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The 10 Virginia State Animals (Facts, Pictures)

As one dives into the rich tapestry of Virginia’s biodiversity, the state’s official animals — each with a unique story — take center stage. With a diverse collection of species ranging from the forests to the coasts, the state has officially recognized several animals representing its natural heritage and ecological diversity. Some of the Virginia state animals include the iconic Eastern garter snake, the Virginia Big-Eared Bat, the Red Salamander, and the Eastern Oyster, all of which play important roles in the ecosystem.

10 Virginia state animals

In this article, we’ll learn about these animals and their significance to the state. 

1. State Insect: Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Tiger swallowtail butterfly
Tiger swallowtail butterfly

Scientific Name: Papilio glaucus

Since 1991, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly has proudly held the title of Virginia’s state insect. This magnificent creature, known for its impressive size, graces the region with its presence. It roams through deciduous woodlands, parks, and neighborhoods, captivating all with its mesmerizing yellow and black stripes. 

Tulip trees and wild black cherries become the chosen landing spots for these butterflies as they delicately lay their eggs on the woody plants. Its caterpillar, marked by false eyespots and red horns, emits a foul odor when threatened, contributing to this species’ remarkable resilience and charm.

2. State Bird: Northern Cardinal

Male northern cardinal
Male northern cardinal | Image by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Cardinalis cardinalis

Virginia’s state bird since 1950, the Northern Cardinal is renowned for its vivid red color and enchanting song. These granivorous birds are famous for their territorial behavior, but they don’t stop there – they also actively seek out insects and fruit for their daily sustenance. The Northern Cardinal, with its striking appearance and ubiquitous presence, captures the hearts of Virginians, holding a cherished place in their affections.

3. State Salt Water Fish: Striped Bass

Striped bass
Striped bass | image by PlanespotterA320 via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Scientific Name: Morone saxatilis

Virginia declared the Striped Bass as its State Salt Water Fish back in 2011. This anadromous perciform fish, known as the Atlantic striped bass, striper, linesider, rock, or rockfish, thrives primarily along the Atlantic coast of North America.

The Striped Bass is chosen to honor its rich historical and economic legacy in the state. Anglers love to catch it, making it a favorite among fishing enthusiasts in Virginia. 

This incredible fish not only adds to the excitement of recreational fishing but also plays a crucial role in the state’s aquatic ecosystems. Its migratory and spawning behavior has captivated researchers, providing them with fascinating study opportunities. As a result, this fish has firmly established its significance in Virginia’s waters.

4. State Dog: American Foxhound

American foxhound
American foxhound | image by localpups via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Canis lupus familiaris

The American Foxhound, a breed of dog closely related to the English Foxhound, was designated the State Dog in 1966. Breeders developed these hounds specifically for fox hunting, harnessing their exceptional sense of smell.

By adopting the American Foxhound, Virginia pays a heartfelt tribute to the esteemed United States Founding Father, George Washington, for his invaluable role in shaping the breed’s evolution. 

He brought foxhounds into the Commonwealth to pursue the thrill of the hunt, and all the foxhounds we have today trace their lineage back to these courageous canines. 

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5. State Pony: Chincoteague Pony

Chincoteague pony
Chincoteague pony | image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region via Flickr

Scientific Name: Equus caballus

The Chincoteague Pony, famously called the Assateague horse, thrives as a breed that has evolved and roams semi-wild on the captivating Assateague Island, nestled between Virginia and Maryland. Made famous by Marguerite Henry’s “Misty of Chincoteague” novels, these ponies, managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company since 1925, are celebrated annually in a popular pony swim event. 

In 2023, the state proudly declared the Chincoteague Pony as its State Pony, paying homage to the breed’s rich history and cultural importance in the region. The appreciation of these ponies, earned through the valued annual Pony Penning event, which is now celebrating its 98th year, played a significant role in this recognition.

6. State Fish: Brook trout

Brook trout
Brook trout | image by Karelj via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific Name: Salvelinus fontinalis

The Brook Trout, also known as the Speckled Trout, is a cold-water fish native to the rivers and lakes of the state. This small but highly sought-after game fish requires highly pure, oxygenated water to satisfy its voracious appetite for aquatic insects, crayfish, and small fish. 

The Brook Trout was selected as Virginia’s State Fresh Water Fish in 1993 for its ecological significance and long history in local fishing lore. Due to its sensitivity to pollution, trout populations in the state must be protected at all costs.

7. Virginia Big-Eared Bat

Virginia big-eared bat
Virginia big-eared bat | image by Dave Riggs via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Corynorhinos townsendii virginianus

In 2005, the Virginia Big-Eared Bat—so named for its oversized ears and diet of moths—was declared the state’s official bat. This bat is native to the Blue Ridge Mountains of the state and measures about 4 inches in length while weighing less than half an ounce. 

Only about 10,000 of them are left in the wild, making it a federally endangered species. This bat was selected as the state symbol because of its endangered status and the importance of protecting its cave homes.

8. State Salamander: Red Salamander

Red salamander
Red salamander | image by Ashley Wahlberg (Tubbs) via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Scientific Name: Pseudotriton ruber

The Red Salamander, with its bright red/orange skin and black spots, was officially named the State Salamander in 2018. It’s found only in the eastern United States, where it’s endemic, and it lives in temperate forests, creeks, and ponds, where it feeds on insects, earthworms, spiders, and even smaller salamanders. 

It may be common, but habitat loss poses a threat to it in certain areas. Initiated by Salamander Savers, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, the designation of the Red salamander as the state salamander serves to promote salamander conservation.

9. State Snake: Eastern garter snake

Eastern garter snake
Eastern garter snake | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis

In 2016, Virginia officially recognized the Eastern Garter Snake, a species of medium-sized snake native to North America, as the state snake. It inhabits a wide range of habitats, from grassy fields and lakes to rivers and lakes, and displays a wide range of colors, from green to brown to black, with a distinctive yellow or white stripe.

The 11-year-old Aiden Coleman has been a driving force behind the decision to make the eastern garter snake the official state snake. 

10. State Shell: Eastern oyster

Eastern oyster
Eastern oyster | image by Smithsonian Environmental Research Center via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Crassostrea virginica

Virginia’s state shell is the Eastern Oyster, a true oyster found along the eastern coasts of both North and South America. Known for its commercial importance, the Eastern Oyster has a significant role in the state’s marine ecosystem and economy.

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Despite facing threats from overharvesting, water pollution, and climate change, the Eastern Oyster remains a symbol of the state’s rich maritime heritage. The importance of protecting and sustainably harvesting this species has been highlighted by being chosen as the state shell.