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13 North Carolina State Animals (Facts, Pictures)

With an area of about 53,819 square miles, North Carolina is home to a wide diversity of environments, from verdant coastal plains to towering mountains. North Carolina’s rich biodiversity also attests to nature’s creativity, as it’s home to more than 1,270 different species. Some of these animals have also been chosen to represent the state and have been designated as the North Carolina state animals. 

13 North Carolina state animals

From the northern cardinal, the state bird, to the illusive Southern Appalachian brook trout, the state freshwater trout, each animal in this article has a unique story to tell and an important role to play in defining the state’s identity. 

1. Western honey bee

Western honey bee
Western honey bee | image by hedera.baltica via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Apis mellifera
  • Status: North Carolina State Insect

The Western Honey Bee, often called the European Honey Bee, was chosen as the official state insect of North Carolina in 1973. The North Carolina General Assembly recognized the value of the bee as a pollinator of major cash crops like cotton, alfalfa, fruits, and vegetables.

Honey bees are prized not only for their ability to pollinate plants, but also for the honey and wax they produce. Although they aren’t native to the Americas, these hardworking insects have been here since 1622 and have successfully adapted to the area’s flora.

2. Eastern tiger swallowtail

Eastern tiger swallowtail on plants
Eastern tiger swallowtail on plants | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Papilio glaucus
  • Status: North Carolina State Butterfly

In 2012, North Carolina officially declared the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, a butterfly with a distinctive pattern of yellow and black stripes on its wings, as its state butterfly. Frances Parnell organized and received assistance from a number of North Carolina groups in their effort to recognize this butterfly, which can be seen in every one of the state’s 100 counties.

Its broad distribution and ease of recognition make it a fitting symbol. Females lay solitary green eggs on plants, which hatch into caterpillars before transforming into adult butterflies.

3. Colonial Spanish Mustang

Colonial spanish mustang
Colonial spanish mustang | image by Joye~ via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Equus caballus
  • Status: North Carolina State Horse

In 2010, North Carolina officially recognized the Colonial Spanish Mustang as its official state horse. This breed is descended from the original Iberian horse stock that was brought to the Americas by the Spanish.

Students at Shawboro Elementary and the Corolla Wild Horse Fund saw the breed’s historical significance and appreciated its even temperament and kind personality, so they advocated for the horses’ adoption. These horses have persevered through many challenges and now represent North Carolina and the United States as a symbol of culture. 

4. Plott Hound

Plott hound standing
Plott hound standing | image by Canarian via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Scientific Name: Canis lupus familiaris
  • Status: North Carolina State Dog

North Carolina’s official state dog since 1989 is the Plott Hound, a huge scent hound originally developed for bear hunting. Established in North Carolina by the Plott family in the middle to late 1800s, this breed is known for its bravery, speed, stamina, and distinctive high-pitched bark.

The Plott Hound’s dedication to its masters and its qualities as a versatile worker and hunter made it the obvious choice for state dog. Today, the breed stands as a representation of the grit, speed, and stamina that were prized throughout North Carolina’s hunting history.

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5. Eastern box turtle

Eastern box turtle
Eastern box turtle | Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay
  • Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina carolina
  • Status: North Carolina State Reptile

North Carolina’s state reptile is the Eastern Box Turtle, chosen for its distinctive dome-shaped shell and lengthy lifespan. Rep. Chris Barker, who pushed for the legislation, cited the turtle’s environmental value, patience, and symbolism of the state’s determination to achieve its aims.

The bill passed despite opposition and other ideas because of the turtle’s significance in Native American culture and its widespread distribution across North Carolina. Its “boxing” inside its shell when threatened is a distinctive characteristic that represents resilience and versatility, much like the people of North Carolina.

6. Channel bass

Red drum fish
Red drum fish | image by Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Sciaenops ocellatus
  • Status: North Carolina State Saltwater fish

In 1971, North Carolina officially recognized the Channel Bass, often known as the Red Drum, as the state saltwater fish. The Channel Bass has great commercial and recreational significance because of its widespread distribution throughout the North Carolina coast and its reputation for yielding trophy-sized catches.

Overfishing caused a reduction in this species in the 1980s and 1990s, although protections were put in place because of the species’ value to the maritime ecosystem of the state.

7. Marbled salamander

Marbled salamander
Marbled salamander | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Ambystoma opacum
  • Status: North Carolina State Salamander

The Marbled Salamander, a salamander species native to North Carolina, was named the state salamander in 2013. The North Carolina Herpetological Society and Raleigh teenager Rachel Hopkins drove this selection to honor the region’s rich diversity of amphibian species.

The Marbled Salamander, found naturally in the state’s swamps and forests, was chosen by popular voting. Being a priority species for conservation in North Carolina, this salamander’s selection helps to raise awareness about the importance of amphibian conservation within the state.

8. Southern Appalachian brook trout

Brook trout
Brook trout | image by Karelj via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Salvelinus fontinalis
  • Status: North Carolina State Freshwater trout

In 2005, the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout, a rare type that’s native to the western mountains of North Carolina, was named the official state freshwater trout. It was selected because of its value to the local aquatic ecosystem, and it also represents the state’s long history of fishing.

Commonly called “specks,” “speckled trout,” or “brookies” by locals, this species’ population crashed in the early 1900s due to deforestation and invasive species. Designating this species as the state freshwater trout is an effort to draw attention to the need to preserve the state’s ecological heritage.

9. 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
  • Status: North Carolina State Mammal

In 1969, the Eastern Gray Squirrel was officially recognized as the state mammal of North Carolina. The bravery and resourcefulness of the squirrel were highlighted in a survey conducted by Representative Basil Barr among schoolchildren, leading to its ultimate selection.

This arboreal mammal, native to eastern North America and found in all 100 counties of the state, has also played a small but significant role in the nation’s history as a food source during the American Revolution. Additionally, its habit of burying nuts contributes to forest regeneration. 

10. Pine Barrens tree frog

Pine Barrens tree frog
Pine Barrens tree frog | image by R. Tuck via Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific Name: Dryophytes andersonii
  • Status: North Carolina State Frog

The Pine Barrens Tree Frog, which is known for its emerald green color and unique purple stripes, became the State Frog of North Carolina in 2013. Chosen through a poll conducted by the North Carolina Herpetological Society, this species represents the state’s unique amphibian diversity and its native pine forests.

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Its nocturnal habits and unique call add to the liveliness of the ecology, which is where you’ll find it most often: the Sandhills and the Coastal Plain. The Pine Barrens Tree Frog is a symbol of North Carolina’s tremendous biodiversity, yet it’s in danger due to human activity that’s destroying its natural habitat.

11. Northern Cardinal

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

The Northern Cardinal, renowned for its bright red males and melodious melodies, was designated North Carolina’s state bird in 1943. More than 23,000 people participated in the North Carolina Bird Club’s campaign, with the cardinal receiving the most votes. This bird, which can be found across the state, perfectly represents its natural splendor because it never leaves.

Its widespread distribution and year-round presence in North America highlight its importance. However, it wasn’t North Carolina’s first state bird; the Carolina Chickadee held that title for a brief period in 1933 before the Cardinal was favored.

12. Virginia opossum

Virginia Opossum
Virginia Opossums | Image by daynaw3990 from Pixabay
  • Scientific Name: Didelphis virginiana
  • Status: North Carolina State Marsupial

In 2013, the Virginia opossum was officially named the state marsupial of North Carolina. Adaptable and common across the state, this nocturnal animal is easily recognizable by its signature carrying pouch and thumb-like toes. Furthermore, it’s a scavenger and can be found eating anything from garbage to forest food.

The opossum has a deep cultural value because of its long history that extends back to the first European explorers. The state of North Carolina chose these animals as the official state mammal because of their ecological value and significance to the state’s natural history.

13. Scotch bonnet

Scotch bonnet
Scotch bonnet | image by FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute via Flickr | CC BY 2.0
  • Scientific Name: Semicassis granulata
  • Status: North Carolina State Shell

The Scotch bonnet is an egg-shaped marine mollusk that can grow to be 4 inches in length and is covered with a characteristic plaid pattern of little orange squares. Rep. Moncie Daniels proposed making the Scotch bonnet the official state shell in 1965, and he even gave each lawmaker who voted for the bill a souvenir Scotch bonnet. This gastropod is a beloved symbol of North Carolina’s coastal regions due to its distinctive design and historical significance.