Wildlife in North Carolina buttons over the years.

The annual Wildlife in North Carolina button made its debut at the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s State Fair exhibit in 1981, and since then, it has become a “must-have” collector’s item for thousands of people who visit the exhibit each year.

The Wildlife Commission’s Division of Conservation Education created the 1 ½-inch button as a give-away item to help market the Commission’s Wildlife in North Carolina magazine.

The Eastern gray squirrel graced the first button in 1981. During the past 29 years, a variety of animals — from birds to reptiles to mammals — has made an appearance on buttons adorning the clothes of kids and adults alike.

The buttons have become so popular that many exhibit visitors stop by the Wildlife Commission’s State Fair exhibit just to pick up the latest wildlife button.

While there’s no known monetary value associated with owning an entire button collection, some buttons have more appeal than others. For instance, the 1996 button is a hot collectors’ item — and almost impossible to find — not because it features the rascally raccoon, but because the raccoon has no eyes.

Start your collection! Be sure to pick up your 2011 Wildlife in North Carolina button at the Wildlife Commission’s State Fair exhibit from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 13, and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Oct. 14 through 23.

Wildlife in North Carolina buttons from 1981 to the present:

Year
Animal
1981
Squirrel   
1982
Heron
1983
Largemouth Bass
1984
Peregrine Falcon
1985
Pair of Ducks
1986
Black Bear
1987
Trout
1988
White-tailed Deer
1989
Black Capped Chickadee
1990
Rabbit
1991
River Otter
1992
Loggerhead Sea Turtle
1993
Dove
1994
Wood Duck
1995
Wild Turkey
1996
Raccoon
1997
Owl
1998
Muskellunge
1999
Salamander (Neuse River Waterdog)
2000
Quail
2001
Indigo Bunting
2002
Coral Snake
2003
Box Turtle
2004
Striped Bass
2005
American Beaver
2006
Rafinesque's Big-eared Bat
2007
Robust Redhorse
2008
Timber Rattlesnake
2009
Brook Trout
2010
Fox Squirrel (black phase)