Symbols of New York State
By action of the State Legislature, the bluebird, beaver, brook trout, sugar maple, rose, nine spotted lady beetle, bay scallop, eurypterid, and garnet officially represent the state's birds, mammals, fish, insects, mollusks, trees, wildflowers, fossils, and minerals.
In the summer of 2006, the New York State Legislature adopted the snapping turtle as the official state reptile and the striped bass as the official state saltwater fish, moving the brook trout to the official state freshwater fish.
Once common throughout the Northeast, the bluebird fell prey to changing land use practices. Until the 1920s, the countryside was a patchwork of small farms with apple orchards and fields separated by overgrown fencerows. Bluebirds nested in holes in fence posts or apple trees and patrolled orchards, fields, and gardens for insect food. A great many of these small, unprofitable farms were abandoned when their tenants abandoned the land for jobs in the cities. Fence posts rotted and fields gave way to trees--inhospitable to bluebirds.
In more recent years, the bluebird has staged a comeback, largely due to efforts of the North American Bluebird Society and its state and local affiliates. Together, these organizations and other concerned individuals have waged an educational campaign about the bluebird, encouraging the proper construction, placement, and care of nesting boxes. The result is that the bluebird once again graces open spaces and its beautiful plumage and sweet song are enjoyed across the Northeast.
More than any other factor, the beaver was most instrumental in motivating French exploration in the New World and for the establishment of Dutch and English trading posts that opened New York to colonization. Beaver pelts were very much in demand in Europe for felt hats and fur trim on garments. Beaver commerce over time resulted in the decline in beaver numbers from an estimated 60 million to nearly none. Forest harvest, particularly along streams, was also a factor. Beavers were introduced into the Adirondacks at the turn of the century and trapping was prohibited. As the forests returned to the Northeast, so too did the beaver.
North America's largest rodent exerts more influence on its habitat than any other creature except man. To insure a sufficiently watery environment, beavers construct dams to create artificial ponds in which to construct their lodges. The enlarged water bodies that beavers create are a boon to countless other creatures from fish to ducks and wading birds to such mammals as muskrat, deer, and moose. In some areas beaver have become a nuisance, flooding private property and roads and cutting ornamental trees and shrubs. DEC wildlife personnel provide management assistance.
The sugar maple is a magnificent forest tree abundant everywhere upstate. Besides providing beautiful borders to many miles of highways, and thousands of gallons of maple syrup, it yields a wood of high grade. It is hard, strong, close-grained, and tough, with a fine, satiny surface, and is in great demand for flooring, veneer, interior finish, furniture, shoe lasts, rollers, and fuel wood of the best quality. Because of its particularly brilliant fall foliage, sugar maples are often planted as shade trees.
Symbolizing pure water as well as an excellent fish, the brook trout inhabits clear, cold lakes and streams. This fish prefers shaded streams with a mean temperature of about 50 degrees. In the late summer and fall, brook trout begin moving upstream to where waters flow through gravel and rubble. Here the female excavates a nest with violent tail flapping. Then side by side the female lays eggs and the male fertilizes them. Then the female dislodges some of the gravel to cover the eggs. Fifty to 100 days later, the fry hatch to be nourished initially by a large yolk sack.
Mature brook trout are small and short-lived. Wary and scrappy, brook trout are always very popular with anglers. DEC fish hatcheries raise and release brook trout to ensure a good supply.
In 1984, the legislature officially designated the eurypterid as the the state fossil. Close kin of the living horseshoe crab as well as of scorpions and spiders, eurypterids or water scorpions are very rare worldwide, and in America they are found in only a few states. In New York, though, they are locally abundant in 400- to 415-million-year-old dolostone and shale. Most are in the 4- to 8-inch length range. Some were considerably larger, making them the largest arthropod known.
New York is home to several species of wild roses. Some grow in wetlands while others, like the pasture rose, are at home along dry roadsides and in hedgerows. All are characterized by having five usually pink petals above five sharp green sepals. Most species are armed with sharp prickles to discourage browsing by cattle and deer. Rose fruit called hips are high in vitamin C and are valuable as food for many wildlife species.
The nine-spotted lady beetle was one of the most recently designated official wildlife symbols. Selected in 1989, ladybugs have always been highly regarded because both larvae and adults feed on pest aphids. Adults can consume a hundred aphids a day. Many children can recite at least part of the poem,
Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home,
Your house is on fire, your children will roam,
Except little Nan, who sits in a pan
Weaving gold laces as fast as she can.
This English verse was an after-harvest warning to the ladybugs that fields were being burned to rid them of plant debris and insect pests. The lady beetle's children, or larvae, could crawl away from the burning vines, but the immobile pupa, Nan, remained fastened to the burning plants.
Our state shell is abundant on eastern Long Island Sound, in shallow water of salt-water bays where the bottom is covered with sand or seaweed, and on mud flats. Bay scallops feed on minute living things taken in with water used for breathing. They have a varied life history: a free-swimming stage develops from fertilized eggs. They then attach by secreted stems to submerged supports and develop to a width of 1.5 inches. Then they change into free-roaming animals that move by flapping shells. A shell flap accompanied by a jet of water can move scallops several feet. Bay scallops are a favorite of seafood enthusiasts.
One of the largest garnet mines in the world is located on Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks. Most garnet is used as an industrial abrasive, but occasionally gem quality stones are found. Garnet's hard, sharp features make it excellent for grinding lenses and for polishing glass and metal.
The name garnet comes from the Latin word for pomegranate, malum granatum, due to the resemblance of some varieties of garnet to red pomegranate seeds. Their use as gems has a history that goes back to the ancient Egyptians.
Snapping turtles can weigh more than 35 pounds, with a shell length of 20 inches or more. Females lay 20-40 ping-pong ball-shaped eggs in a hole in sandy soil near water between April and November. In 80-90 days, the quarter-sized young head immediately for the safety of water. Females may retain sperm for several years. Females often travel to a nesting site some distance from water. Snappers like freshwater with soft mud bottoms and abundant vegetation. They can also enter brackish waters. Highly aquatic, the snapping turtle likes to rest in warm shallows, often buried in mud, with only its eyes and nostrils exposed.
While it has extremely strong jaws, snapping turtles have only a hooked beak with no teeth. They are powerful enough to take off a finger. Snapping turtles are usually very docile while in the water, turning defensive when out of the water for mating. The snapper eats invertebrates, carrion, aquatic plants, fish, birds, and small mammals.
The snapping turtle was adopted as the State reptile in 2006.
Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)
Striped bass are big, ranging from 18 to 55 inches in length and three to 70 pounds in weight. Striped bass are anadromous, which means they move from the sea to freshwater to spawn. The Hudson River estuary is an important spawning ground for stripers along the Atlantic coast. Stripers are migratory fish. In the ocean, they move north in the summer and south in the fall and winter.
Striped bass are easily distinguished by the seven to nine dark horizontal lines found along their sides, two to three of which extend from the head to the base of
the tail. Stripers generally occur around rocks and wrecks in nearshore waters, rivers and large reservoirs. In New York, female stripers do not mature until five to eight years old and fish 25 years old have been caught in the Hudson River. Smaller striped bass in the ten to 20 pound range generally travel in large schools. Older and larger fish are usually in small "pods" of only a few fish. Adult striped bass are voracious feeders, primarily eating fish and invertebrates, especially crabs and squid.
The striped bass was adopted as the State saltwater fish in 2006.