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7 New Jersey State Animals

Within the borders of the Garden State lie fascinating creatures that have captured the admiration of many. From graceful honeybees to enchanting horses, these New Jersey state animals have different stories to tell. In this article, we’ll learn fascinating information about these significant contributors to New Jersey’s ecosystem and why they’re considered the state animal. 

7 New Jersey state animals

1. State Insect: European honey bee

European honeybee
European Honeybee | image by Insects Unlocked via Flickr
  • Scientific Name: Apis mellifera

The European honey bee is a remarkable insect that helps pollinate many different types of flowers, including the violet, the state flower of New Jersey. Students from Sunnybrae School in Hamilton Township made a powerful presentation about the honey bee’s significance to agriculture and the environment, and it was ultimately designated as the New Jersey State Insect in 1974. 

Honeybees construct intricate hives that house a queen, male drones, and a large number of worker bees, all of whom perform specialized roles essential to the colony’s continued existence. European honey bees are one of the most populous bees worldwide, and are the most common to be kept domestically by bee keepers. Because of their interesting habits and significant contributions to pollination, they have come to represent many U.S. states.

2. State Reptile: Bog turtle

Bog turtle sunning
Bog turtle sunning | image by R. G. Tucker, Jr./USFWS via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Glyptemys muhlenbergii

The bog turtle is a small, elusive turtle with distinct brown or black shell plates and an orange patch behind its ears. The adult state reptile, recognized as such in 2018, is only 7.6 to 10 cm in length, and is considered North America’s smallest turtle species. It was declared a New Jersey endangered species in 1974 and a federally threatened species in 1997 due to population declines and habitat loss. Efforts to protect the bog turtle include habitat management, population monitoring, land acquisition, and education for private landowners. 

These tiny turtles spend most of their time in the cool muck of bogs and wet meadows. They eat invertebrates, mainly slugs, but also small berries, seeds, and duckweed. Today, they are mainly only found in rural parts of the state in Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon and Salem counties.

3. State Bird: American Goldfinch

American goldfinch
American goldfinch
  • Scientific Name: Carduelis tristis

The American goldfinch, also known as the eastern goldfinch, is a small bird with bright yellow feathers. Females are a paler yellow while breeding males are very bright and sport a black cap on their head. In the winter, both sexes become a dull, olive yellow that can look quite difference from their spring appearance.

American goldfinches have been the state bird of New Jersey since 1935. While some populations in the north migrate south in the winter, in New Jersey most goldfinches remain year-round. These birds are granivores, which eats sunflower and dandelion seeds. Human activity, including bird feeders and deforestation, has benefited the goldfinch by creating suitable habitats. By putting out nyjer seed feeders or planting sunflower, you can easily attract them to backyards.

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4. State Mammal: Horse

Wild horses on the ridgeline
Wild horses on the ridgeline | image by Bureau of Land Management via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Equus caballus

New Jersey’s official state mammal is the horse, a domesticated hoofed mammal due to its inclusion on the state seal, making it historically significant in the state. The state has a rich history of horse breeding and racing because of the importance of horses in agriculture. The relationship between humans and horses dates back millions of years, to when they were first domesticated around 4000 BCE. 

Horses are also well-known for their speed, coordination, and “fight or flight” reaction. Chosen by school children, horses were made the official state animal in 1977. The horse head that appears on the state seal is said to represent speed, strength and independence. At the time of the seal’s creation, horses were of utmost importance in transportation and agriculture.

5. State Fish: Brook trout

Brook trout
Brook trout | image by Karelj via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Salvelinus fontinalis

Out of the four trout species stocked in the state, the brook trout is the only species that is native to New Jersey and was named the state’s official fish in 1992. They are great indicators of high water quality because they only live in the purest environments. These freshwater fish prefer cool and pristine aquatic environments, feeding on aquatic insects, small crayfish, and other small fish.

Brook trout are usually found in the headwaters of streams where the coldest water is found. In New Jersey, they tend to be most commonly found in mountainous areas due to the cold, clean water higher in oxygen. It is estimated by the NJ division of fish and wildlife that 123 streams in the state contain naturally reproducing populations. 

6. State Shell: Knobbed whelk

Knobbed whelk
Knobbed whelk | image by James St. John via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Busycon carica

In 1995, the knobbed whelk shell became New Jersey’s official state shell. The knobbed whelk is a large marine snail that can be found on the state’s beaches and bays.

The shell, yellowish-gray in color, is distinctive with its right-handed, thick, and strong spiral shape, featuring fine striations and knob-like projections. These whelk prey on clams, oysters and other bivalves, able to wedge open their shells and insert their proboscis. In the summer and winter they tend to travel out to deep water, and then travel to shallower waters in spring and fall. 

7. State Dog: Seeing Eye Dog

Seeing eye dog
Seeing eye dog | image by Jeffrey Beall via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Canis lupus familiaris

On January 21, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill designating the Seeing Eye dog, also known as a guide dog, as the official state dog of New Jersey. All Seeing Eye dogs are bred and raised in New Jersey before being sent all over the United States and Canada to be matched with visually impaired people who need them. 

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The Seeing Eye school, established in 1929 (and later moved to New Jersey in 1931), was instrumental in popularizing the use of guide dogs in the United States. These dogs are highly trained to guide the blind around obstacles and increase their freedom of movement.