Columbus – Ohio adopted the Cardinal as its state bird in 1933.
The white-tailed deer became the state animal in 1988.
The list of state symbols goes on, including a state tree, state
flower, and state insect. A couple of state lawmakers, along with
some teachers and students from school districts in Dublin and
Geauga counties, would like to add to that list.
Through a compromise championed by Sens. Tim Grendell
(R-Chesterland) and Jim Hughes (R-Columbus), Senate Bill 81 would
establish the spotted salamander as the state amphibian and the
bullfrog as the state frog.
The journey, which could end later this year or early next year
if the bill is approved by the Ohio General Assembly, has been a
Shawn Kaeser, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Dublin
Grizzell Middle School, began the effort seven years ago. Along
with his students, Kaeser campaigned through letters and visits to
the state capital to have the bullfrog named state amphibian.
“It’s been an interesting journey over the past few years,”
Kaeser said recently. “We thought it would be a fun process.”
The teacher wanted to make the effort a learning tool for
students – to show how the political system works.
Kaeser recalled how as a teen he saw Ohio adopt the black racer
snake in 1995 as the state reptile. After becoming a teacher, he
thought there should be a state amphibian and that students could
present that proposal. He and his class from seven years ago
decided that the bullfrog would be the perfect fit.
“If you go fishing anywhere in Ohio, you see bullfrogs,” Kaeser
reasoned. “I figured it would take a couple of months (for the
process) . . . I didn’t figure it would take seven years (but)
government works slowly. It’s been a good lesson for the kids.”
Initially, efforts failed to gain sponsorship or failed in
legislative committees. Then, two years ago, the bullfrog picked up
some competition when students with the Wetlands Education Team at
West Geauga Middle School in Geauga County began promoting the
spotted salamander for state amphibian.
While Kaeser said he and the students who have passed through
his classroom over the years still think the bullfrog is the best
amphibian, they can live with the compromise bill.
So can Hughes and Grendell. Dublin is in Hughes’ district and
Grendell represents Geauga County.
Senate Bill 81 passed through the Senate’s State and Local
Government and Veterans Affairs Committee in May. Hughes and
Grendell hope it will gain House support and then perhaps become
law by this fall.
“To get kids involved in the legislative process (is
important),” Hughes said. “They came down and actually testified .
. . Bringing this to me is important for them.”
Grendell also said it is important to represent your
constituents, including students wanting to make a difference.
“You have to appreciate the dedication of the students. It is
very impressive,” Grendell said. “I think our compromise has
brought everybody into agreement.”
While the DNR Division of Wildlife does not promote or back any
particular creature for such a statewide distinction, Carolyn
Caldwell, a program administrator with the division, said the
bullfrog and spotted salamander are well-represented species in
“Bullfrogs are known to occur in all 88 counties,” she said.
“They are an extremely aggressive species.”
There are thought to be 15 frog and toad species living in the
state, Caldwell said.
The bullfrog is the largest frog, ranging in size from 3 1/2
inches to 6 inches, according to the DNR’s web site – www.dnr.state.oh.us. The animals
have a deep, resonant call and are found from late April through
late summer in ponds, marshes, and slow-moving streams. Insects and
other frogs are among their main food sources.
The spotted salamander, distinguished by large yellow,
green-yellow, or orange spots on its dark body, is secretive and
elusive, Caldwell said.
“They are typically associated with forests . . . and vernal
(wetland) pools,” she said. “They are not in every county. We have
counties that do not have forest habitats, such as some of the more
heavily agricultural western counties.”
There are an estimated 25 salamander species in Ohio, Caldwell
The spotted salamander is nocturnal and has a habit of
tunnelling underground, according to DNR. They are seldom seen,
except in early spring. The animal can grow from 6 to 7 3/4 inches