Alligators in the Sewer: A Myth Proven Correct

Source: Jam Press Vid

The myth of the alligator that lives in the sewer is one that can be traced back decades. The earliest renditions of this story date back to the late 20’s and early 30’s, but have persisted through the years. The myth is the inspiration for movies such as Alligator (1980), and the myth was further popularized in Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982). But how much of the myth is fact, and how much is fiction?

The Myth, The Legend, The Predator

Before diving into the myth of these apex predators in our sewer system, though, it’s important to understand the animal themselves. Alligators are some of the world’s oldest predators, able to be traced back almost 40 million years through fossil records. In modern day, there are two main species of alligator: the American alligator and the Chinese alligator.

Source: Wikimedia/Gareth Rasberry

The American alligator is a species of least concern for environmentalists, though that wasn’t always the case. Hunting of alligators had decimated the population to such a degree that they were once classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Conservation efforts have allowed their numbers to thrive in recent years, though.

Not People Eaters, But Still Scary

As apex predators, alligators consume a variety of animals, including fish, amphibians, and mammals. Anything that they can get their powerful jaws on is fair game to be consumed by adults, and juveniles largely subsist off of invertebrates.

Source: Wikimedia/Bobyellow

American alligators are one of the largest species of crocodilian, with captive males ranging in size between 9 and 14 feet. Size is largely dependent on habitat, though, with alligators captured in cooler climates measuring smaller. The size is not the only feature of these animals that leads them to be such feared predators, though.

A Powerful Snap

The headline feature about alligators is their powerful bite. In lab settings, alligators were shown to exhibit a bite strength of up to 3000 pounds-force, the most powerful of any measured crocodilian. This strong bite allows them to hunt effectively, for once an animal is trapped in their jaws, they aren’t escaping.

Source: Wikimedia/Gareth Rasberry

Despite the powerful bite that these animals can wield, it is mitigated by the relatively weak jaw, in comparison. Humans can easily hold the jaw of an alligator closed if need be, and they are often taped closed for safety when alligators are captured.

The Likelihood of an Attack is Low

For all the fear surrounding these animals – and for good reason – attacks on humans are relatively rare. Other crocodilian species behave far more aggressively towards humans, attacking them with somewhat frequent regularity. Alligators do not seek out humans as prey, but that doesn’t mean that attacks don’t happen.

Source: Wikimedia/Leafyplant

An attack from an alligator is a relatively serious event, largely due to the powerful bite of the predator. Even though alligator’s teeth aren’t meant to masticate its prey, the bites left by its teeth and jaws can still cause infections in humans that can ultimately be fatal, leading to the caution in shallow waters in alligator territory.

The Likelihood of Dying is Lower

If the number of attacks on humans from alligators is low, period, then the number of fatal attacks is even lower. As mentioned, alligators do not hunt humans for food, and their attacks are often the result of mistaken identity. Alligators might mistake a person for prey in cloudy or dirty water, and generally steer clear as a rule.

Source: Wikimedia/Bobyellow

The majority of fatal attacks have come out of Florida, one of the hotbeds of alligator territory and activity. Nearly 300 fatal attacks have been recorded out of Florida since 1948, at a rate of about five per year. Some years the attacks happen more often, though, with three Floridians dying from alligator attacks in the same week in 2006.

It’s No Surprise There’s Rumors Around Alligators

With all the headlines about attacks from alligators and the cultural fear around these predators, it isn’t surprising that myths and urban legends have sprung up around them. One of the most famous legends is the alligator in the sewer legend, that first popped up in the 20’s.

Source: Wikimedia/Polichick/Flickr

The idea that alligators could live in sewer pipes may have some basis in truth. Baby alligators used to be sold as novelty gifts in Florida in the mid-20th century, and New York supposedly rescues 100 alligators per year, some from the streets where they may have resided in the sewers.

There May Be Some Truth to the Myth

Where the legend of the sewer alligator posits that alligators could live underground for years and survive on rats, scientists refute that theory. They believe that the toxicity of the sewage would make it very difficult for alligators to survive long term, taking away a great deal of support for the theory.

Source: Jam Press Vid

Just because it would be unlikely doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen, though, particularly in states where alligators are indigenous. Florida is a prime example, and a recent video that surfaced out of the state actually provides some evidence that the legend may have truth.

A Public Works Project Turned B-Movie

Recently, a public works team was dispatched to investigate sinkholes on a street in Florida. They employed a robot with a camera to send into the tunnels, and as it was down there, it started to approach was appeared to be two bright lights at the end of the tunnel.

Source: Jam Press Vid

The crew were a little confused, and first thought that they were looking at a bullfrog or some other type of amphibian. It wasn’t until the camera got a little closer and the lights reared up that the animal revealed itself as an American alligator.

A Viral Moment in the Making

In the video that has since gone viral, the camera slowly approaches the alligator that is revealed to be about five feet long. It still has yellow stripes on its body, revealing itself as a juvenile, but that doesn’t make it any less frightening or dangerous than its adult counterparts.

Source: Jam Press Vid

The alligator notices the robot in the video, and slowly starts to back up. It’s clear that it doesn’t feel threatened, but still doesn’t like sharing its space with the piece of technology. It backs up a few feet, and then eventually turns around and starts to hurry away from the robot, which gets stuck in a crevice.

Not the First Alligator Found in Pipes

This clip is one of the first video evidences of the sewer gator myth, but it isn’t the first evidence of their survival in our pipes. Particularly in Florida, where the swamps tend to be the end point of many sewage systems, it can be common for gators to take up residence in the pipes during the colder winter months.

Source: Jam Press Vid

Likewise, in New York where the urban legend originated, there have been reports of alligators being rescued from public areas and sewage pipes with increasing regularity. This past February, public works officers retrieved an alligator from Prospect Park Lake in Brooklyn.

More Alligators to be Found and Rescued

The theory is that the rescued animal was a personal pet whose owner released it into the wild. Unfortunately not a new story; back when baby alligators as pets, it was a common occurrence to flush them down toilets and drains once the novelty wore off.

Source: Craigslist

Even today, it’s legal to purchase baby alligators in some states, and legal to ship them across state lines while they’re still small. These practices could be the reason that there are so many apprehensions of these large predators in cities like New York. They keep the urban legend of the sewer gator alive.

A Fun Story, But Ultimately a Cautionary Tale

The idea of a sewer gator is fun in theory, but encounters like the one revealed by the public works video remind us that nature is much closer than we might thing. Alligators are dangerous predators, and though humans aren’t their natural prey, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t treat them with caution and respect.

Source: Wikimedia/Andrea Westmoreland

As human expand their reach and further encroach on natural areas, its hard to treat nature with the respect that it deserves. The sporadic alligator attacks on humans are a warning, though. No matter how fun it is to see the sewer gator portrayed in movies like Alligator and Crawl, these predators are fierce animals, and should be given appropriate distance.

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James Cross

Written by James Cross

James Cross, an enigmatic writer from the historic city of Boston. James' writing delves into mysteries, true crime, and the unexplained, crafting compelling narratives that keep readers and viewers on the edge of their seats. His viral articles, blog posts, and documentary-style videos explore real-life enigmas and unsolved cases, inviting audiences to join the quest for answers. James' ability to turn real mysteries into shareable content has made him a sensation in the world of storytelling.

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