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Some strange state items sighted

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Since the West Virginia Legislature's response to the call to pass meaningful gun control laws in wake of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., was to pass five new pro-gun bills, I wasn't shocked that our elected officials also thought the time was ripe to name an official state firearm.

Taking its place beside the official state soil (Monongahela silt loam) and the official state fossil (megalonyx jeffersonii, or giant tree sloth) is West Virginia's new official state firearm, the Hall Model 1819 flintlock rifle.

While I believe the tire iron would have more widespread appeal as West Virginia's official state weapon, the Hall Model 1819 flintlock takes its place atop the Statehouse mantel with the nation's other official state weapons -- the Browning M1911 pistol (Utah), the Colt single-action Army revolver (Arizona), and the Grouseland rifle (Indiana).

While having official state firearms, soils and fossils may seem a little strange to me, I have learned that there are a number of equally strange official state items that go far beyond the standard state trees, birds and flowers.

Take official state beverages, for instance. In Ohio, the state beverage is tomato juice, though I've never driven past a tomato juice stand in the Buckeye State, while in Nebraska, the officially designated drink is Kool-Aid -- no flavor specified.

In Utah, the official state snack food is Jell-O, while in South Carolina, it's boiled peanuts and in Texas, it's tortilla chips and salsa.

In Maryland, the official state dessert is the Smith Island Cake, which contains up to 15 tiers of cake interspersed with layers of frosting, crème, and crushed candy bars. The official state exercise of Maryland is walking, an activity presumably designated to work off servings of Smith Island Cake.

Delaware doesn't just have a state insect, it has on official state macroinvertebrate -- the stonefly. Both Texas and Oklahoma have official state flying mammals, and in each state it is the Mexican free-tailed bat.

Official state muffins exist in Minnesota (blueberry), Massachusetts (corn) and New York (apple -- as in the Big Apple?), and official state nuts are designated in Alabama (pecan) and Oregon (hazelnut).

Speaking of Oregon, the state of my birth last week designated what I presumed to be the nation's most obscure official state item -- the microbe. Saccharomyces cerevsiae, better known as ale yeast, is now the official microbe of the state supporting the nation's highest per capita number of craft breweries.

It turns out that Wisconsin had the germ for that idea first, designating the lactococcus lactis bacterium, used in cheese-making, that state's official microbe a year before Oregon took the plunge into the Petri dish.

If West Virginia gets around to designating its own official state bacterium, may I suggest methanobrevibacter smithii, better known in recent years as the "obesity microbe." It eats the hydrogen produced by other gut-dwelling microorganisms, allowing the body to absorb more calories from food.

But a more familiar choice may be the bacterium listeria, which finds a home in poorly cooked hot dogs. In a state with an abundance of gas station hot dog racks, this microbe could be a shoo-in.

But I make no official endorsement.

It's just a germ of an idea.


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