Florida, Land of The Giant Carnivores

Islamorada, Florida (World’s Largest Lobster)
Christmas, Florida (World’s Largest Alligator)

The largest spiny lobster returns to the Florida Keys

The largest spiny lobster returns to the Florida Keys

North Dakota is home to a fair number of the world’s largest beasts (at least in sculpture form), but Florida vies for runner-up status with several oversized local carnivores. Two of the more impressive are separated by almost 300 miles of U.S. Route 1 – Betsey (a contender for the title of world’s largest lobster) and Swampy (undeniably the world’s largest alligator).

Betsey was originally commissioned by a Florida restaurant in the 1980s and sculpted by local artist Richard Blaze out of fiberglass and metal. The restaurant went out of business prior to the work being completed, but was purchased by Tom Vellanti for his display outside his Treasure Village shops in Islamorada. Treasure Village itself had an interesting history – it was formerly Art McKee’s Treasure Museum, a place where diver and shipwreck recovery expert Art McKee displayed the treasures reclaimed from the sea. Betsey had stood guard for several decades until Treasure Village’s owner died in 2007; shortly afterwards Treasure Village was converted to a Montessori schooland Betsey was dismantled and stored for sale on eBay.  Early in 2009, Mike Forster (owner of The Rain Barrel Artisan Village across from Treasure Village) purchased Betsey and began rebuilding her across the highway from where she formerly stood. At 35 feet long 25 feet tall, Betsey is a competitor in the category of World’s Largest Lobster, but faces strong competition from a lobster in Shediac, New Brunswick made of reinforced concrete. Although the Shediac lobster is the same length and shorter in height, they may be counting the sculpture’s base in the total size. Regardless, it is safe to say Betsey is the world’s largest spiny lobster, since the Shediac lobster is representative of an American (alternately Maine) lobster. Betsey’s visibility along U.S. Route 1 in the Florida Keys is assured for at least another decade, so don’t start heating the swimming pool and melting a bathtub of butter quite yet.

Swampy the Gator (largest alligator in the world)

Swampy the Gator (largest alligator in the world)

Swampy has little competition for title of the World’s Largest Alligator – the second place entry from Kissimmee’s JungleLand comes up 74 feet short of Swampy’s impressive 200-foot length. Swampy’s birth appears to be shrouded in mystery – Jungle Adventures states he was built in 1992, but some structural alterations were made when JungleLand sued, stating Swampy bore too close a resemblance to their gator. More of a building than a sculpture, Swampy houses Jungle Adventure’s ticket window and offices – tickets for the park are purchased by braving Swampy’s open, toothy mouth. The park has wild animals on display on an island and around the perimeter of a pond filled with alligators. At $20, admission to see animals that can attack you for free in the Everglades may seem a bit pricey, but if your goal is to see Swampy, don’t fret – he stands guard over the parking lot and can be accessed free of charge. Swampy and the park are located in Christmas, Florida, approximately 30 miles east of Orlando, but while you’re there consider visiting the post office. The post office is famous for processing postcards and letters with a “Christmas” post mark – they also have stickers and will ink your hand with a Christmas stamp on request. Seems like the ideal place to mail your postcard of Swampy from.

It is always Christmas at the Christmas, Florida post office

It is always Christmas at the Christmas, Florida post office

When considering a trip to Florida, consider an alternative to the Disney World / Universal Islands of Adventure tourist prison camps and take a driving trip across the real Florida. Stop to see the roadside oddities along the way, have some fried alligator and conch chowder and return home with something besides mouse ears and an empty wallet.

Betsey the Lobster
at The Rain Barrel Artisan Village
86700 Overseas Hwy.
Islamorada, FL 33036
GPS coordinates:  24°57’32.87″N 80°34’16.56″W

Swampy the Gator
at Jungle Adventures Nature Park & Zoo
26205 East Colonial Drive (State Road 50)
Christmas, Florida 32709
GPS coordinates: 28°32’17.51″N  80°58’37.81″W

U.S. Post Office
23580 E. Colonial Drive
Christmas, FL 32709-9771
GPS coordinates: 28°32’9.62″N 81° 1’10.45″W

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