Alligators in the sewers

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Urban legends
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That one can find alligators in the sewers is an old urban legend, originating primarily in New York and dating back to around the 1920s.

The legends[edit]

In the popular view, alligators in sewers are a significant problem in large cities with older, larger sewer systems, particularly where storm water enters the system. This supposedly provides a source of water which has similar qualities to the Florida everglades, a prime alligator habitat. The alligators first enter the sewer system as babies; tiny pet alligators are flushed down the toilet when they become large enough to damage children's hands, and the parents suddenly realize that a 20 foot gator is not a suitable pet. They then feed on flushed goldfish and other small pets, as well as the ever present sewer rats.

While not a danger to the average household (they can't get through the S-bend when large), they do present a danger to sewer workers, gas and electric workers, and the occasional phone company technician where pipes and cables run through the sewer tunnels. If the protective grates are disturbed the alligators may escape into surrounding lakes and rivers.

Modern tales[edit]

While most of the legends are confined to the early 20th century, many contemporary stories are also known. One account from Tampa Bay, Florida features a man falling into a drain to find an alligator gnashing at his arm[1] and another account tells of a trapper who was called to remove a gator trapped in a sewer pipe.[2] However, both these more contemporary accounts occurred in areas where alligators are found in the wild naturally, indicating that they may have been only temporarily wandering into the sewer areas, rather than living in them as the original urban legend suggests.

Reality intrudes[edit]

Back in the real world:

  1. The sewer environment is all wrong for alligators — the presence of high levels of E. coli and other bacteria would be extremely detrimental to the gator.[3]
  2. They would never survive a New York winter. Alligators prefer a temperature in the 70-80 degree F. range.[4]

But just when you thought it would never happen...[edit]

It does in Queens and then purportedly again in France.

External links[edit]

  • Snopes has its usual good debunking.