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NATURE HAPPENINGS - May 2009

Utah’s Natural State Symbols
by Damian Fagan

States select symbols that reflect their natural and cultural resources. Generally, a proponent such as school children or an organization suggests then researches several possibilities. When their research is completed, the group petitions a state politician to introduce legislation to formalize their recommendation. Though the “Beehive State” has a long list of state symbols, I’ll stick to those involving natural history. Mostly.

But first, why don’t you test your knowledge and fill in the blanks.

State Animal:__________________ State Fish:___________________
State Bird:____________________ State Cooking Pot:_____________
State Flower:__________________ State Insect:__________________
State Fossil:__________________ State Tree:___________________
State Fruit:____________________ State Grass:__________________
State Rock:___________________ State Star:____________________

Rocky Mountain elk, also known as wapiti, are large ungulates found at higher elevations across the state, and hold the position of State Animal. This even-toed ungulate is the largest member of the Deer Family. The long-distance bulging of the males during the rut or breeding season, from August to early winter, is unmistakable.

For those of you from out of state, the California gull may seem like an odd choice for State Bird. These gulls breed on isolated islands in the Great Salt Lake, and were instrumental in devouring hordes of crickets that plagued early settler’s crops, particularly in 1848.

Like the California gull, the sego lily’s selection as State Flower is also associated with these early cricket plagues. Between 1840 and 1851, invasions of Mormon crickets wiped out pioneer’s crops. The hardy settlers turned to the edible bulbs of the sego lilies for sustenance.

The Allosaurus was a top-of-the-food-chain predator during the Morrison period, 155 to 145 million years ago. They fed on stegosaurids, sauropods, and probably each other. These “Strange Lizards” have been found in abundance at the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry near Price, Utah.

OK, the State Fruit is not a “wild” entity, but the cherry was a ripe selection. During World War II, an old Civilian Conservation Corp camp north of Moab was used briefly to house some Japanese-American “troublemakers” from western internment camps. After WWII, the Japanese government sent cherry trees to the state of Utah as a symbol of friendship.
Coal is the State Rock of Utah.

High mountain streams are perfect habitats for Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, the Utah State Fish. One of many recognized subspecies of Cutthroats, these fish have an orangish or red “cut” area on their throat.

Dutch ovens were high on the list of necessary items for pioneers and settlers to haul on wagon trains because of their durability. What self-respected camper doesn’t have one?

If your state motto is “Industry” and your nickname is the “Beehive State,” that the honey bee a natural choice for State Insect. This important agricultural pollinator has suffered population loss due to disease, parasites and habitat loss.
Located in the Wasatch and Unita mountains, blue spruce were just pining to be the Official State Tree. The silvery blue, stiff needles are unmistakable, and the cones have wavy margins.

The Utah State Grass, Indian ricegrass, is a native bunchgrass that grows in sandy soils in the Canyonlands region. With its wiry flowering heads, the seed was once a staple crop for Native Americans.

If you guessed John Stockton or Karl Malone for Utah State Star, you should go back to school. Dubhe (rhymes with tubby) is the upper right star in the Big Dipper’s ladle. With luminosity 300 times greater than the sun, this orangish star is easier to spot than Stockton or Malone.

If you got more than half the questions right, congrats you’re a Utahn. For those of you who didn’t get 50% correct, grade school beckons. Here’s a bonus question: Name the three natural history images on the Utah State Flag.

State Flag of Utah

Sego Lily

Indian Rice Grass

Star Trails

 

 
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