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The 9 Official Illinois State Animals (Pictures, Facts)

Illinois, located in the Midwest, has a diverse ecosystem that’s home to many interesting species. From the fertile plains to the lush woodlands and winding rivers, this state provides an ideal habitat for numerous species to thrive, and a few of these species were fortunate enough to be selected as Illinois state animals.

Illinois boasts emblematic species like the white-tailed deer as its state mammal and the vibrant northern cardinal as its state bird. The monarch butterfly, the state insect, is often seen fluttering across its landscapes. These creatures highlight Illinois’ rich biodiversity and natural heritage. Let’s learn more about them and others.  

9 Illinois state animals

In the following article, we’ll learn about the animals that represent the state and explore the qualities that make them so beloved by those who call Illinois home. 

1. Bluegill

Bluegill
Bluegill | image by Brian Gratwicke via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Lepomis macrochirus
  • Status: Illinois State Fish

The bluegill, a vibrant fish found in freshwater, became Illinois State Fish in 1986, thanks to schoolchildren’s choice. Known for its striking blue gill covers on males, the bluegill is a popular panfish sought by anglers using various baits. These colorful fish play a vital role in the food chain, serving as prey for larger species. 

They thrive in swamps, underwater structures, and feast on insects and small fish. Bluegills contribute to pond and lake management by regulating insect and crustacean populations.

2. Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly | Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay
  • Scientific Name: Danaus plexippus
  • Status: Illinois State Insect

The monarch butterfly became the State Insect in 1975, thanks to third-grade classes in Decatur. Recognizable by its striking black, orange, and white pattern, the monarch butterfly is a milkweed butterfly and an iconic pollinator. 

The eastern North American monarchs migrate thousands of miles each year, showcasing their impressive journey from the northern United States and Canada to Florida and Mexico in the fall, and returning north in the spring. 

3. Shelter dogs and shelter cats

Dog and cat
Dog and Cat
  • Scientific Name: Canis lupus familiaris / Felis catus
  • Status: Illinois State Pet

Shelter dogs and shelter cats, which are animals residing in or adopted from shelters or rescue facilities in the state, were designated as the official state pet of Illinois on August 25, 2017. Pet adoption from animal shelters, rescue groups, and other sources plays a crucial role in finding homes for abandoned, lost, or rehomed pets. 

This designation aims to raise awareness about the importance of adopting pets from shelters, providing them with loving homes, and reducing the number of animals euthanized due to overcrowding.

4. White-tailed deer

White-tailed Deer in bushy park
White-tailed Deer in bushy park | image by Bill Chitty via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Odocoileus virginianus
  • Status: Illinois State Animal

The white-tailed deer is the Illinois State Animal, designated as such by the General Assembly in 1982, following a vote by Illinois schoolchildren in 1980. Native to North America, this deer species can be found primarily east of the Rocky Mountains. 

It’s admired for its grace and beauty, and its populations can be found in various habitats across the state. The white-tailed deer is being honored as the State Animal of Illinois because of the role it plays in the state’s history and ecosystem.

5. Eastern tiger salamander

Eastern tiger salamander on brown leaf
Eastern tiger salamander on brown leaf | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Ambystoma tigrinum
  • Status: Illinois State Amphibian
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Voters in 2004 designated the Eastern tiger salamander as the state amphibian of Illinois, and the General Assembly made the designation official in 2005. One of the largest terrestrial salamanders in North America, mole salamanders reach a maximum size of 6-8 inches and can live for 12-15 years. 

Their diet mainly consists of insects, snails, slugs, frogs, and worms, and they’re known to be cannibalistic under certain conditions. The designation as the State Amphibian recognizes their ecological importance and presence in the state’s diverse habitats.

6. Thoroughbred horse

Thoroughbred horse
Thoroughbred horse | image by Rennett Stowe via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Equus caballus
  • Status: Illinois State Horse

In 2006, the state of Illinois officially recognized the Thoroughbred as their official state horse due to the breed’s legendary speed, agility, and tenacity. Thoroughbreds originated in the 17th and 18th century England, when local mares were bred with Arabian, Barb, and Turkoman stallions to create a breed suitable for racing as well as other riding disciplines. 

There are estimated to be millions of Thoroughbreds in the world, with about 100,000 new foals being registered each year. Despite their superior performance, Thoroughbreds have a higher risk of developing lung bleeding and lower fertility than other horse breeds. Despite these challenges, their elegance, size, and athletic abilities have made them influential in various breeds worldwide.

7. Painted turtle

Painted turtle on ground
Painted turtle on ground | Image by Diane Olivier from Pixabay
  • Scientific Name: Chrysemys picta
  • Status: Illinois State Reptile

The painted turtle was designated as the Illinois State Reptile in 2005, following a vote by Illinois citizens in 2004. As the most common native turtle in North America, painted turtles live in calm freshwater lakes and rivers from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They’re known for their distinctive olive-to-black skin with red, orange, or yellow stripes on their extremities. 

Because their blood contains an antifreeze-like substance, painted turtles can survive in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Fahrenheit. They’re active during the day and hibernate during winter, and their ability to thrive in various environments has contributed to their abundance.

8. Northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal
Male northern cardinal | Image by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay
  • Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis
  • Status: Illinois State Bird

Northern cardinals were chosen by Illinois schoolchildren in 1928 and officially named the state bird in 1929. It was the first state bird selected by a vote in the United States. The northern cardinal is a mid-sized songbird known for its vibrant red color in males and reddish-olive color in females. 

They can be seen in wooded areas, gardens, and wetlands across the eastern half of North America. They’re territorial, and you’ll hear the male cardinal sing to establish its territory during courtship.

9. Eastern milk snake

Eastern milk snake resting
Eastern milk snake resting | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum
  • Status: Illinois State Snake

The eastern milk snake was designated as the official state snake in 2022, initiated by Gentry Heiple, a 7th grader from Carterville Junior High School. As a result of Gentry’s dedication to improving the legislative process, this bill was unanimously approved by the State Government Administration Committee of the House of Representatives. 

The nonvenomous eastern milk snake can grow to a length of 24 to 36 inches and is common across the state in various habitats. The bill was signed into law by Governor JB Pritzker, who recognized Gentry’s contributions.