With a black scarred hide and symmetrically lined rows of bony ridges that cover most of his back, Snaggletooth, is the impressive, dominant bull alligator that calls this part of the Big Cypress National Preserve home. Measuring over 10 feet long, he may very well be over a quarter of a century old. He bares the distinctive feature of a large tooth that juts out abnormally from the right side of his lower jaw.
Clyde and Niki Butcher remember this extraordinary animal from when they first moved into their swamp home, at Big Cypress Gallery, in the early 90s. They named him “Loose Screw” during that time, as a monument to Clyde’s friends, who jested that Clyde had a “loose screw” if he thought his dream of a gallery this far out in the wilderness would ever amount to anything. As the alligator has aged over the 21 years the couple has known him, his teeth became uneven with one sticking out, and he was renamed to Snaggletooth.
The creature is now the subject of many photos and videos as he has earned a place of respect among those who work, live and visit the Big Cypress Gallery. Observed moving between remote gator ponds in the wilderness behind the gallery, this bull gator is likely the father of most alligators nearby. The female that inhabits the pond just outside Clyde and Niki’s rental cottage welcomes him. She has chosen him as her mate, and as he approaches her territory, he gently and softly growls. Those who watch and experience their behavior together believe these sounds to be a part of their unique courtship – something that ties them together for this season.
He has only been seen traveling this property during late winter and spring, in conjunction with the breeding season of alligators. And only during the end of a dry season when fish are confined to dwindling water sources, does his stature look so very robust and healthy.
He is a remarkable animal. In keeping with park guidelines, and maintaining a 15 to 20 foot distance from any wild alligator, this animal has not shown signs of aggression toward any human. Instead, he has enabled many to witness what most people will never see or even come to know – true alligator behavior.
It is the Butchers’ deepest desire to connect the public with the realities of the wilderness and its inhabitants. Instead of being motivated by the sensational aspect of the risks, they utilize tours, art, videos and pictures to shed light on the truth, that the larger predators, if given a respectful distance, do not pose a threat to humans.
“We have been so fortunate in our experience on the property of the Big Cypress Gallery, situated in the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve to observe and learn first-hand the facts and science that cause this system to exist and thrive,” says Clyde. “The lessons here go beyond the words in most biological texts. The lessons we have learned in our face-to-face encounters reveal a depth of understanding that says we know so very little if we believe these creatures to be brutal or monstrous.”
Snaggletooth has been placed in the media’s view for consideration. His presence on and off property has caused most who see him to stop and realize that we do share this beautiful earth with something incredible – something that resembles the dinosaur of our past. In the not-so-distant history, his kind was almost obliterated from Florida and from this nation as a whole by the thoughtless quest to hunt them for material gain and pleasure. Now, this creature shares the very swamp water wetlands with thousands of visitors seeking to better understand this wild treasure.
“He is a creature that has shared this place with us as we have sought to give him the room and rights he deserves to exist,” says Clyde. “His presence here is vital to this wetland ecosystem and vital to our human spirit in ways that cannot be easily expressed.”