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Spadefoot Toad and Other Weird State Symbols

By Kate Horowitz

The bald eagle. The Lincoln Memorial. The Stars and Stripes. Symbols matter in the United States.

But regional pride is important, too, and every state in the union has its own heritage to celebrate—sometimes in odd ways.

As children, we all learned about our state flags and state birds—but who can name their official state soil? Read on for a lesson in America’s weirdest living state symbols.

Microbes

Three species have nearly become Hawaii’s official state microbe. The latest defeat came this week, when the Hawaii State Senate deferred a bill that would have given the title to Vibrio fischeri.

Photo of bobtail squid.
A Berry’s bobtail squid (Euprymna berryi) in Bali, Indonesia, in 2006. Photograph by Fred Bavendam, Minden Pictures/Corbis

The bioluminescent, rod-shaped microbe (also known as Aliivibrio fischeri) makes a glowing home for itself in light-emitting organs of the finger-size Berry’s bobtail squid, which allows the tiny cephalopod to stalk its even tinier prey by night. (See more pictures of glowing animals.)

Wisconsin’s microbes have fared no better: A 2010 attempt to enshrine the cheese-making bacteria Lactococcus lactis passed in the state assembly but failed in the senate.

Only one microorganism has made it to state-symbol status: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, otherwise known as brewer’s yeast, became Oregon’s official state microbe in 2013. Resolution 12 declared, “Saccharomyces cerevisiae has inspired a thriving brewing culture in this state, making Oregon an internationally recognized hub of craft brewing.”

Crayfish

Some symbols are easy to understand. Procambarus clarkii, also known as the mudbug, the crawfish, and the Louisiana crayfish, was chosen as that state’s official crustacean in 1983.

03 May 2012, Nijmwegen, Netherlands --- Louisiana Crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) raising claws in defensive posture, Nijmegen, Netherlands ---  Photograph by Jelger Herder, Buiten-beeld/Minden Pictures/Corbis
A Louisiana crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) raises its claws in a defensive posture in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, in 2012. Photograph by Jelger Herder, Buiten-beeld/Minden Pictures/Corbis

Louisiana produces a large portion of the world’s crayfish, but much of it stays in the restaurants and kitchens of the bayou (except for the invasive crayfish invading parts of Africa).

New Mexico Spadefoot Toad

The New Mexico spadefoot toad (Spea multiplicata) is a curious creature.

Declared the state amphibian in 2003, this big-eyed toad uses spade-shaped projections on its hind legs to dig a burrow in sandy soil.

Photo of a spadefoot toad.
A spadefoot toad in Tucson, Arizona. Photograph by Rick & Nora Bowers, Alamy

 

They may be cute, but don’t try to cuddle: Toads in the spadefoot family emit a peanut butter-like odor that can cause sneezing, tearing, and nasal discharge.

Olympic Marmot

It already had a state marine mammal (the orca), state fish (steelhead trout), and state gem (petrified wood), but the state of Washington was not satisfied.

The sociable, cat-size, leaf-eating rodent known as the Olympic marmot (Marmota olympus) became Washington’s official state endemic mammal in 2009 after a proposal by Seattle schoolchildren.

Photo of Olympic Marmots.
Young Olympic marmots in Olympic National Park, Washington. Photograph by George D. Lepp, Corbis

Capitalsaurus

The District of Columbia may not technically be a state, but that didn’t stop the city council from choosing an official dinosaur.

The bones of the two-legged meat-eater Capitalsaurus were first discovered at the intersection of First and F Streets Southeast by sewer workers in 1898.

Other Oddities

Every state in the union has a favorite soil, which is chosen for mineral and chemical content, significance to the state economy, and history. There are also state beverages, although admittedly a lot of those beverages are milk.

Out-of-towners might be surprised to learn that Maryland‘s state sport is jousting, but it makes perfect sense to locals, who have hosted jousting tournaments since the 1600s.

In 1994, a contingency of lacrosse proponents tried to change the ruling, but they were met by impassioned protesters in medieval garb. Legislators arrived at a compromise: Jousting remained on the state-sport throne, but lacrosse became Maryland’s state team sport.

Not to be outdone, New Jersey is the only state with an official cryptid: the New Jersey Devil, naturally.

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