and “Don’t Feed Alligators.” In fact, it’s illegal in the state of Florida to provide food to alligators. When these reptiles can get used to humans’ presence, they lose their fear and chances increase that they will become aggressive towards people.
Alligators are resilient and adaptable to many food sources. These two traits have helped alligators to survive for millions of years.
They take whatever they can get – usually that includes birds, deer, and fish. However, encroaching development on wetlands has led to predation on pets and livestock.
9. Horse Conch
- Status: Florida State Shell
- Scientific name: Triplofusus gigantea
While most shells are collected after the mollusk living within them is long gone, the horse conch makes it onto the list of Florida state animals because it does live in and around the Florida coasts. Its bright orange shell and delicate cone-like striations set it apart from other shells found in the state’s pristine waters. They grow very large in the warm waters – up to two feet long!
Horse conchs were listed on the Florida state symbols roster in 1969. They are the largest single-shelled snail not just in Florida, but in the entire continental United States.
They are under general protection. In order to take or harvest them, a Floridian must have a special license.
10. Loggerhead Turtle
- Status: Florida State Saltwater Reptile
- Scientific name: Caretta caretta
The loggerhead turtle, designated as Florida’s official saltwater state reptile on July 1, 2008, holds a special place in the hearts of Sunshine State residents. These ancient mariners, with their distinctive large heads and powerful jaws, embark on epic ocean journeys across the world’s seas. Nesting along Florida’s sandy shores, these remarkable reptiles symbolize the state’s commitment to preserving its diverse coastal ecosystems.