Yesterday I was asked by a student of mine if I'd ever heard of Florida Swamp Apes. After a brief moment in which I wondered if he were asking about a sports team, I answered in the negative. He brought out his cellphone, on which he had downloaded an admittedly creepy image, which I include below:
Imagine my surprise when I found out that there's a whole site devoted to this odd beast, also called the "Florida Skunk Ape" for its strong smell. (Visit the site here.) Considered to be the "southernmost Bigfoot species in the United States," the Florida Skunk Ape has been sighted all over southern Florida, but most commonly in the Everglades region. (And, if you're interested, this website also offers collectible Florida Skunk Ape silver coins for sale.)
I thought I had heard of most of the cryptozoological claims from the United States, but this one was new to me. Of course, the Sasquatch of the Pacific Northwest is so familiar by now as to elicit yawns, and many of us know of the Boggy Creek Monster of Fouke, Arkansas, which generated not one but two truly dreadful movies. I've posted before about the Connecticut Hill Monster, which is veritably in my own back yard, and roams the wild hills of the southern Finger Lakes. But the Skunk Ape is one I'd never heard of before, and I'm finding myself wondering how I missed it. It did cross my mind briefly that perhaps the Skunk Ape sightings were merely elderly Bigfoots from the north who had moved to Florida when they retired, but apparently this is incorrect, as one site talks about a sighting of a "young and vigorous animal, probably an adolescent" and another refers to "Skunk Ape mating season" (May, if you're curious). All these years as a cryptozoologist, and you still keep coming across new and outlandish stories. But isn't that what pseudoscience is all about?
As with most of these alleged animals, the claims of sightings are numerous and varied, and the hard evidence essentially non-existent. There are a lot of photographs, but to borrow a line from the astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson, there probably is an "Add Bigfoot" button on PhotoShop, so we shouldn't consider the photographic evidence to be evidence at all. Also on the website is an audio clip of a Skunk Ape's howls, which to my ear sounded more like a distant dog, or possibly a guy going "Awoo." We also have an interview with Dave Shealy, who seems to be one of the people responsible for the whole Skunk Ape phenomenon (he is the director of the Skunk Ape Research Center of Ochopee, Florida, open 7 AM to 7 PM, admission $5, which I am definitely going to visit next time I'm in Florida). Lastly, we are informed that Skulls Unlimited, a company which sells a virtually unlimited number of skulls (thus the name), is now offering resin models of Bigfoot skulls. One has to wonder what they cast the mold from, but in the field of cryptozoology it is sometimes best not to ask too many questions.
In any case, the Florida Skunk Ape gives us yet another line in the ledger of Extraordinary Claims Requiring Extraordinary Evidence Of Which There Seems To Be None. Too bad, because winter's coming on up here in the Frozen North, and I'd have welcomed a reason to assemble my research team and head on down to sunny Florida, as conducting cryptozoological research in shorts and a t-shirt certainly seems more inviting than stomping around Connecticut Hill in two feet of snow, dressed in seven layers of clothing and still feeling like I'm freezing off valuable body parts. But I'm willing to make those kind of sacrifices to bring this sort of quality research journalism to your doorstep. Don't thank me, the privilege of listening to the lonesome howls of the Florida Skunk Ape during mating season is thanks enough.