CultureLab: Life in the tangled Everglades

CultureLab (New Scientist) reviews Laura Ogden's SWAMPLIFE.

Ogden_swamplife coverVENOMOUS snakes, outlaws and 5-metre alligators are the meat of Laura Ogden's account of life in the Florida Everglades.

Ogden, associate professor of anthropology at Florida International University, has spent the last 10 years interviewing the "gladesmen" who lived and hunted in this vast swamp in decades gone by. In Swamplife, she recounts their close association with a landscape in constant flux - in which hunters become poachers, swamps become shopping malls, and alligators become handbags.

For decades, gladesmen supplemented their income by hunting alligators for their hides. Ogden gives a fascinating account of the tricks they used to capture and sell the reptilian prize.

Bigger hides fetched a higher price, so hunters would stretch skins before trying to sell them, but this caused a telltale separation in the scales. It wasn't just the hides that were sold: alligator fat was used as soap during the American civil war, and teeth made popular jewellery at the end of the 19th century.

Ogden recounts some colourful stories of encounters with the Everglades' reptiles. One naturalist's narrow escape from a 4.5-metre snake gives a real feel for what was described by Lieutenant Hugh Willoughby in 1897 as the "snakiest" place he had ever seen.

Read the full article.

Published in: CultureLab (New Scientist)
By: Cian O'Luanaigh