The alligator is common in the swamps, bayous, rivers and marshes of Louisiana and other states along the southeastern coast of the United States. It is a large, semi-aquatic, armored reptile that is dull gray and dark olive in color. Alligators are usually between six and 16 feet in length and can weigh 450 to 550 pounds. They are carnivorous, eating anything they can catch including fish, turtles, lizards, snakes, small mammals, waterfowl and crustaceans. Alligators provide better care for their young than most reptiles, protecting them for a year or more after their birth.
Once common, their numbers were reduced enough to be classified in 1967 as endangered. Regulated hunting resumed when this designation was changed to threatened in 1977. Today you can find alligator farms and ranches throughout Louisiana. In addition to those living on farms in Louisiana, there are more than one million alligators in the wild.
The Louisiana Black Bear is one of 16 recognized subspecies of the American Black Bear U. Americanus. This bear is distinguished from other black bears by having a skull that is longer, narrower and flat; and by having proportionately large molar teeth. Black bears are huge, bulky mammals with long black hair. Although weight varies, large males weigh more than 600 pounds. The Louisiana Black Bear often winters in hollow cypress trees either in or along sloughs, lakes or riverbanks in bottomland habitats of the Tensas and Atchafalaya river basins.
These bears are mobile, opportunistic herbivorous omnivores, which means they eat a variety of foods based on availability. They spend a considerable amount of time foraging for food. Cubs are born in the den during January and February, and litter sizes range from one to three cubs. Although numerous at one time, the black bears are now a threatened species protected and managed on wildlife refuges and state-owned lands.
The large creamy-white bloom of the magnolia tree was designated the state flower in 1900 because of the abundance of the trees throughout the state. The magnolia is an evergreen and the flower is usually fragrant. After six to 12 petals have fallen, the large cone-shaped fruit of the magnolia is exposed.
The American Honey Bee is Louisiana's state insect. They are social insects which live as a group sharing responsibilities in the hive and caring for the brood. There are three different types of bees in the hive: the worker, the drone and the queen. In the summer, there may be 40,000 to 60,000 bees living in a single colony.
The Eastern Brown Pelican is Louisiana's official bird. It nests from South Carolina to Brazil and is famous for its large bill, the lower portion of which has a pouch that may be greatly extended.
The birds, depending almost entirely on fish for food, scoop up quantities of water into their pouches as they seize prey from salt waters. As the bill is elevated the water dribbles from the mandibles, and the pouch contracts as the fish is swallowed. The average pelican, from the age of one month, consumes five pounds of fish a day.
The Catahoula Leopard Dog is the only breed of dog native of Louisiana. This hound is a cross of a domestic dog the Indians of the Catahoula Lake region raised and a Spanish "war dog" that came through the area in the early 1500s. The dog has glassy eyes, webbed feet and a spotted coat. They are gentle with children, loyal to family and aggressive to strangers, making them good pets and guard dogs. As a hunting dog, the animal is diligent, dependable, efficient and especially good at tracking deer, raccoons and squirrels.
Half of Louisiana is timbered with an abundance of varied and beautiful trees, but no action was taken to designate a state tree until 1963 when the bald cypress was made the official tree of Louisiana. The cypress grows in many areas of the state, particularly swamps, bayous and marshes.
Its shape depends greatly on the amount and duration of flooding in an area, varying from columnar to conical or bottle shaped. The bark is reddish-brown, fibrous, thin and divided into small flat ridges and shallow furrows. Leaves of the cypress tree spread in flat planes in a feathery pattern on its branches.
South Louisiana is the crawfish capital of the world, supporting a multi-million dollar a year industry. The crawfish greatly resembles the lobster in appearance, but is much smaller. Its color varies with the water in which it lives.
Although the crawfish is found in swamps and marshes throughout the state, the best wild populations exist in overflow basins of the Atchafalaya, Red and Pearl Rivers. Crawfish farms have also been established where the crustaceans are cultivated for local use and for export around the world.
The Louisiana iris (Giganticaerulea) is perhaps the most magnificent of its species. Although it is adaptable to all climates, the iris is seen growing wildly mainly in damp, marshy locations in Louisiana's coastal areas and for perhaps 100 miles inland. This graceful beauty grows to a height of five to six feet and has a wider color range than any other iris, ranging from pale blue to deep indigo.
The strawberry was designated the official state fruit during the 2001 Legislative Session. Ponchatoula, located in Tangipahoa Parish, is considered the strawberry capital of Louisiana. The annual festival attracts 300,000 festival goers to the small town of 5,000.