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6 Kentucky State Animals (Pictures, Facts)

The state of Kentucky, also referred to as the “Bluegrass State,” is well-known for the picturesque landscapes, vibrant culture, and extensive biodiversity that can be found there. Its unique wildlife is exemplified by the Kentucky state animals, each symbolizing different aspects of the state’s natural wealth and heritage. 

6 Kentucky state animals

From the melodious Northern Cardinal to the hardworking Eastern Gray Squirrel, let’s learn more about these creatures that provide a fascinating glimpse into the state’s diverse habitats and ecological diversity.

1. State Butterfly: Viceroy butterfly

Viceroy butterfly
Viceroy butterfly | Image by Domianick from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Limenitis archippus

The Viceroy Butterfly was chosen in 1990 as Kentucky’s official state butterfly. This native to North America has a distinctive orange and black pattern and is frequently confused with the more recognizable Monarch Butterfly. However, unlike the Monarch, the Viceroy doesn’t migrate and exhibits a more erratic flight pattern. 

Despite its small size, the Viceroy commands respect in the animal kingdom due to its toxicity to predators, a characteristic it shares with the Monarch, an example of Müllerian mimicry. You can find it in wet areas throughout Kentucky from April to November, adding to the state’s impressive biodiversity.

2. State Horse: Thoroughbred

Thoroughbred horse
Thoroughbred horse | image by Rennett Stowe via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Equus caballus

The Kentucky Thoroughbred has been recognized as the official state horse of Kentucky since 1996. This choice is a reflection of the state’s deep-rooted equestrian tradition. Thoroughbred horses are most famous for their speed and agility in the sport of horse racing, which is a significant contributor to the state’s economy. 

More than 30 percent of all thoroughbred foals in the United States are born in Kentucky, specifically in the state’s bluegrass region. This breed traces its lineage back to three foundation sires – the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian, and the Byerly Turk, symbolizing a legacy of excellence and endurance that resonates with Kentucky’s values.

3. State Fish: Kentucky spotted bass

Kentucky spotted bass
Kentucky spotted bass | image by Noel Burkhead/Howard Jelks via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific Name: Micropterus punctulatus

Kentucky Spotted Bass was designated as the state fish of Kentucky in 2005. This freshwater fish is endemic to the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River basin and can be identified by its rows of dark spots just below the lateral line. It can reach a maximum length of 64 centimeters and a maximum weight of 5.2 kilograms. 

The Kentucky Spotted Bass prefers rocky-bottomed mountain streams and reservoirs in both cool and warm climates, where it can find an abundance of its preferred food items, which include insects, crustaceans, frogs, annelid worms, and other, smaller fish. The designation honors Kentucky’s long history of fishing and the state’s abundance of wildlife.

4. State Insect: Honey bee

European honeybee
European Honeybee | image by Insects Unlocked via Flickr

Scientific Name: Apis mellifera

The Honey Bee, designated as Kentucky’s state insect in 2010, plays a vital role in pollination, contributing to the state’s rich agricultural yield. This species is eusocial, meaning it lives in large colonies with a queen, many worker females, and a small number of drones. Honey bees, which humans have helped spread all over the world, are well-known for their honey and vital pollination services. 

However, there are significant threats to their survival, including pests, diseases, and colony collapse disorder. The Honey Bee’s designation as a state symbol underscores its essential role in sustaining Kentucky’s vibrant ecosystems and agricultural productivity.

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5. State Bird: Northern Cardinal

Male Northern Cardinal with wings spread
Male Northern Cardinal with wings spread | Image by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis

Since 1926, Kentucky has had the Northern Cardinal, a medium-sized songbird, as its state bird. These birds, distinguished by the male’s brilliant red plumage and the female’s brownish-red coloring, spend the entire year in Kentucky. The Cardinal is so well-liked that it’s the official state bird of not just one, but six other states, and its festive plumage has made it a beloved symbol of the holiday season. 

Since they don’t migrate, cardinals can be found in a wide variety of habitats, from urban parks and suburban backyards to rural forests, throughout the eastern and southwestern United States. Their bright appearance, beautiful songs, and ability to eat weed seeds and harmful insects all contributed to their selection as the official state bird of Kentucky.

6. State Wild Animal and Game Species: Eastern gray squirrel

Eastern gray squirrel
Eastern gray squirrel | image by Alex O’Neal via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Sciurus carolinensis

The Eastern Gray Squirrel is a tree squirrel native to eastern North America and is notable for its significant role in forest regeneration. Known for its agility and adaptability, this species was designated as Kentucky’s official state wild animal game species in 1968. Their abundant presence and the challenge they present to hunters due to their keen senses and quick movements make them a popular game species

Their designation represents the value and respect Kentucky places on its rich hunting traditions, wildlife management, and the ecological importance of this industrious creature.