The State Fair of Texas has come to town: Meet the Lone Star state animals

longhorn

AP

In this May 20, 2013 photo, a Texas Longhorn stands at the Double Helix Ranch near Pontotoc, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Graczyk)

By Camilla Price, Copy Desk Chief

The State Fair of Texas has come to town, and with it comes a chance to recognize the state animals of Texas. These Lone Star standouts were chosen for their personalities, history and popularity among Texans big and small. 

All states have a few animal symbols – but everything is bigger in Texas, where over a dozen state animals have been recognized. These animals don’t just promote Texas pride: They serve as ambassador species, connecting people to nature and motivating Texans to preserve habitat that protects many kinds of wildlife. 

Step right up and meet the state animals of Texas!

State bird: Northern mockingbird

A northern mockingbird keeps a keen eye out for intruders in its territory Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in Houston. Mockingbirds will aggressively drive off perceived predators especially if they have chicks. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan) (AP)

Adopted 1927

Conservation Status: Stable

“The mockingbird is well suited to be the State Bird of Texas. It is widespread, abundant, easily recognized, an ebullient songster and lives willingly, if not always amicably, among people and their domestic animals.”Texas A&M Agrilife Research

Found across North America, the Northern mockingbird is more common in Texas than any other state. 

The songbird is best known for its ability to learn hundreds of songs, including those of other bird species and neighborhood sounds like barking dogs, squeaky hinges and construction machinery. 

Mockingbirds are fiercely territorial and will defend nest sites and favorite food sources, chasing away other birds and dive-bombing unsuspecting people and pets. The Texas legislature praised the songbird as “a fighter for the protection of his home, falling, if need be, in its defense, like any true Texan.”

State reptile: Texas horned lizard

Adopted 1993

Conservation status: Threatened in Texas

Few reptiles are showered with affection, but Texas horned lizards, or “horny toads,” are a Texas treasure. Generally docile, the lizards can shoot blood out of their eyes when threatened by predators.

The lizards used to blanket prairies and ranchland across the Southwest, but habitat loss has caused the species to decline. Texas horned lizards have not been seen in the wild in Dallas-Fort Worth since the 1970s, said TCU biology Professor Dean Williams. 

In 1993, the state legislature designated the horned lizard as the state reptile, choosing it because of its threatened status and because it is “well known and much loved by its human neighbors.”

At TCU, Williams leads a team of students in partnering with the Fort Worth Zoo, Texas Parks and Wildlife and other conservation groups to save the mascot by researching the lizard’s habits and helping with a local reintroduction program. 

Read more: “Comrades true: TCU students take part in Horned Frog conservation”

State insect: Monarch butterfly

monarch butterfly on fall aster plant
A monarch butterfly rests on a fall aster plant in Texas, making a stop on its long journey south. (Camilla Price/Staff Writer)

Adopted 1995

Conservation Status: Endangered (IUCN)

[T]he monarch butterfly is as beautiful and memorable as a Texas sunset, soaring above all other insects in its nobility and determination, and its unique relationship with Texas makes it a truly appropriate symbol of the majestic spirit of the Lone Star State.” – Texas Legislature, June 1995

The iconic monarch butterfly is often called the “ambassador of the Americas.” Each fall, millions of butterflies migrate nearly 3,000 miles from Canada to their winter refuge in the forests of Mexico. 

Texas is a major stop on the migratory pathway for these colorful insects. However, as their habitat is destroyed for agriculture and urban development, monarchs are disappearing. The monarch population in North America has declined 90% since the mid-1990s, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

Conservationists are working to save the species, and members of the TCU community can help too by adding native plants to their local garden spaces. Monarchs can use the patches, no matter how small, to fuel up for the continuing migration.

Learn more about monarch butterflies and how to help the species from TCU360. 

Read more: “Monarchs on the move: TCU community can help the threatened Monarch butterfly on its journey south”

State large mammal: Texas Longhorn

Adopted 1995

“The longhorn’s distinctive profile commands an immediate association with the State of Texas.” – Texas Legislature, June 1995 

Longhorns are Texas tough, built to withstand the harsh summers and snowy winters of the frontier. Their curving horns can reach eight feet tip to tip

Longhorns are a mix of Spanish and English cattle popular in the 1800s. However, by the early 1900s, only a few small herds remained, according to the Texas State Historical Association

The longhorns were saved on wildlife refuges in Oklahoma and Nebraska – with financial support from none other than Sid W. Richardson, a TCU namesake

Check out seelonghorns.com to find longhorn herds in the area (or look for burnt orange at a TCU athletics game). 

State small mammal: Nine-banded armadillo

Adopted 1995

Conservation Status: Stable

In 1995, elementary school children voting on the state mammal cast an equal number of ballots for the Texas longhorn and nine-banded armadillo, the only armadillo native to North America. 

With the results in a dead heat, the state legislature divided the honor in two, naming the longhorn the official Large State Mammal of Texas and the armadillo its smaller counterpart. 

The nine-banded armadillo is best known as a digger. It uses its long front claws to forage for insects and termites and create burrows underground. While it can be a hassle for gardeners, its abandoned burrows often become homes for other critters like rabbits, snakes, burrowing owls and skunks.

The nine-banded armadillo may not be able to roll up into a ball, but its scaly armor still provides protection from predators like coyotes – but not from cars. Slow down, cowboy.  

State flying mammal: Mexican free tailed bat

In this photo taken Sept. 1, 2011, some of the 20 million bats emerge from Bracken Cave in Bracken, Texas. A depleting insect population has forced millions of bats around drought-stricken Texas to emerge before nightfall for food runs, making them more susceptible to natural predators. Some experts have already noticed fewer bats emerging from caves and have seen evidence that more infant bats are showing up dead, hinting at a looming population decline. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Adopted 1995

Conservation Status: Stable

“Increasingly, the importance of bats in a healthy ecosystem is being appreciated and protected; this is especially true in Texas.” – Texas legislature, 1995

Texas is home to the largest gathering of mammals in the world at Bracken Cave outside San Antonio. The cave is a roost for a maternal colony of 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats. 

These bats provide helpful “ecosystem services” by eating crop pests like corn earworm moths. The Bracken Cave colony can eat over 100 tons of pest insects in one night.

Free-tails also give Texas the honor of the largest urban bat colony at the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, where bats can bring in 140,000 people and $10 million in tourism revenue each year

Bats used to be feared because of longstanding misconceptions about “scary” encounters, but after Texans realized how much bats had to offer, bat-watching has become increasingly popular with batty sites across the state.

More state animals

State fish: Guadalupe bass, 1987 

State dog: Blue lacy, 2005

State amphibian: Texas Toad, 2009

State horse: American Quarter horse, 2009

State saltwater fish: Red drum, 2011

State sea turtle: Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, 2013 

State pollinator: Western honey bee, 2015

State crustacean: Texas Gulf Shrimp, 2015

Honorable Mention: State dinosaur – Paluxysaurus jonesi

Adopted 2009

Conservation Status: Extinct 

Paluxysaurus jonesi, a relative of Brachiosaurus, weighed 20 tons, stood 12 feet high at the shoulder and stretched to 60 feet long. 

The dinosaur lived in the Early Cretaceous period, 115 to 110 million years ago, and was first discovered on the Hood County ranch of Bill and Decie Jones near the town of Paluxy, giving the dinosaur its name. Paluxysaurus tracks have also been found in Glen Rose at Dinosaur Valley State Park. 

The Jones Ranch has one of the largest accumulations of sauropod bones in North America, but scientists labored for more than a decade to excavate the hundreds of bones from the hardened sandstone, according to Southern Methodist University researchers

The first full-scale skeleton of the species ever on display was exhibited at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History in 2009, allowing the public and scientific community of modern-day Texas to meet Paluxysaurus. 

Humans and animals alike depend on Texas ecosystems to survive. Being in the spotlight gives our state animals a much-needed boost in attention and funding for conservation that can help them and other Texas wildlife. By celebrating and learning about these species, Texans can prevent them from going the way of Paluxysaurus.

 

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Quiz Photos: Turtle rescue: AP Photo/The Caller Times, Todd Yates; Pipeline, bats: AP Photo/Eric Gay; Bluebonnets: AP Photo/Harry Cabluck; Birder: Joshua J. Cotten/Public domain; Dinosaur tracks: AP Photo/Matt Rourke; monarch: courtesy of Ashley Coles