Illinois' State Symbols Include Wildlife We Love

Illinois has voted on many different symbols over the years. Most of these were voted on by schoolchildren. A symbol is something that represents something. For example, the American eagle is our strong and majestic symbol for the United States, and doves are often used as a symbol of peace or love.

A monarch butterfly. (Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

These Illinois symbols are objects that represent the wonderful things that grow, fly or crawl all over our state. Many of these are things you can find right in your own back yard or your closest forest preserve.


State Flower: Violet

A common blue violet. (Photo by Suzy Lyttle)

Illinois schoolchildren voted for the state flower and tree in 1908. In our forest preserves, you may spot a few species of violets in the spring. Pictured is the common blue violet, which can be found in woodlands but also in neighborhood lawns and city parks. Preserves like Raccoon Grove or Messenger Woods have variety of yellow violets.


State Tree: White Oak

A white oak tree. (Photo via Shutterstock)

The native oak was first selected as the state tree by schoolchildren in 1908. However, about 900,000 children voted again in 1973 and changed the state tree to the white oak. This tree is found in every county of Illinois. It can grow 100 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The name was inspired from the whitish-gray color of its bark. If you ever joined us at the Hummingbird Festival and Nature Celebration at Plum Creek Nature Center, you may have done tree climbing in our white oak trees!


State Bird: Northern Cardinal

A northern cardinal. (Photo courtesy of Paul Dacko)

In 1929, Illinois was the first state to choose the cardinal as its state bird. Now there are seven states that think the northern cardinal is a great symbol. Easy to recognize, the males are a bright red with a pointed mohawk crest. The tan-colored females blend in with their nests. Cardinals stay in Illinois all year long, so put up a bird feeder to see if you can get them to visit your back yard.


State Insect: Monarch Butterfly

A monarch butterfly. (Photo via Shutterstock)

The monarch butterfly was chosen as the state insect in 1975. Today you hear a lot about these butterflies because their host plant, milkweed, is becoming harder and harder to find. These butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed, and the caterpillars only eat milkweed. Next time you are hiking in a prairie, see if you can spot a monarch. Follow it with your eyes to see if it lands on a tall milkweed plan. Many of our forest preserves have milkweed right along the parking lots.


State Animal: White-tailed Deer

A white-tailed deer fawn. (Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

Schoolchildren selected the white-tailed deer as the state animal in 1980. The bottom side of the deer’s tail is white. When raised up, it signals to other deer that trouble is near. Male deer grow antlers each spring. The antlers are used to battle other males and look nice for the females. By late fall or early winter, they don’t need them anymore and they fall off.


State Fish: Bluegill

A bluegill. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Voted the state fish in 1986, bluegills got their name from their striking blue gill covers found on the males. Most bluegills have six to eight bands on each side, with males shining green-yellow and females shining gray-green. These fish are popular in our preserves’ bodies of water. They swim in groups and are mostly active in the morning and evenings.


State Amphibian: Eastern Tiger Salamander

An eastern tiger salamander. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Illinois residents got their wish in 2005 when the eastern tiger salamander was crowned state amphibian. This salamander spends most of its time underground in tunnels eating worms, spiders and insects. However, in the spring they crawl out of their homes and head to the ponds to find their mates and lay eggs. They are one of our larger salamanders, growing to be 7 inches to 8 inches long.


State Reptile: Painted Turtle

A painted turtle. (Photo by Suzy Lyttle)

Approved as the state reptile in 2005, the painted turtle has yellow stripes on its head and a shell with the bottom painted in reds, yellows and black. You will spot these turtles on warm, sunny days lined up on a log catching rays. They eat insects, fish, frogs and crayfish. Watch the roads in the spring for turtles! They leave the ponds in search of the perfect place to lay eggs.


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