Tennessee Cave Salamander
The Tennessee Cave Salamander, Gyrino-philu palleucus, was named official state amphibian in 1995. This large, cave-dwelling salamander has three red external gills, a broad, flat head with small eyes and a tail fin. It is most often found in limestone caves that contain streams in central and southeast Tennessee. More salamanders.
The Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, was selected as the official state bird in 1933.
The Mockingbird is akin to the Brown Thrasher and the Catbird. It is ashen gray above, with darker, white-edged wings and whitish under parts; its length, inclusive of the long tail, is about 10 inches. One of the finest singers among North American birds, it possesses a melodious song of its own, and is especially noted for its skill in mimicking the songs of other birds.
The Bobwhite Quail, genus Colinus virginianus, was designated as the official state game bird in 1987. The Bobwhite, also known as the Partridge, is considered one of the finest game birds in the world. It is a short-tailed chunky brown bird, usually 8 to 10 inches long. The male has a white throat and a white stripe above the eye, while the female has a buffy throat and eye stripe. In spring the male’s clearly whistled bob white is answered by the female’s four-syllable whistle. This game bird lays from 10 to 20 pure white eggs, more than almost any other bird.
The Zebra Swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus, was designated as Tennessee's official butterfly in 1995. This beautiful, winged insect has black and white stripes that run the length of its body with red and blue spots on its lower back. The swallowtail grows from a tiny egg into a caterpillar that eventually molts into its pupal stage and is transformed into this striking butterfly that can be found throughout most of the United States.
Tennessee’s official sport fish is the Largemouth Bass, designated in 1987.
The largemouth Micropterus salmoides, is probably the most popular and sought after fish in the state. Sometimes referred to as “bigmouth,” its popularity is due to a strong fighting ability, relatively large size and pleasing flavor. The Tennessee largemouth can grow to 14 or 15 inches by its third year and may be found in most of the lakes and streams in the state.
The state commercial fish is the Channel Catfish, Ictalurus lacustris, which was also designated in 1987. The Channel Catfish, sometimes known as “Spotted Cat” or “Fiddler,” is widely stocked and reared in farm ponds. It may be found in most Tennessee streams and many lakes. The channel catfish is a bottom-feeder and current feeder, generally taken by still fishing.
Adopted in 1905, the flag features three stars representing the grand divisions of the state: East, Middle and West. The stars are bound together in indissoluble unity by an unending white band. Read the history of the state flag.
The Iris, genus Iridaceae, is the official state cultivated flower. It is an herbacious perennial of which there are about 170 species, including several North American varieties, the most common of which is the Blue Flag. While there are several different colors among the Iris, and the act naming the iris as the state flower did not name a particular color, by common acceptance the purple iris is considered the state flower.
The Passion Flower, genus Passiflora, is the official state wildflower. It grows wild in the southern part of the United States and in South America, is also commonly known as the maypop, the wild apricot and the ocoee. The last is the Indian name that has also been applied to the Ocoee River and valley. The Indians prized the Ocoee as the most abundant and beautiful of all their flowers. The Passion Flower received its name from the early Christian missionaries to South America, who saw in the various parts of the curiously constructed flower symbols of the Crucifixion—the three crosses, the crown of thorns, nails and cords.
The Tomato, scientifically known as the Lycopersicon lycopersicum, was designated as Tennessee’s official state fruit in 2003.
Tennessee River Pearls
Tennessee River Pearls come in all colors and they are “natural” -- just the way the mussel made them.
The Caney Fork in Middle Tennessee was noted for its pearl-bearing mussels, and “pearling” was a favorite sport on Sunday afternoons at the turn of the century. After World War I, dams were built on many of the rivers, and the mussels lost their swift and shallow shoals. Also, the waters became more toxic and pearling became unprofitable. But, Tennessee river pearls are among the most beautiful and durable in the world. It was designated as an official state gem in 1979.
Tennessee Walking Horse
The Tennessee Walking Horse was named the official state horse in 2000. The Tennessee Walking Horse is bred mainly from Standardbred, Morgan, Thoroughbred, and American Saddlebred stock. The three, easy-riding gaits of this breed: the flat-foot walk, the running walk, and the canter, are all natural, inherited characteristics, making this breed one of the smoothest riding horses in the world. This breed was a practical utility horse in the beginning and evolved into a pleasure horse with its gentle ride. Tennessee Walking Horses generally range from 14.3 to 17 hands and weigh 900 to 1,200 pounds.
The official state insects were designated in 1975. They are the well-known Firefly, or lightning bug beetle, and the Ladybeetle, more commonly known as the ladybug or ladybird beetle.
The official state agricultural insect is the Honeybee and was designated in 1990.
Firefly (Lightning Bug Beetle)
The firefly, or lightning bug beetle, is the popular name of the luminescent insects of the Lampyridae family. In Tennessee, Photinus pyralls is the most familiar species. Their extraordinary light is generated in special organs and it is most often white, yellow, orange, greenish blue or reddish.
Rather small, they are blackish, brown, yellow or reddish in color. In certain species the females remain in the larvae state and are called glowworms. Most fireflies produce short rhythmic flashes which provide a signaling system to bring the sexes together and also a protective mechanism to repel predators.
The ladybeetle, more commonly called ladybug or ladybird beetle, is the popular name given the Coccinella 7. This beetle was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and called “Beetle of Our Lady.” They are around four-tenths of an inch long, brightly colored, round, with the popular ladybug having four black spots on each wing.
Ladybugs are sold to farmers to control insect pests because they are important aphid predators. The life cycle is about four weeks as the ladybug larvae passes through four growth stages feeding on insects and insect eggs.
In folk medicine ladybug beetles were used to cure various diseases including colic and the measles.
The honeybee, Apis mallifera, is a social, honey-producing insect that plays a fundamental role in the production of all crops. It is also very popular for its production of honey and beeswax.
The honeybee plays a vital economic role in Tennessee through its pollination of various crops, trees, and grasses. The honeybee is the only insect that can be moved for the express purpose of pollination.
Tennessee Treasures by Tennessee artist Michael Sloan
Eastern Box Turtle
The Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, was designated official state reptile in 1995. This peaceful creature usually reaches a length of less than six inches and has a shell of black or brown with spots of yellow, orange and red. This reptile usually lives between 30 to 60 years and never ventures far from its place of birth.
Found just about everywhere in Tennessee, limestone was designated the official state rock in 1979. Tennessee marble, as the metamorphic version of limestone is known, is widely used in public and private buildings.
Agate is a cryptocrystalline quartz. This semiprecious gemstone is found in only a few areas of the state. It was designated as a state rock in 1969.
The Roman numerals XVI signify that Tennessee was the 16th state to enter the Union. The plow, the sheaf of wheat and a cotton stalk symbolize the importance of agriculture, while the riverboat attests to the importance of river traffic to commerce. This was adopted as the official state seal in 1987.
The Tulip Poplar was designated as the official state tree of Tennessee in 1947. As no state tree had ever before been designated, the adoption of an official tree seemed appropriate. The tulip poplar was chosen “because it grows from one end of the state to the other” and “was extensively used by the pioneers of the state to construct houses, barns, and other necessary farm buildings.”
In 1971, the Raccoon was adopted as Tennessee’s official wild animal. The Raccoon, Procynn lotor, is a furry animal that has a bushy, ringed tail and a band of black hair around its eyes which looks like a mask. Raccoons eat fish and frogs that they catch in rivers and streams. Raccoons living in Tennessee weigh from 12 to 25 pounds. Most males are larger than females. Raccoons walk like bears, with all four feet on the ground, and are good swimmers.
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