Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







Some States Are Buggy Over Insect Symbols

Symbols, it seems, have always been important to states. All states have living symbols. The National Wildlife Federation publishes an official list of such living symbols. It includes birds, mammals, trees, flowers, fish and insects.

Some states have adopted a plant as an official nickname. For instance, Mississippi is known as The Magnolia State; Magnolia just happens to be the state flower. Kansas is known as The Sunflower State, and Nevada, as The Sagebrush State. Both of these plants also are state flowers, although some folks might consider these symbols weeds. Ohio and South Carolina are known for their state trees — the buckeye and the palmetto, respectively.

Some furry mammals also have been adopted as the official state nickname. Oregon is The Beaver State; Minnesota, The Gopher State; and Michigan, The Wolverine State.

All states have official birds, trees and flowers. However, when it comes to insects, some have an official one and some don't. For instance, Minnesota doesn't have an official state insect. The land of 10,000 lakes does, however, have an unofficial insect — the mosquito, dubbed in curio shops across the state as "The Minnesota State Bird!" I've also noted similar claims relative to the large size of mosquitoes in Florida and Louisiana.

At the present time, 33 states have official insects. Like birds, trees and flowers some states have adopted the same insect as a state symbol. There are 11 states that have the honey bee as their state insect. It is easy to see why state governing bodies would vote for the honey bee as a state symbol. The insect is hard working, produces a great product — honey — and in the process provides a desirable ecological service, pollination. Besides, in most honey bee states there is a sizable group of voters known as bee keepers, who no doubt promoted their favorite insect. But as a state symbol, the honey bee has one major drawback. It is not even native to the United States; it was imported from Europe!

Georgia apparently had trouble deciding between insects, so they have an official state insect, the honey bee, and a state butterfly. Butterflies are the state insect in 11 states, 12 if you count Georgia. The monarch and swallowtail each have been adopted by four states. Kentucky has a monarch mimic, the viceroy, as its state insect. The California dog-face butterfly is the choice of another state. (You guessed it, California!) And in Maryland it's the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly that gets to be the state symbol.

Six states have chosen a bright-colored predatory insect — a ladybug — as their state insect. Another famous garden friend, the praying mantis, is the state insect in Connecticut. New Mexico has selected the tarantula hawk wasp as a state symbol. Pennsylvania has adopted a firefly, with the appropriate species name of pennsylvanicus for its insect.

Choosing a state insect isn't an easy task. After all, there are so many beautiful and beneficial insects from which to choose. Tennessee solved the problem. They have two state insects, the firefly and the ladybug. They also have a state agricultural insect, the honey bee. Hey if one state insect is good, three is even better!


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann