ANY WOLVERINES LEFT IN THE WOLVERINE STATE?
by Whit Gibbons
March 21, 2004
sighting of a wolverine in Michigan, the Wolverine State, might seem as
natural as seeing a yellowhammer, aka flicker, in the Yellowhammer State,
Alabama. Or a sabal palmetto in the Palmetto State, South Carolina. Not
so. Flickers are seen in abundance every year throughout Alabama, and
palmettos are found naturally in the coastal half of South Carolina. But
the wolverine spotted in Michigan is possibly the first documented sighting
of the species in the state ever. The particular animal may even have
been an escapee from a zoo or possibly a transient from Canada where they
do occur naturally.
are in the same family of carnivorous mammals as otters, skunks, and badgers.
They have a reputation for strength unrivaled by any mammal their size.
According to reliable reports, a wolverine coming upon a mountain lion
or grizzly bear eating its prey will drive the larger predator away. They
are also known for systematically running the traplines of commercial
trappers and eating the captured furbearing animals, as well as entering
cabins in search of food when no one is around, and killing livestock.
Because of such behavior, wolverines developed an overstated reputation
for being vicious and uncaring about human property. Nonetheless, selecting
an animal that represents power and persistence as a state symbol makes
sense, but in Michigan's case picking a species that was actually native
to the state would have been appropriate.
and animals chosen as symbols of different states tell something about
the people, or at least about the politics and state legislators, of times
past. Some of the more enlightened choices are ones that focus on unusual
zoological or botanical entities characteristic of the state. For example,
the Red Hills salamander, a rare and unusual animal found only in Alabama
was designated the state's amphibian more than forty years ago. South
Carolina's state amphibian is the spotted salamander. Tennessee, Kansas,
and New Hampshire also have salamanders as their state amphibian.
simply because a state puts its stamp of approval on an out-of-the-ordinary
symbol in one legislative session (often because of the dedication and
influence of a single legislator or citizen-at-large) does not mean the
same state cannot make less-than-inspired decisions in other years. For
example, the state freshwater fish of Alabama is the largemouth bass.
Alabama has more species of freshwater fish than any other state in the
union, including such wonderful creatures as sturgeons, rare and brilliantly
colored creek darters, and more than a dozen kinds of catfish most people
have never seen. Why pick a largemouth bass? Maybe because bass are also
the state fish of Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Texas?
That in itself is reason enough not to pick the species to represent your
selected as symbolic of different states are notable as a group in being
game or commercial varieties. Tennessee has two species: a state commercial
fish (the channel catfish) and a sport fish (big surprise here-the largemouth
bass). The influence of sport fishing on the choice of state fishes is
readily evident in that a species of trout is the state fish in no fewer
than 18 states, from New England to Washington to California and even
Nevada. The commercially important channel catfish is the state fish of
4 states. The sporting striped bass is also the state fish of 4 states,
including South Carolina, Maryland, and 2 New England states, all of which
have far more intriguing native fish to pick from.
imagination and a trend toward supporting commercial interests rather
than environmental ones might not be surprising, but choosing the camellia
as the state flower of Alabama in 1959 is indeed surprising. In 1927 the
goldenrod was officially designated the state flower. Goldenrods are beautiful
fall-blooming flowers native to the state. Despite a widespread misperception
among many southerners, goldenrods do not cause hay fever allergies. The
real culprit is ragweed, which looks similar but is not nearly as pretty.
Thus goldenrods got some undeserved bad press and were booted from the
state list. With the camellia, Alabama now has a pretty Asian flower as
its state symbol.
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