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Alligators-in-the-Sewers Update

Posted by: Loren Coleman on August 21st, 2010

Did you miss the program?

Alert: The Alligators-in-the-sewers MonsterQuest episode is being repeated on
Sunday Aug. 22, 2010 at 8:00 AM HISTORY
MonsterQuest Gators in the Sewer #3.13 on History.

Needless to say, I’ve had much to say about the gators down through the years. See Mysterious America for my chapter on the stories and sightings behind the simple phrase, “alligators in the sewers.” Or watch MonsterQuest.

Here is their initial announcement:

MonsterQuest : SEWER GATORS

What if one of the most famous and terrifying urban legends was not a legend but a frightening fact? History tells us that Alligators lurking around in the sewers of New York City is based in truth. In the mid 1930s three teenagers pulled an eight-foot alligator from a storm drain. Reports persisted until a skeptical Superintendant of Sewers, Teddy May, was forced to investigate for himself. What May found shocked even him – swarms of alligators alive beneath the busy main street of America’s biggest city. Crews were sent in to kill the deadly reptiles, but the stories of the gators in the sewers lived on. Experts, however, are divided over whether it is scientifically possible for alligators to continue to exist in the sewers, so a MonsterQuest team sets out to search for modern evidence of these monsters and prove that they could not only survive but also thrive. Herpetologists and underground explorers join forces and use the latest in remote-operated camera technology to delve into the depths of New York’s sewers.
What did you think of it? Did it expand your understandings and survivability of crocodilians in the sewers?

In the comments that follow, some early objections to the notion of sewer gators not being able to live have been answered in the program and by other comment makers.

Also, new details of the stories is passed along in the comments.

Here too is an entertaining “created” video that summarizes the “alligator sewer” story:


Old comments are retained below because they contain good info.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

69 Responses to “Alligators-in-the-Sewers Update”

  1. PhotoExpert responds:

    Sounds like the makings for a great show! I will be sure to watch.

  2. yungcrypto responds:

    Can’t wait to see the show it is one of my favorites on the history channel

  3. cryptidsrus responds:

    I really don’t see what is so unbelievable about alligators in the sewer. There is plenty of space in certain parts of many big cities, particularly NYC.
    Plenty of food, also.
    So it’s not improbable that alligators may exists in certain sewers.

  4. mystery_man responds:

    cryptidsrus- What a lot of people don’t always realize either is that in the sewer, there is likely to be decomposing waste, which will create heat and raise the temperatures to levels that alligators would be comfortable with. I often hear that New York would be too cold for them, which on the face of it is true, but does not take into account the warmth that could be produced by decomposition in the enclosed spaces of the sewers.

  5. Alligator responds:

    The problem with sewers is lack of sunlight, places where they could completely dry out and low temperatures that would prevent them from digesting food. Notice that gators bask in the sunlight and completely haul themselves out of water to dry out. A gator that can’t get dry and sun regulatory is a dead gator. They would be subject to vitamin deficiency, fungal and respiratory infections in short order. I’ve seen gators kept in less than good conditions and the health problems they had. A sewer environment would only amplify the problems 100 fold in short order. Sure a gator could live in a sewer (a few days to a couple of weeks) but certainly not long enough to mature and certainly not reproduce.

  6. mystery_man responds:

    Alligator- As I mentioned above, I’m not sure that temperature would always be a problem under those circumstances. I also wonder if there would not be places down there to get out of the water. But very good points about sunlight.

  7. Loren Coleman responds:

    Alligator’s comments above given forth with a lot of commonly-held misconceptions that are directly answered in this episode.

    As noted from alligator growers and authorities interviewed on the program, the darkness in the sewers is not a problem for gators and actually increases growth in these animals. Also, the temperature is routinely high (easily 95-97 degrees F with +60% humidity). Food, breeding materials, and access to other environments are not in short supply in the NY and other urban sewers.

    Alligators are also able to resist infections in lots of nasty conditions, as was noted and reinforced by several commentaries in this good program.

    “A gator that can’t get dry and sun regulatory is a dead gator.” = This is a mythic statement that is not connected to the facts. It might seem to be true for gators in the wild in Florida, but the environment in warm sewers would not kill alligators.

    Needless to say, while the quotes used from me were the most alarmist ones given in the midst of my mostly historically-referenced interview, I stand behind my sense that alligators could and may have already bred in the sewers.

  8. theprof responds:

    I’m not from the US and usually took all of this alligator-in-sewer business as rubbish. Until,in 1987,I met a retired NY City police officer [he died in 2007 and his widow asks that his name not be given out because of previous problems with,quote:”nuts”].

    ‘Jim’ looked annoyed when I introduced him to a zoologist friend as coming “from the city of mythical sewer alligators”. It was pointed out in a very brusque manner that this was no myth. In fact, once a year up until his retirement, Jim had taken part in what he called a “sweep and clean” in the sewers. I was confused and Jim straightened me out. Each year he, and about four other men [along with a City Inspector?] went into the sewers and used a map of previous finds to look for “‘gators or any other goddam creepy”.

    Asked if he’d seen an alligator he said he’d seen several and shot two. Asked where the carcasses were sent he responded:”Incinerator. Even back then we had animal libbers,righters whatever who’d have screamed about shooting these ‘beautiful animals’ -ever stared into an alligators mouth?” We both responded “no”.

    My friend mentioned Los Angeles and Jim pointed out the same went on [or used to] there and he’d “joined in” with a pal while visiting the city in 1983.

    I never took it any further as sewer living alligators never,pardon the pun, “grabbed me” back then.

    Hey, if folks can keep tigers in apartments, as well as primates and snakes I’m not going to dismiss sewer living gators!

  9. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Ok, I missed the episode because it conflicts with another show that I watch, but the big question that I have is:

    Was MonsterQuest able to find even one gator in the sewers in NY?

    We can go on and on about whether or not it is possible, or even probable for gators to live in the sewers. But MQ spent major bucks, their time, professionals time, used very modern high-tech gear, and then of course the viewers time involved to watch the show. So what I want to know is, if I would have invested my time to watch the show, would MQ have provided me with a conclusive answer in the form of showing me footage that they obtained of a gator in the sewer?

    Unless they did, none of us are any better off than we were yesterday before the show, right?

  10. Loren Coleman responds:

    The comment maker cliffhanger writes:

    “Ok, I missed the episode…”

    That does say a lot, especially when one then asks questions about what happened and criticizes the probable answers before they are given.

    If you don’t look, you never find anything.

    Based upon the frustrations with the elements of the cryptozoological search many people naturally turn harsh. But there’s no reason to take that tone on here.

    Cliffhanger ends with this:

    “Unless they did, none of us are any better off than we were yesterday before the show, right?”

    Honestly, yes we are, for watching the program was informative for even me, although I’ve pursued this problem for decades. I found last night’s MQ to be extremely educational and insightful. I am more informed than earlier last night before I watched the program. Any open-minded viewer would be.

  11. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    I realize how critical that sounds, but I just feel, that out of all the cryptid animals that MQ sets out to gain evidence of, this one should really be the easiest. The gator obviously isn’t a cryptid, we know they exist, but the question is whether not they dwell in subterrainian NY City sewers. Of course NY is a very large city, but if the powers that be at MQ thought this was worth spending time on, why even bother returning with no hard evidence? I haven’t seen the episode, so I could be writing this and find out in a minute that they did have video or photographic evidence that THEY obtained of a gator in the sewers, but I doubt it, so I will continue. I just don’t understand all the interviews, etc with professionals when they have the equipment and could get the manpower to get actual physical proof. That is the only thing that is going to convince anyone with absolute certainty. Unless you are willing to pursue an expedition with that goal in mind, I just don’t see the point in it. Debate, debate, and more debate. In the end, all anyone has is their opinions, and no one is really any better than the other until it can be proven conclusively that they either do or do not exist down there.

  12. Uriah responds:

    I thought it was a good episode. I’ve learned to just appreciate MonsterQuest for being a truly entertaining and “outside the box” tv show that hearkens back to shows like “In Search Of,” and “Asimov’s Science.”

    I don’t really understand the (what seems to me anyway) common belief that MQ is somehow a failure if they do not find a cryptid, or solve the mystery in every episode. It’s just a tv show, and maybe we’ll all get lucky and they’ll just happen to be in the right place at the time to get some extraordinary footage (although I thought the Giant Squid episode provided some great stuff). However, we can’t blame MQ if they don’t get lucky.

  13. BunniesLair responds:

    I did watch the Alligator in the Sewer MonsterQuest. I was disappointed in that particular episode. Although they did bring up some good points that I had not known before (like the temps in the sewer being 95-97 degrees in winter); the editing of the episode could have been much better.

    It jumped around too much. Something they tend to do quite a bit in MonsterQuest, however, in last night’s episode when they would cut to another scene, it came across flat.

    And the one recent male eye witness/attack victim they interviewed, came across to me personally, as not credible. The information that was brought out in the last part of the show, was diminished by the ‘less than credible’ witness. That one interview hurt the rest of the show in my opinion.

    On the other side of the issue, without that interview, all the witnesses and interviewees were about decades old events and issues. Nothing current. So I can see the dilemma the show faced.

    But all in all I was disappointed in that particular episode.

  14. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    “Unless they did, none of us are any better off than we were yesterday before the show, right?”

    Ok, point taken Loren. Let me rephrase then:

    Unless they did, I don’t feel that I would be any better off than what I would have been prior to watching.

    And I should have just let that first post stand at that original question of whether or not they provided any firm evidence and waited for the answer instead of venting my frustrations with MQ. But although I asked the question, I already knew the answer to it.

    I have mentioned here before my particular profession, I’m a civil engineer. After graduation the first job that I took involved rehabilitation of the sewers in a large city (not NY). You’ll have to bear with me for a moment for the main point. We did both sanitary and storm sewers. Our task involved “television inspection” of every single inch of the sewers to detect cracks, breaks, root intrusion, total collapse of piping, etc. To accomplish this, a company used a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) that was placed in the sewers that traveled along the pipes and captured footage. Those have the ability to pan around, etc. so you can see anything and everything that you want to see. Over a period of a few years, we surveyed every single inch of pipeline in the city associated with the sewer systems. The company that ran the ROV sent us dvd’s that the engineers then watched, every single inch of the sewer system. My point is, every city in the United States does this, including NY. Now if I was watching a sewer TVI (television inspection) disc and saw a gator in the sewer, I would definitely burn a personal copy to either give or sell to the media, or to post on youtube, etc. In other words, it would be out there for you to see. Some people might think that sewers are built underground and left alone and never visited, except only when flow is obstructed and a guy in a hard hat goes down and fixes that one problem and the rest of the sewer is a vast mystery, but that is just not the case.

  15. mitchigan responds:

    The herpatologist kept mentioning what a great forage base the sewers had with respect to slugs and roaches. I find it hard to believe that at gator or gators of any substantial size could survive on a diet of roaches, no matter how many it ate. I understand that there are plenty of rats and the occasional coon of even a fish or two, but even a diet of rats alone does not seem sufficient.

  16. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    mitchigan – When I was doing television inspection of the sewers, there was a wide range of wildlife to be seen. The most abundant creatures though were of course cockroaches and rats, some abnormally large ones too. Sometimes on a line that had “low-flow” conditions and drying would occur, there would be hundreds, possibly thousands of them (roaches). You could here the crunching as the tracks of the ROV rolled over them. Although I hear that cockroaches have high nutrition value, I can’t imagine that being a staple of a gators diet, lol. The sewers ranged from as small as 8″ in diameter to large enough for bigfoot to walk through upright. I saw raccoons, muskrats, beavers. Rats would typically stroll up to the ROV if it sat stationary and sniff it and even nip at the rubber parts. Most of the time however it seemed as though the operator had fun chasing rats down the sewer. The ROV could also be equipped with saws for cutting and other tools to clear a path through roots that had intruded, so a few rats he caught or cornered got “the ax”. Sometimes broke the boredom that came with having to watch those things, that would be the highlight of our day. Our job was to watch and when we found a problem to recommend a solution, then of course draft construction design plans. Many of us wished and hoped and talked quite a bit about finding a gator since we came across so many other things down there, but weren’t that lucky. We would occasionally come across the strangest looking worms, some that looked like intestines. The ROV operator would stop the ROV and zoom in and out and get good footage of strange things such as that (I guess he got bored too). Some of the things we could google and find answers for, but there were a couple anomolies that we couldn’t explain. Not saying it was unexplainable, but we couldn’t find anything on the web that looked identical. But no gators, as much as we wanted to see some. I guess that’s what frustrated me so about that particular episode. In a way, I have been involved in trying to find gators in the sewers (indirectly and in the wrong place, of course!!)

  17. cryptidsrus responds:

    Watched the episode and thought it was great.

    I agree with Loren. Brought up information not known before.

    Mystery_Man: Good points, as always.

  18. Rob008 responds:

    I was talking to my neighbor, who worked for a company in New York City, about the Monsterquest episode. He related that he knew that the show wouldn’t find anything. He then went on to tell me that when ever a TV/Movie Company comes to film in the sewers, they send a work crew down to make sure there are no alligators before they arrive to start filming. As Mr. Coleman stated, they do not want anybody to know just what exectly is down there. He also stated that the gators stay down deep and only come up every now and then. The car and truck sounds keep them from coming too far up, but they do on occasion.

  19. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Rob008 – I don’t want this to come off the wrong way, but I have a hard time believing that a city could keep such a secret. If the city knew there was gators in the sewers, it seems to me that they would have them exterminated. And, what your neighbor said is the kind of comment I would expect from a “conspiracy theorist” type. Not saying he is, but someone can say something like that, then when no proof/evidence comes back they say “I told ya so”, lol. But my question is, if that is true and you believe that, what does the city do with the gators while they wait for the investigators to leave? Or how are they sure, if they screen an area and no gators are found, that none could accidentally wonder up after their check of the area when the investigators are there?

    I highly doubt a city would cover something like that up in this world of high-dollar litigation. Could you imagine the punitive damages that would be awarded if someone was injured by a gator that the city knew was there but didn’t act and do their duty and due diligence to insure public safety? Also, all sewer lead to somewhere, sanitary sewers lead to wastewater treatment plants and storm sewers lead to waterways, ditches, culverts, etc. Isn’t it probable that if there were gators in the sewer systems they would eventually surface in a waterway or treatment plant? Doesn’t it seem probable that some underpaid, over-worked city worker would want to try to use evidence of this well-known urban legend to gain notariety and even more importantly, money. There are too many people out there that crave money and their “15 minutes of fame” to keep something like that completely and totally under wraps for decades.

    Now I’m not saying it is completely impossible for gators to be in the sewers. Anything is possible. But I absolutely do not believe for one moment that it is some kind of city-wide, complex, cooperative conspiracy by the politicians, engineers, construction workers, maintenance workers, treatment plant employees, etc. etc. etc.

  20. cmgrace responds:

    BunniesLair says “And the one recent male eye witness/attack victim they interviewed, came across to me personally, as not credible.”

    I have to agree. He seemed over-excited when telling his story. However, he indicated he was struck in the head, there could be problems we don’t know about.

    The episode was generally a good one. I never took this “myth” seriously, but with the info made available on the show, it could be possible for gators to live in a sewer type system. I wish they would have explained why gators grow faster in dark environments, or maybe I just missed that piece of information.

  21. Dj Plasmic Nebula responds:

    Wow loren coleman on monster quest, that made my day happier. :)

    yeah the gators are awesome.. just cause they havn’t found anything doesn’t mean their not there.. anyways……

    New York has it’s own gators. :) who knows what else

    the salamander was awesome.. :)

    i think they may be unknown animals down in sewers.. really.

    we think caves, forest, jungles, mountains but what about sewers.

  22. mystery_man responds:

    Well, I can’t really comment on this episode of MQ because I haven’t seen it, but I would like to make some points on the idea of alligators in the sewers concerning at least the plausibility that they could be there.

    The main problems that I feel are often pointed out are based on misconceptions, as Loren said, and can be explained. Here are some points that have been made here and elsewhere, and my thoughts on them.

    1) NY is too cold for alligators-
    Well, actually, as I’ve stated and apparently as the show stated as well, the city might be cold but the sewers are not. Decomposing waste and other matter in such an enclosed environment is going to create heat. The sewers could be downright balmy even as the city itself goes through a cold spell.

    2)Alligators need a lot of space-
    Plenty of that in the sewers. Miles of it.

    3)There isn’t enough food there to support alligators-
    As has been stated, there is plenty of food for gators down there. People have this image of alligators taking down deer, and think that this is what is needed for them to survive but that is not the case. Alligators in the wild survive on a wide variety of food sources, from fish, to frogs, to birds, whatever they can catch really. They could survive on what is on offer in the sewers.

    4)They need to get out of the water-
    Surely there are places in the sewer system to be able to do this.

    5)The habitat is dirty-
    From what I understand, alligators in Florida have been found living in absolutely filthy conditions. I remember alligators living behind my grandmother’s house in Florida that seemed to be doing quite well in an oily, litter strewn, algae infested canal that passed the property.

    5)Cliffhanger-You said that every inch of the sewers had been checked but nothing was found. I’d have to say to this that alligators are very good at blending into the environment. That is the whole way that they hunt, their very survival depends on them remaining hidden. These animals when submerged are very hard to see, even for those looking for them. When you get alligators in murky water or mud, they can be practically invisible. There are experienced outdoorsman who know about gators that sometimes don’t see them until the animal is right on top of them and are given a surprise. I’ve heard stories from experienced people of this happening on quite a few occasions. In a dark, murky environment like the sewers, it’s possible you could be looking right at a gator and not even realize it.

    Keep in mind, were the people reviewing the feedback of the ROV even looking for alligators? It seems to me they were focusing mostly on finding construction problems, so is it not plausible that they may have overlooked well camoflouged, submerged alligators? What I’m getting at with all of this is that I feel it is possible the engineers would perhaps not notice one, even if they were specifically looking for alligators, which they were not. An alligator expert may look at those ROV feeds and not even notice one, let alone some engineers looking for structural problems and hunting down rats.

    6) Sunlight-
    This is the one thing that I would think would pose a problem, so I am interested in the reasons for why it isn’t in the sewers and what the processes are behind the darkness even making them bigger.

    I’m sure I’m overlooking some points here, but these are just some thoughts. It looks to me that it is at least possible for alligators to be there. The question for me is whether they really are or not.

  23. coelacanth1938 responds:

    Just an odd idea here: Maybe we might have healthier cities if we had well-established ecologies in the sewers. You know, right now the only enemy rats and bugs have is time in most places. Perhaps we should introduce predators now?

  24. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Hello Mystery_Man,

    You bring up some interesting points, some that I feel like I’m qualified to address based on my experience, and some that would just be my own opinion or pure speculation. I like to go off experience when I can, so I’ll start with those. First off, as far as if it would be possible for a gator to elude the ROV and the engineer’s eyes. Sure, anything is possible, but I wouldn’t think probable at all. Before you would send an ROV down, the first thing that you take in to consideration is that the sewers have been pumped down so that the water level is low enough to allow the ROV enough room to roam around and be able to inspect all aspects of that section of sewer. So in the section of sewer that is being inspected, the water level is down to just 2 or 3 inches. It would be a mighty small gator that would hide in that. Also, the ROV operators are charged with the task of getting footage of everything, even little hairline cracks, etc, but especially large masses of roots, or anything that shouldn’t be there. This process is repeated for very section of sewer. So, based on my experience, I don’t really think that it is at all probable that ROV operator or the engineers missed a submerged gator since there would only be a few inches of water to begin with. A tiny baby gator? Maybe, but momma gator couldn’t hide.

    And I guess I should really address this comment: “let alone some engineers looking for structural problems and hunting down rats.”

    LOL, really? You had to go there didn’t ya? Well, we (the engineers) didn’t hunt down the rats, the ROV operator did a few times corner a rat at a mainline terminus (end of line) or at a big root mass, but just believe me when I say, when the ROV ran a line, we saw everything in it. I threw that out earlier as an example of how agile and able the ROV’s are. If there was anything anomalous in the sewers, anything that didn’t seem to belong, it was caught on camera and later analyzed. And as I already mentioned the flow conditions necessary for entry of the ROV, combining all this knowledge, I really don’t think it is at all probable that a gator could go completely unnoticed, much less a whole swarm of gators. If there were that many gators down there, considering their reported territorial nature, I would think that several multi-million dollar ROV’s would go missing, lol. And I’ve seen contractor’s rip through major roadways to try to retrieve stuck ROV’s before, that’s one piece of equipment that they are not willing to part with. But I hope that gives you some further insight into how that process works. The environmental agencies mandate that the sewers be checked out using this kind of process, no city is immune to it, and as I said, it is a very thorough process.

    The other problem that I have, and I think that I mentioned this before, is that all sewers eventually lead somewhere, somewhere not dark and secluded, out in the open. Now while there is going to be food in a given area for the gators to feed on, what about when the supply in that given area diminishes? A swarm of gators aren’t going to be able to just sit in one spot, they will have to move around. They would be like nomadic roaming sewer gators, always on the quest for food. I would tend to think that eventually a gator would find its way out of the sewers, to a treatment plant perhaps, but of course I haven’t heard of this happening.

    Like I said before though, it’s just debate, debate, debate. No proof though. I have a pretty thorough knowledge of how the infrastructure of a city works, and how sewer inspections work, and in my opinion, since nobody can show me a gator, they aren’t likely to be down there.

    Ever been to a trial where expert witnesses come into play? That is a funny thing to watch. Some professional X from some field comes in and says one thing, and then another professional Y from the same field comes in and contradicts everything X says. They are both very well educated, very respected members of their field. But who do you believe, X or Y? You gotta pick one or none. The point is, you can have these professionals come in and say whatever about the possibility of gators in the sewers and make your case. But at the same time, there are other professionals in the same fields, just as highly respected, that will contradict everything that the other pros said.

    And so it goes, to infinity, until you have hard evidence. But of course we don’t, because “The search for gators in the sewers was a Monsterquest”.

    “This is the one thing that I would think would pose a problem, so I am interested in the reasons for why it isn’t in the sewers.”

    I’m not sure what you’re asking here, are you asking why there isn’t sunlight in the sewers? Simple, sewers are underground, lol. But somehow I don’t think that I’m telling you anything that you didn’t already know. You’ll have to elaborate on that one a bit so I can fully understand that question and make sure I provide you with what you’re looking for, if I can.

  25. swnoel responds:

    I find MQ extremely entertaining,

    I would suggest to anyone looking for something, to find it’s food source.

    The one thing that caught my attention, was the retired supervisor that stated something to the effect that, “the rats under the slaughterhouses were huge”.

    Guess were I would start my search.:-)

  26. mystery_man responds:

    Cliffhanger- The “hunting down rats” was a joke, of course in response to what you said earlier about the operators doing that sometimes. :) Can’t say I blame them. I’d probably be tempted to fool around with an ROV too, I suspect most people would. lol. I think there’s a scientific law stating that somewhere. :)

    Thank you for elaborating, I appreciate your informed, insider feedback on peculiarities of the sewer system. It’s very good expert opinion to have. That’s a good point on the sewers leading somewhere, and that a roaming gator would perhaps find his way out somewhere sooner or later.

    I realize my sunlight comment wasn’t clear. I know there is no sunlight in the sewers, come on Cliffhanger, work with me here!:) A better way to word it would be “Lack of sunlight is the one thing that I would think would pose a problem, so I am interested in the reasons for why it isn’t a problem in the sewers.” What I meant was that many reptiles like alligators typically need sunlight in order to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D. So my comment was simply wondering why the complete lack of sunlight in the sewers wouldn’t be a problem in this respect, and why it might even benefit them. It has been stated here that these conditions can lead to these gators exhibiting increased growth, so I’m curious as to what the processes are behind the hypotheses as to why an alligator without access to sunlight would get bigger than one with sunlight. As a biology guy, this interests me. That was my gist.

    Anyway, good discussion. By the way, I’m curious as to what some of the other anomalies are that you mentioned you saw down there? Not to get off topic or anything, but maybe just a brief mention of some?

  27. mystery_man responds:

    Cliffhanger- If I may, would like to address one of the things you mentioned about alligators moving to more open areas.

    The one problem I see with this possibility is that alligators are cold blooded animals, and they are going to want to stay where conditions are warm. In a sewer, this is going to be the more enclosed, and therefore dark, secluded areas where decomposition is creating the heat and the places where this heat is trapped. I can’t imagine alligators are going to venture into more open, colder areas if they can help it. By necessity of their physiology, they are going to want to stay out of those kinds of areas, and they are certainly not going to travel into an outdoor area or treatment plant.

    Also, as far as food goes, alligators are ambush predators. They tend to lurk in one place for quite some time for prey and do not need to eat all that often due to their slow metabolism, especially if they snag a large meal. In wild, they do not necessarily travel or roam wide and far to look for prey. If the animals in the sewers are on the move, and some such as rats are constantly moving around looking for food, then the alligators likely could have a decent supply of prey to suit their needs without the need to move from one area. How long is an area really going to be depleted of rats? As long as they keep coming and an alligator can nab enough of them, the gator’s slow metabolism is going to allow them to just wait it out until more come. I’m not sure there would be much need in the sewers for an alligator to constantly be on the move. In fact, I think they would be more inclined to find a nice warm spot and stay there.

    The one situation that they might be on the move is the instances you described when they bring the water levels down. That might get them agitated.

    I’m not saying that alligators are definitely there. I’m not a proponent really. I’m just exploring the possibilities that could facilitate their presence in the sewers, looking at the options. It’s interesting to speculate about.

    It’s all just debate, so I guess this is just your expertise as an engineer, and mine as a biologist, looking at the problem from out own viewpoints and experience. This is a great discussion in my opinion.

  28. Rob008 responds:

    Hey Cliffhanger:
    I told my neighbor what you had said and he related it’s better off that people don’t believe that there is aligators down there. He also stated that there isn’t a alot of gators down there and most of them do infact die off after a really good down poor and they do get stuck in some of the pipes. He related that most of the ones his men found were infact died. As a side note all this happened in the 1960’s and 70’s. But there is still alot of the underground area that the work crew do not go, because there’s no need to and the gators may still be down there. Also you said it would be hard to keep the work crew quiet, He said nobody is going to risk their pension, when they don’t have any proof and nobody else will back up their story.

  29. DG responds:

    I enjoyed this episode, and learned some things. It seems that, if gators have shown up in the NY sewers, historically, I see no reason it couldn’t/wouldn’t happen again, especially considering that exotic pets, including gators, (and deliberate release, escape, or flushing of them,) have become more widespread in recent decades.

    Something that should be realized about the methodology of the search: Gators are cold-blooded (tend to be approximately the same temperature as their surrounding environment,) and the infrared Reconyx trail cam that was used, only employes passive infrared. (In total darkness, heat differentials, plus motion, are required to activate the camera’s trigger.) Gators, insects, worms, and salamanders, etc., are all cold-blooded, so the camera would not have been activated by any of those. One possible solution is to provide a constant infrared light source, so motion alone would be able to trigger the camera, in the dark environment. I haven’t experimentally confirmed the viability of this solution, but it seems, to me, that it should work. (Provide the IR light, and motion alone, should be able to trigger the camera, in that environment)

  30. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Mystery_Man – As far as anomalies that I ran across, the most notable was the one I mentioned in that earlier post, the one that looked like intestines. I was sitting and watching the TVI disc for a sewer line in one of the more rural basins (smaller sewer lines that big metro area basins). If I remember correctly it was either an 18″ or 24″ sanitary sewer line. The ROV was rolling down the line and you had visibility for maybe 20 feet on such a small line (literal tunnel vision, lol). Anyway, ahead of the ROV maybe 20 feet it looked like we were coming up on a root mass (where roots had intruded into the system at a pipe joint). But as it got closer we could see it wasn’t roots, as the camera got right up on it, it looked like intestines. It had a fleshy color, almost kind of light pink. The ROV operator used the controls to pan around and we noticed it was actually moving. I called a couple buddies from down the hall to come into my office and check it out. We sat and watched while the operator continued to pan around and located what appeared to be the head and we watched that move around. The line was empty, no flow, so it wasn’t a trick, we were looking at a living organism, all wrapped around the inside of the pipe and it seemed to be clinging to the pipe joint. It was approximately 1 inch to 2 inches in diameter, and must have been somewhere between 10-20 feet long (hard to estimate due to being wrapped around the diameter of the pipe). It could have been longer too, who knows. The head wasn’t like an earthworm, or like that of a tapeworm (we googled it to see if that’s what it was). And I own snakes, so it wasn’t a snake. It seemed to be just one single, continuous creature, We questioned whether or not there was more than one at the time, but concluded that from what we could see, it was one single organism. It looked like something from a sci-fi movie. There was 4 of us that spent quite a bit of time on the web trying to come up with an explanation, but we couldn’t find anything that fit the description. Other than that, the other anomalies were also weird/strange bugs and worms that I had never seen before, and of course my curiousity forced me to do some research, but at the time I couldn’t find a match. And I’m not saying it wasn’t easily explained, but myself and colleagues couldn’t find anything. I burned a copy of the “intestine worm” dvd and kept a copy, as well as a few of the other weird ones, I’ll have to see if I can dig those out sometime.

    Now as far as food goes, that’s kind of hard to say. I don’t really know how many pounds of food, over a specified time period, that a gator would need to consume. I also don’t know exactly how plentiful the rats would be in NY sewers. Now in my city, when we ran our TVI, when we can across rats there would be a few, but from my experience here, and based on the rats I saw, I wouldn’t think there would be enough of them to keep the gators sustained here. I mean, there weren’t exactly swarms of rats, just a few here and there, but that could be different in NY. The other issue I see, and this goes to the open areas, is the forces of “full flow” conditions. I can agree with what you are saying about the gators not wanting to move I guess in parts. But I was looking at it like this: If a gator is stuck in the dark, nasty sewers and roamed around and then saw the light of day near the end of the line, wouldn’t he be attracted to the sunlight? I would think that would be instinct? I also wonder about the vitamin D deficiency you mention. But one thing that really gets me is how does a gator stay in one spot when the sewers flow full? There is alot of pressure and the flow velocities peak. As an engineer I can tell you this, if a pipeline system reaches full flow conditions, everything is coming out. Or it is going to cause flow to be obstructed and then surface conditions will get bad, very bad, and put the public at risk. And no city official, engineering dept, maintenance/public works dept is going to like that. So that’s part of my argument about the gators not reaching the surface. There may temporarily be conditions condusive to a gator in the sewer, but sooner or later, actually fairly often, conditions are not going to be favorable for any wildlife down there, because a pipeline system absolutely will purge itself.

    Rob008 – I think this comment of yours says it all: “He said nobody is going to risk their pension, when they don’t have any proof and nobody else will back up their story.”

    Particular attention to the “they don’t have any proof” part. :)

    I don’t want to be rude, so please don’t take it that way, but I just have a heard time with third party stuff like he/she said so and with massive conspiracy theories. I’ve made my argument about why I don’t think it’s possible for a city to cover something like this up, so you’re free to say whatever you want, but I don’t have to believe it. If you want to make me a believer, show me some evidence. Oh..wait, that’s right, you can’t, somebody might lose their pension.

    Everyone can believe what they want, but knowing what I know I jut really have a hard time with this one, and for me this just has urban legend written all over it. I’d love to be proven wrong though!

  31. mystery_man responds:

    cliffhanger- Fascinating story about the intestine thing. I can’t imagine what it could be. Bizarre.

    Concerning food, you’re right, it’s hard to speculate too much without knowing just how many rats there are down there and how much access the alligators would have to them. I can’t really give any solid estimates for how often a gator would need to feed without information of the density of prey species down there.

    As far as how much the gator would need over a given amount of time, this could rely on a range of factors such as the animal’s size and how much activity it is engaging in. You say you own snakes, so you could think about it in those terms. A well fed snake can go months and months without another meal due to their slow metabolism. Similarly, an alligator not using a lot of energy, just sitting there in a warm spot, could probably get by quite well if there was either a steady supply of smaller meals or it was able to grab a very large meal from time to time.

    As far as sunlight goes, I don’t think there would necessarily be a strong enough compulsion towards going to the sunlight to break them away from their warmth and into the cold. However, perhaps that could be expected to happen in the hot, humid Summer months.

    You make very good points about the flow and water levels. Once again, your knowledge of the engineering aspects of the sewers and infrastructure provides good insights into the problem. It seems that what you mention would at least make life difficult for gators if they are even there. The purging of the sewers seems like a very difficult thing to explain away.

    Anyway, this is just an interesting discussion and speculative exercise for me, I am not necessarily trying to argue for the existence of gators in the sewers. I too would need more evidence. But the possibilities are interesting to me, and I like to look at these things from a variety of angles.

  32. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    mystery_man – the whole issue of food and sustainance for a gator is certainly questionable. And I do agree that a gator wouldn’t want to leave a comfortable environment and move to one that is 1) unknown to the gator and 2) cold and not condusive to its survival. But like you mentioned, in the spring, summer, and fall months, what would keep a creature that is genetically coded to a life in relatively clean water and sunshine, in a nasty ole sewer??

    Now saying whether or not there would be enough rats to feed one or several gators down there would be pure speculation on my part, I’m in Alabama, I’ve never even been to NY and can’t even make an educated guess. But from all I’ve seen on tv about gators, they like to attack large prey items and have fairly large meals. This is one of your comments: “or it was able to grab a very large meal from time to time.”

    So here is my question: Are there wildebeasts or gazelles roaming around down there too that I’m not aware of???

    LOL, just a joke, not trying to be a smartass. But the point is, I really just don’t see a gator snagging a large meal in the sewers, not enough to sustain it. And if it was surviving on rats, that would be one pitiful existence. It is actually a funny visual if you think about it, a gator constantly roaming the sewers chomping every single rat he can find. I feel sorry for the poor fella, LOL. I may be wrong about the large meal, and I’m always open to enlightenment if you have some suggestions. I know that I did see muskrats and beavers in storm and sanitary sewers (abandoned sanitary but active storm), but those were the rural area basins and on the outskirts of large metro areas, not downtown. The muskrats and beavers could easily gain entrance through an abandoned outfalll line discharging into a creek or stream or through a storm headwall near a body of water. So the only thing that I could think of to provide a large meal would be domestic animals, but those would just be the very rare trapped or fallen animal, so I think (IMO) we can rule that out. But like I said, if you can elaborate on the large meals, I’ll certainly consider it. But most items that enter sewers aren’t that large, the sewers have grate inlets to prevent that from happening. But even if food was plentiful, and I’m probably beating a dead horse here, so I apologize before hand, even with a good food source, I still don’t see gators surviving the full flow conditions though. Not only would full flow have an impact on the gators directly, but also indirectly as it would flush all the rats and other food decomp items out, so now any gators that were able to hang tough, if they even could, would have to wait for the food source to replenish, so they would have to wait for rats to move back in, new rats. But I realize that gators, like snakes, can go quite some time between meals. I actually feed my snakes weekly and they are always very happy to see their rats. But what I’m getting at is any food source wouldn’t be there very long, it would likely pass through the system pretty quickly.

    So, I don’t know, looking at this from a “layperson” perspective and having been a layperson in those regards at some point in my life, it is understandable to me that some folks would believe that gators are down there, it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination, especially with the help of the media and hollywood. And I guess it is possible, I will always have my disclaimer handy – While something might not be probable, Anything is POSSIBLE, lol.

  33. Loren Coleman responds:

    Wildebeest? Well, gnus are members of the genus Connochaetes and have to watch out for crocodiles in Africa, not North America. Although one might not have been to New York City, ever….

    Anyway, perhap yes, that was a joke, but it was also distracting to the reality of what American alligators would eat in the warm environment of the NYC sewers.

    Let’s look at this general overview from Wikipedia on the diet of the American alligator, since the writer of this piece would have no bone to pick, regarding our discussion:

    Alligators eat fish, birds, turtles, snakes, mammals, and amphibians. Hatchlings, however, are restricted to smaller prey items like invertebrates. Insects and larvae, snails, spiders, and worms make-up a big portion of a hatchling’s diet. They will also eat small fish at any opportunity. As they grow, they gradually move onto larger fish, mollusks, frogs and small mammals like rats, and mice. Sub adult alligators take a larger variety of prey ranging from a snake or turtle to a bird and moderate sized mammals like a raccoon.

    Once an alligator reaches adulthood, any animal living in the water or coming to the water to drink is potential prey. Adult alligators will eat razorbacks, deer, domestic animals including cattle and sheep, and are often known to kill and eat smaller alligators. In rare instances, large male alligators have been known to take down a Florida panther and an American Black Bear, making the American alligator the apex predator throughout its distribution.

    Wild juvenile alligators are primarily insectivorous. In captivity, small alligators eat small animals (e.g., goldfish, insects, or mice), and as the reptile grows, its diet changes from mice to rats to rabbits, chickens, and other suitable larger prey. In the wild, it would add carrion to that list.

    After alligators eat, they may not have to eat for several days.

    In the sewers, an alligator taking an occasional raccoon would be a treat. A human corpse would not be ignored.

    In general, however, rats would be fine as the major component of a sewer gator’s diet.

  34. Loren Coleman responds:

    I sincerely appreciate the discussion occurring here, pro and con.

    As thanks, I’ve added two videos to this posting, in this update.

  35. cryptidsrus responds:

    I second the rave about the quality of the discussion.
    This is one of the reasons I come here every day.
    Still think it is one of the best MQ shows they’ve done.

  36. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Loren – Damn it man, you would catch the misspelling of Wildebeest wouldn’t you, lol. I regretted that as soon as I hit submit and started to proof read, and sadly that’s not the first time I’ve done that. I’ve been caught misspelling that word a few times now and even after being tactfully corrected I still continue to do so. Maybe it will sink in one of these days, or maybe I will just choose other African animals to include in what I write…..

    Anyway, that is some good insight into the diet of a gator, but I wonder exactly how many of those items listed would actually be found in the sewers of New York City and available for a gator to consume? Insects and amphibians I can see for sure, maybe even small fish, but raccoons? I think I mentioned earlier I did see, rarely, raccoons in sewers in Alabama during TVI, but those were the rural areas, not downtown. But I would think in NY City that the surface would be far more attractive to a raccoon. Even if there was an instance of a raccoon in a NY City sewer, I would think that would be a very rare occurrence as well. So I’m still a bit puzzled by the large meals that have been referred to, and I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m just having a hard time picturing it and getting my head around that idea. A very rare large meal I can understand, but enough large meals and enough rats to sustain a breeding population of gators is another thing entirely. And based on the info you provided, I can certainly see where a very young gator may be able to get by on insects and amphibians, but the adult gators are still very much in question.

    And if I find out there are enough decomposing human bodies in the sewers to feed the gators, the city folks up there won’t ever have to worry about this country boy coming for a visit.

  37. Kushtaka responds:

    I was born and raised in NY, and never heard of any modern accounts of an alligator in the sewer. There was a cayman captured in Central Park a few years back, though. However, I lived in South Florida for 15 years, during which time there were SEVERAL documented accounts of alligators in the sewers in both Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. I remember a few times over the years watching local news footage of full size adult alligators being pulled out of the sewers ALIVE. I can assure you, there are places in this country where alligators ARE in sewers. However, I suspect it is an occasional fluke, moreso than an actual breeding, sustainable population.

  38. kittenz responds:

    It’s fun to speculate, anyway :-) .

    I know some people who have founds iguanas and even a caiman, that they found “stray”, in Kentucky, sometimes in cold weather. Often the animals were emaciated, but occasionally the healthy specimen is found living OOP in the wild. The range of temperature tolerance in subtropical species of reptiles is considerably wider than is generally taught.

    I’m not an authority on alligators or other crocodilians & don’t know how much UV exposure they need, but the UV needs of other reptiles are variable. UV must be provided to lizards regularly, for example, but most snakes don’t require supplemental UV to survive and even thrive.

    I’m not an authority on sewers, either, but wouldn’t some sunlight enter through storm grating?

  39. WOLVES-TALON responds:

    “GATORS in the NYC Sewers” I give that a 50-50 chance of being true.

  40. mfs responds:

    I watched this episode knowing the MQ folks would not be able to come up with anything tangible gator-wise but there’s only so much an investigative team can do within a limited time frame. It was interesting see the use of high-tech surveillance gear again. It harkened back to the “Super Rat” episode in NYC. Excellent observations and commentary from cliffhanger042002 and mystery_man especially those anomalies i.e., the strange looking worms resembling intestines that cliffhanger042002 talked about while doing a sewer inspection. I suspect the sewer gators will continue to be an urban legend although one cannot entirely rule out the possibility that these hardy and resilient reptiles could exist and be found in that type of environment. Afterall, crocodilians are still with us after 65 million years. What does that tell you?

  41. mystery_man responds:

    Cliffhanger- Yes, your insights on full flow are definitely a factor to be considered here. I am really actually having a hard time figuring out just how a population of gators would possibly deal with that. For the sake of speculation, with your expertise on the matter, can you think of any way these gators might be able to manage this challenge?

    Let’s get back to food again, for a moment. First of all, it is very important to consider the information that Loren provided here. Alligators are highly opportunistic feeders, and will really eat just about anything they can get their mouth on.

    So let’s consider that with regard to the metabolism of these animals. Alligators, like many other large reptiles, have very slow metabolisms. This means that they have fewer energy demands in relation to their size than comparatively smaller mammals or even many smaller reptiles, especially so if they are remaining inactive. After a large meal, the energy gained from it is enough to keep an animal like this going for some time.

    Look at an animal like a python, which many, including myself, have kept as pets. The amount of food the snake gets has a bearing on how long it can go without. So if you feed it only rats, it can survive on one rat, say, every week. If however, you were to give it something more substantial such as a rabbit, or many rats, it can go longer. A well fed snake like a python can go several months without needing to eat again. In the wild, if a python can snag a truly large meal, it can go up to six months or more without having to feed again.

    So you see, the “large meal” does not necessarily have to be a large animal, it can be a huge helping of smaller ones, and a large reptile like this can survive on regular “small meals” as well. Is this clearer?

    This is of importance here when thinking of what is on offer in the sewers for the gators. There are two ways I see it as going for alligators in the sewers. First, they are getting a steady supply of smaller meals, which if frequent enough would be enough energy for them to survive. Or they are pigging out on larger animals or a large number of smaller animals like rats, which would allow them to go longer without eating.

    In my opinion, a full grown alligator that is mostly inactive could survive on nothing but rats, maybe the occasional cat, if it was able to secure either a steady flow of them, or occasional large amounts of them. I do not really even see any reason why there would have to be raccoons or beavers in order for them to survive, although it wouldn’t hurt. I’m not sure of the density of these potential prey species in the sewers, but I’d say that in a big city like New York, it would be substantial. In cities like this, you get huge populations of rats above ground, and I can’t see it being much different in the sewers where there are a lot of potential food sources for them.

    I don’t think these gators would be living in ideal conditions, more like “surviving” or “eking out an existence” more than “living.” :) However as far as food and warmth goes, they could do it.

    In my own opinion, the food problem is possibly the least of the alligator’s worries. I’d be more concerned about that “full flow” and lack of sunlight, as well as a tendency to wander out of the sewers in the warmer months.

    Anyway, I also think this is a fascinating discussion, both pro and con. Very interesting to speculate on.

  42. Shelley responds:

    This commentary is **MUCH** more useful and entertaining than the episode of MQ!!

    Seriously, you guys bring up important information, make an effort to find answers, and bring up real possibilities that the show and the urban myths do not even consider. I hate all the time-wasting on MQ where they go off on stupid sidelines or bring in totally unbelievable witnesses, and add a little “ominous” music and irrelevant graphics. I’ve seen other shows where they actually presented facts and either debunked them or considered them to be plausible. Actually, “Mythbusters” is better at this than MQ.

    Given all the advanced telemetry nowadays, has anyone tried releasing a small alligator with a tracking mechanism and seeing what actually happens to it in the sewers? Perhaps the tracking collars are not good enough to be followed in the maze of concrete and metal? I suppose that there would be all kinds of tabloid whoopdedoo if anyone proposed doing this–even though a lot of New Yorkers believe there are already alligators down there.

    Re the conspiracy theories: No governmental body has shown the ability to keep even the smallest and most innocuous secret for any amount of time. Between the lure of fame, the financial rewards of publication, and the drive of publications from the NY Times down to The National Enquirer, most things that the government doesn’t want us to know have come to light. Now, whether we have paid attention to the information, that’s another story.

    Anyway, great responses! For MQ, well, there was nothing much else on at the same time …

  43. traveler responds:

    My understanding, and I may be incorrectl, but Alligators wont eat human bodies due to the high salt content. They will kill them, but not actually consume them. Crocs on the other hand will, because they are able to process the salt. This information was gleaned from living in Florida, and bringing lots of tourists to the Alligator shows. Like I said, this may be incorrect, but wanted to put it out there.

  44. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Kushtaka – That’s a good point you made in your post, and I would actually expect that an occasional gator to get into the storm sewers in Florida. Like I mentioned before, storm sewers have access points at waterways, and they are usually completely opened and have no grating on them. The reason that the discharge point of a storm sewer would lack grating is very common sense. Of course small twigs, sticks, leaves, trash, etc can get into the system. If you place grating over the discharge point of a storm sewer system this could lead to the discharge point of the entire system becoming obstructed, and of course that renders the entire system ineffective and floods the area that particular system serves. So the discharge orifice has to remain open to prevent this, but it also allows opportunity for animals to enter the system.

    You also pointed out another issue of mine regarding this subject: “However, I lived in South Florida for 15 years, during which time there were SEVERAL documented accounts of alligators in the sewers in both Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. I remember a few times over the years watching local news footage of full size adult alligators being pulled out of the sewers ALIVE”

    This is what I would expect to see if there were gators in the sewers in NY, I would think that we would have seen footage of this by now and it would be common knowledge.

    Kittenz – Sunlight can certainly enter through the grating of a storm inlet, the problem though is that entering and exiting the inlet are pipelines, so the sunlight is confined to the inlets and possibly just a few feet into the pipelines connected to that inlet, it doesn’t really illuminate the entire system though. So the majority of the system is in some level of darkness, with the exception of the internal areas of grate inlets, curb inlets, etc. But that is just for storm sewers though. In the case of sanitary sewers, you’re looking at pretty much total darkness as that is a completely closed system for the most part. I mean, if sunlight could get into the sanitary sewer, then the smell of the sewer could get out as well. And the public does not want that, so it is a closed system and while rats and cockroaches/other insects may be able to find their way inside, I wouldn’t really expect to see any other animals inside an active sanitary sewer system, I didn’t here in Alabama. The wildlife other than rats was found in the storm sewer. The only time I saw a muskrat in a sanitary line was in the case of an old abandoned outfall line. And a outfall line is the line that the sewer treatment plant uses to discharge the “cleaned/treated” water from the plant to the creek/river/lake. So the muskrat wouldn’t have been able to get to the part of the system that actually serves the public, all the muskrat could have done was navigate the outfall line into the treatment plant and gotten into some machinery that would have certainly killed him (if the line had been active, it was actually sealed off at the treatment plant, so he had nowhere to go but turn around and go back out once he hit the dead end). We only did TVI on that line to make sure it was clear for us to grout fill to seal completely and abandon in place. So as for animals entering the sanitary sewer from the outfall line, I say ruled out.

    And that leads to other problems facing gators in the sewers. Exactly what sewer does everyone think the gators are in? Do you think that they are former pets that got flushed down the toilet? In that case, you think sanitary sewer. Or do you think they are in the storm sewer system? Those are 2 very different and very seperate systems. One handles our stormwater and the other handles our waste. Either way, both systems experience full flow conditions, forces strong enough to wash them out. But the storm system, at times, experiences flows far more powerful than the sanitary system.

  45. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Mystery_Man – Before I really dive into “full flow”, I guess the most important and relevant question to ask is the same that I asked in the previous comment, being which sewer do you want to consider, storm sewer or sanitary sewer? Both sewers are the same in some respects and unique in others, as far as system design. And both systems would have different possibilities for the introduction of a gator into the system and they are very different in terms of food sources. Both contain rats and cockroaches, but the sanitary sewer doesn’t allow the same opportunities for larger prey that the storm sewer does. Also the storm sewer is somewhat cleaner considering the human waste and feces in the sanitary sewer, but storm also has high concentrations of toxic VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and whatever other harmful substances that people leave on the ground prior to a large precipitation event.

    So are you a flushed baby gator kinda guy? Or are you a storm sewer gator guy (for example, baby gators escape from enclosure in NYC pet store, get outside, and fall down into curb inlet)?

    The most common theme that I’ve been exposed to growing up was the flushed baby gator theory, but we can look at both examples though. I do wonder though about the ability of any animals, other than a rat and a intestine worm, to survive among human waste though. Seems to me that if a gator in a sanitary sewer got so much as a deep scratch, a deadly infection from the human feces would kill it relatively quickly. Or at least the constant ingestion of feces would cause severe and long-lasting disentary and kill it (but that may not effect gators though). So I could be wrong about the ingestion, but I don’t believe that the same applies to the bloodstream of a gator as it does to the stomach and digestive system being able to handle decomposing flesh. So although I know gators feed on decomp, are they any more immune to the diseases or infections that go hand-in-hand with living in a sespool? Just another one of the many issues.

    So it seems to me like the living conditions and food source situation would be more condusive to the survival of a gator in a storm sewer, much more so than a sanitary sewer. Conditions are somewhat cleaner with the exception of VOC’s produced by vehicles on the streets, and there are numerous entry points for various potential prey items and discarded human food items

    So regarding full flow conditions in a storm sewer:
    I don’t think that a large alligator would have too difficult of a time holding his ground during a small precipitation event. If the storm sewer is designed properly, a small rain shower would just send some fresh water his way and probably be a refreshing break. The pipelines would experience only a fraction of the flow they were designed to handle, so no head waters means no pressure, the force of the water would probably be no more of a challenge than that of a small stream to the gator. Baby alligators however, depending on age and size, could still possibly be washed out of the system and into the view of the public. The pipelines are relatively smooth, so there’s not really going to be anything for him to hold on to. But, since these types of events are short lived, the baby gator could certainly just head back upstream.

    Now I could get into design aspects like designing the system for a “25 year storm” and how that works, but for simplicity sake, I’m just gonna talk about the effects of a “gullywasher” now. A serious precipitation event will put the storm system to the test, we’re talking pipes flowing full capacity, under pressure, and water has pooled and is waiting to drain (headwater). I’m sure we’ve all experienced a bit of water pooled on the roadway at an inlet. The conditions inside the pipeline would be horrific for anything down there. We’re talking velocities upwards of 30 ft/sec. So imagine yourself being trapped in a 5′ diameter pipeline. Now imagine a wall of water 5′ in diameter coming at you at 30 ft/sec, or more, and you have abolutely nothing to hold on to. The force of the water would be tremendous, and continuous. So having designed several stormwater drainage systems during my time as a Site Design Engineer, and having calculated the velocities and flow rates that would be expected during the various categories of precipitation events (1yr, 2yr, 5yr, 10yr, 25yr, 50yr, and 100yr storm) and also having witnessed this myself by going to my recently constructed stormwater drainage systems and pulling manhole covers, observing discharge points during torrential downpours, etc.,

    We all know how often these rain events occur, so taking that into consideration, it just seems that much more improbable that a gator could escape public attention. And there is also another issue there, the fact that 30 ft/sec is equivalent to a little over 20 mph. If the gator is in a pipeline it is likely that the pipeline has other inlet boxes, and the inlet boxes are larger than the pipe, so it’s not likely the gator would pass straight through the box, but would hit the steel reinforced concrete corners at 20 mph or more, and would be caused great harm and injury, so every rain event not only threatens to wash the gator out, but also cause severe injury or possibly death. It would be hard to maintain a secret life in such a hostile environment.

    I’ll touch on the sanitary sewer full flow if you want me to elaborate on that one, but it’s really not that much different, the higher flows come at certain “peak” times during the day, and in downtown areas the flows are enormous compared to residential (suburban) areas.

  46. norman-uk responds:

    The nearest thing to alligators or crocs where I live are great crested newts, the little beauties. So I feel I’m taking a risk coming in here at all but would like to make a couple of points. With respect to you folks on the job.

    Though there must be places where no alligators can live, wont there be others where the sewer would be the best option? There must be a variety of sewer environments, one possible example above is a reference to sewers in 1830 (?). Presumably there have been many modifications and replacements are there bits, possibly large where rats and maybe alligators can access? I see it now a smooth sandbank in a huge tunnel, only wet infrequently and a Cap Hooks nemesis lying in wait for dinner-doesnt need a lot, can go without food for up to two years (I’m told), could be crabs, bats, crayfish eels rats or bigger like a stray raccoon. A balmy 90 degrees with at least 60 humidity, assuming there are not howling gales (which might explain the low humidity). I would imagine every town or city has its subterranean differences, in other words a variety of environments some of which would suit Alli and some with access to the outside, I would imagine New Orleans had an interesting down (beneath) town at least before the flood.

    Are there not places where food is dumped into the sewer system-illegally maybe, either small or large when both could be a food source either indirectly or directly? I have a suspicion that given opportunity an alligator would find itself a bit of an omnivore which opens up a lot of prospects from waste food that is.

    A friend of mine had horses which got laminitis-linked with eating too much in the form of grass. He pointed out his close cropped green field and said his horses had next to nothing to eat, but eventually understood in fact his horses were eating the whole production of the field and were overfed. Similarly an apparent shortage of alligator prey in a sewer system might indicate the presence of a predator not absence! Cockroaches could be the basis of a food chain for the an alligator and if in millions raise a doubt about a food chain, but if in moderate numbers would suggest it for alligator!

  47. mystery_man responds:

    Cliffhanger- Excellent rundown on what is going on with “full flow,” I really learned a lot from your post. Awesome information and insights into this problem. Thank you.

    You make a very good point about the distinction between storm sewers and sanitary sewers, and really enlightened me to the difference between the two. The different conditions of these two places is well worth consideration in this discussion. Your information really is useful in that it gives us new factors to work with when considering the possibilities of gators being there.

    I suppose I have been more caught up in speculating about the biological possibility of alligators surviving in the sewer rather than how they actually got there in the first place. It certainly seems from your descriptions of the two types of sewer that storm sewers would be more conducive to the animal’s survival. I’ll give some of my thoughts on each one.

    As far as storm sewers, I suppose that it wouldn’t have to be that they escaped from a pet store. The alligators could have been released there by pet owners for the same reasons they are said to flush them down the toilet. Sunlight might be less of a problem in the storm sewers. The food supply and conditions seem more favorable there too, but I’m not sure if the same amount of warmth could be secured in these storm sewers. Correct me if I’m wrong, since I am admittedly not well versed in sewer systems, but it seems to me there would be much more decomposition going on in the sanitary sewers. This decomposition is what leads to the warmth that would allow the gators to survive. So if there is none of that going on in the storm sewers, the temperatures would perhaps not be favorable and the gator may as well be out in the open.

    So while food resources, sunlight, and sanitary conditions from your description seem to be better in the storm sewers, the warmth may not be enough which could be a problem. And of course there are those major storm events, that while rare, would seem to potentially clean the gators out pretty efficiently.

    So let’s look at sanitary sewers. I think living among human waste would obviously not be favorable conditions, but it could be survivable. Like I mentioned way up there, gators have been known to live in some pretty foul conditions. The gators behind my grandmother’s house in Florida were living in a garbage choked, algae infested, scum coated, oily mess of a canal, yet they had been there for quite some time and didn’t seem too much the worse for wear. It appears that as long as they were getting enough food and warmth, they were able to survive. Alligators in the wild are often found in muck, mud, canals, dirty ponds, lakes that are polluted and drying up, and other places that are not particularly sanitary places to be. For a hardy animal like an alligator, infections may not be a huge problem, although it seems likely not a problem that could be totally avoided if the area was filthy enough (like an actual cesspool in a sewer).

    As for food in the sanitary sewers, as I said before, I’m not so sure a gator would need anything other than rats if they were plentiful enough and it could catch enough of them. Prey type and size is not necessarily as important as prey volume, so if there are a good deal of rats in the sanitary sewers, it is possible.

    I also don’t think eating decomposing matter would too big a problem since alligators can and will do this in the wild if the opportunity presents itself. A lot of the diseases and digestive problems that would effect humans will not effect alligators. However, in such an extremely filthy environment, how much they would be able to handle the ingestion of actual feces or stave off infections in any wounds seems like a valid question. To my knowledge, there has never been any study to really measure the effect human waste in large amounts would have on alligators, so it is hard to say. Alligators are pretty hardy, adaptable animals, so I tend to think they could get through it if necessary although it would not be ideal conditions by any stretch.

    So as you can see, I see pros and cons to both the storm sewers and the sanitary sewers. With the factor of warmth caused by decomposition being considered, as well as the probable ability of the alligator to feed exclusively on rats if there were enough of them, I actually tend to think with the information presented so far, that the sanitary sewers might be more likely to support these alligators.

    Any other factors that you can think of here would provide even more things to consider, so my position could change on that of course. So far, I have to say that your information on the workings of these sewer systems is extremely valuable to this discussion.

    I do have one question, which may seem foolish to you, but could be important information so I have to ask. At any point do the storm and sanitary sewers connect or converge? What I mean to ask is, is there any way that a gator could move between them as the situation demands? I know it could be a stupid question, but I’m curious.

    Anyway, thanks for all of the good comments. This discussion gets better and better.

  48. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Mystery_Man – You are very much welcome. You made many good points in your comments as well. And there really aren’t any stupid questions, but the answer is no, sanitary sewer and storm sewer systems aren’t connected, and there are a few different reasons that they should never be connected. First off, environmental reasons. If the sanitary sewer was somehow connected to the storm sewer, then the contents of the sanitary could spill over into the storm, in which case you would be discharging raw sewage directly into waterways. And not to mention the fact that the storm system is rather open and accessible to the public, so there are those health concerns as well. Secondly, if the storm sewer contents spilled over into the sanitary sewer system, then you would have tons of excess water in the sanitary system, and there are a couple reasons why you don’t want that to happen. During a huge rain event, the added stormwater in the system could overload the sanitary system, and cause system failure. But the most important reason for municipal government to want to keep stormwater out of the sanitary system is cost. If stormwater flows into the sanitary system, then obviously it has to go to the treatment plant and be treated, so the water treatment costs would place a burden on the system. A treatment plant operates on a very tight budget, so you don’t want to have to treat “clean” water. So you can see there are a multitude of reasons why those systems cannot interconnect, but the far most important of those are the environmental concerns and public health/safety.

    So for a gator to travel between the 2 systems, he would have to leave the cover of one and somehow gain access to another. The storm sewer is the most accessible, I could probably walk out of my office right now and within 10 minutes find my way into a storm system. But, I can’t really think of any way a gator could leave a sanitary system, once he was there he would stay there, with the exception of finding his was to a sewer treatment plant. And if he started in the storm he could certainly get out pretty easily, very easily, but I don’t see him getting access to the sanitary system. The only way he could get in was to have been flushed as a baby or some jackass having enough knowledge about the system to be dangerous pops a manhole cover and drops a small gator inside. But other than human introduction into the system, nothing else makes sense, like I said before it is a “closed system”.

    So now, if you want to entertain the possibility of a gator in the sewer, you should only consider one of the systems, not both. To stay hidden from the public, sanitary is far better, but also has some severe health drawbacks (IMHO) and limited food choices. And there is also the fact that none have been reported at the treatment plants, which I think would have certainly happened by now and I’ll tell you why. Everybody has heard the old saying that “crap rolls down hill”, well that’s the idea behind sewer design, lol, we use gravity (and sometimes pumps) to pull the sewage to the point of treatment. When the sewers flow full everything is headed toward the treatment plant. Even if the gators somehow managed to hold their ground, the biggest majority of their food source will be washed toward the treatment plant, so the sewers in close proximty to the plant should have the most food, and the food that the gators like best (dead and decomposing). So it seems to me like, if there were a population of gators in the sanitary sewer, they would be where this great food source is and eventually one might wonder out or get washed out into the treatment plant and we would see it on the news or internet. That is what makes sense to me.

    Of course though, before you really even get into deep thought about this, one has to wonder the odds of 2 baby gators getting flushed or otherwise introduced into the system, at least one male and one female, surviving the initial trip and relocation, growing to size and age to breed, meeting up, and successfully breeding.

    With the storm sewer though, it is easier to see how one could get in. And the earlier example I used about the pet store is just one example, I realize there are other ways Brent, actually many different scenarios. But like you mentioned, the storm doesn’t provide the same warm environment because of how open it is and the limited decomp to create heat. And I also have my serious doubts due to flow conditions and the fact that storm is so open to public attention.

    And to be honest we’ve probably just shown, so far, the tip of the iceburg with these issues, pro and con, and could debate this from now until forever, lol.

    As for the health concerns, I get your point about the gator that was in the oily, algae infested canal, and I realize that gators can live in less than ideal conditions. But that canal you described is a far cry from raw sewage. So I just don’t know about that one. I’ve opened manhole covers before and the smell made me gag, and I would look in and see “liquid poop” flowing full. So I still have some reservations about the health conditions and infections. Eating decomposing flesh and eating raw sewage isn’t really comparing “apples to apples” IMO. But I’m not a biologist, and if you say that in your professional opinion that you believe this is possible and not improbable at all, I’ll take your word for it. But all my other objections still stand, for right now anyway.

    But it is a great discussion, you and others here have caused me to think about sewers in ways a bit unorthodox for me, and I’m always glad to share my opinions if they are wanted

    BTW – I need to get your address so I can send you an invoice for my consulting services. :)

  49. Loren Coleman responds:

    Not to throw a sewergator wrench into the discussions here, did any of you read what I wrote in my book about this or in the Journal of American Folklore items?

    From the historical information from Teddy May, most of the 1930s NYC alligators were not found in the main sewers. In fact, besides the use of rat poison and the few that were hunted down with .22s by sewer inspectors, the use of the flushing of the lines was a major part of the “clearing” technique.

    May found that the alligators avoided “the dangerously fast currents in the main sewer lines under the major avenues,” as I wrote in Mysterious America.

    “The alligators had taken to the smaller pipes in the backwash of the city.” Teddy May “got rid of some…[by] forcing [them] into the main trunk lines where they drowned or were swiftly washed out to sea,” page 73, Mysterious America.

    It sounds like they were in the storm sewer system, according to this description, but since no one is talking, who knows?

  50. Rob008 responds:


    Here is something you might get a kick out of. My neighbor told me that the old crew use to tell the new guys to watch out for the alligators, to scare them. He said that is probably where most of the stories come from with the sewer workers trying to scare each other. But he also told me that they have found some weird stuff down there besides dead human bodies. He said one time they found a fully intact dead cow. They don’t know how the heck it got there. He doesn’t know of any sewer museum. He said there is a photo album that one of the guys started that has pictures of all the weird crap they find and there is a photo of a dead alligator, but it is not that big and the crew believe that it was exotic pet let loose.

  51. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Loren – Yes, I agree, the “washed out to sea” does imply storm sewers, as all storm sewers eventually discharge into bodies of water. But it should also be noted, that prior to all the environmental agencies coming on the scene, some sanitary sewers in those days may have very well discharged raw sewage into the ocean and other large bodies of water, especially rivers. Prior to all the environmetal agencies and “The Clean Water Act of 1977” many municipalities mishandled sewage. They simply did what was convenient at the time. So we have to consider the time frame of those events and the public views and opinions on “water quality” back then. Which sadly, at at that point in history, I don’t think they were too concerned about it. But technology has alot to do with what we know now. Anyway, just something for consideration. So that one could really go either way, without more specific info.

    Rob008 – The name is Cliffhanger, not Highlander :)
    And just feel free to use “Cliff” for short if you like. Thanks for the comment.

  52. mystery_man responds:

    Cliff- Well, that is very useful information to have. It seems that one has to consider the two sewer systems as separate habitats and judge them by their own pros and cons, then. I think it is possible that alligators could have been at some point or other introduced to both, so rather than picking or choosing one or the other, it seems useful to me to consider each of these potential habitats on its own merits.

    Storm sewers have a lot of pros to them. For one, a more ready food supply, even if it was only more rats and some domesticated animals like cats. The conditions are also relatively cleaner, although like you said there are chemicals and other things that still make them far from ideal. There seems like there would be more opportunities to get sun, as I’d imagine there are more ways for sunlight to enter the storm sewers. There are also more ways that a gator could be introduced there to begin with. These are all very compelling factors, but the cons are considerable.

    The storm sewers are not going to be nearly as warm as the sanitary sewers, if the the information I’ve gotten here is any indication. This is a major drawback for a reptile like this. As you are no doubt aware, these animals need warmth to survive for a great many reasons, including for proper food digestion among others. If you think the odds are low that a breeding population can survive in the sanitary sewers, the chances go down considerably if the animals are living in a cold environment with little to no additional warmth generated by decomposition. Also since there seems to be more access between the storm sewers and the outside, there would be more opportunities for any such warmth that was produced to escape the habitat. From your information, the storm sewers don’t seem like they’d offer any more protection or insulation from the cold than outside in the open. There could be warmer places there, but I’m not seeing how, so this by itself is almost enough to make me think the storm sewers are unlikely for a population of gators.

    On top of that, you bring up the very good point that there would be many more opportunities for these storm sewer alligators to be seen. Also, full flow. Your description makes it seem like a formidable challenge, however as Loren said, maybe the gators are escaping it somehow.

    Sanitary sewers have a major pro in that they are warm enough to comfortably support an alligator. Also, if the food supply is even adequate at all, it could be enough for an alligator to at least eke by. The gator might lose weight or be less than satisfied, but with its slow metabolism it might get by with what is on offer. I don’t think the gators would necessarily have to resort to eating decomposing waste if they could get enough rats. However, I’m still not quite clear on just how many rats we could expect to find down there so it’s hard to calculate.

    Also, the gators would be better hidden from view by people, unless they found their way to treatment plants, but I will soon address this potential problem.

    Still, there are some potential cons. One is the lack of sunlight. I still would think this is a challenge for the gators, and am not sure what the processes would be in effect that would allow them to actually grow larger in these conditions, as was stated earlier. I’ll wait for more information before saying too much about the sunlight factor.

    Also, you bring up some good points about the sewage treatment plants and the pray that would be more available there, but as I said before, there are a few reasons I can think of that these gators might avoid that. First of all, they wouldn’t want to venture anywhere too cold (although who knows in the summer time). They would be more inclined to just stay in a nice, warm spot. As far as prey goes, if they could get enough rats while the getting is good, they could wait out the periods where the rats are scarce. These alligators do not have to eat nearly as often as warm blooded animals. If they could have even just occasional periods where they could get enough food or a even a small but steady supply, for example as it flows past them on its way to the plants or any rats wandering around, they could probably go without having to track it down at the treatment plants. Like I said, not really “living,” more like “surviving.” :) But as far as illustrating the actual biological feasibility, I’d say it’s possible.

    I agree that we could probably expect to see at least one come out into the treatment plants, but none has, so I’m just speculating and exploring the possibilities for why this might be.

    Then we have the sanitary conditions, which admittedly sound very rough. As I said before, I don’t know of any study or hard data on what the effects of an alligator living in raw sewerage, or (hold on while I gag), liquid poop. :) It’s hard to say with absolute certainty, but in my own opinion alligators can handle some fairly rancid conditions. You can get gators in small, mostly dried up, muddy ponds just absolutely redolent of animal feces from other gators, birds, and the animals that come there to drink. Probably still not as awful as the conditions in a sanitary sewer but still testament to the hardiness of these animals. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that surviving the cesspool conditions is not improbable at all, but in my opinion it’s perhaps possible and something to consider.

    Full flow conditions even in the sanitary sewers still sound daunting, but perhaps there are ways that we are not even thinking of that the gators avoid this. Like you said, we are likely only at the tip of the iceberg here. It seems the issue of alligators in sewers is not a simple one to get to the bottom of.

    I’m glad to see that perhaps my comments are making you think about the sewers in new ways, as well as the biological possibilities involved here. I know your comments are certainly educational and have taught me a lot about the sewer conditions. Your opinions are most definitely wanted here.

    Give me a discount on those consulting services, Ok? 😉

  53. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Mystery_Man – Yes, I agree 100% in that when debating the subject it would be much more beneficial to the discussion to only consider one system at a time and keep in mind that the two systems are completely separate and independent of each other. Up until now, I’ve been having to speak very broadly, but if we narrow it down to just one specific system, or at least just work on each one individually, it makes analysis much easier.

    Just to clarify, I want to make sure you understand where I was coming from on this, when we were talking about the gators “eating” sewage in the sanitary system, I wasn’t trying to imply that the gator would have to resort to eating sewage to survive, but was actually trying to point out the fact that accidental ingestion of raw sewage would be a problem. Any rats down there are likely to be covered in liquid poop to some degree or another for one, so that is one source of accidental ingestion, as well as other ways I can think of like if the gator is swimming in the raw sewage and opens it’s mouth to take a food item then more raw sewage could be accidentally ingested. I don’t want to list all the ways, there are endless possibilities as to how the gator could accidentally ingest raw sewage just going about his normal routine in cesspool conditions. And I don’t know how much of a health concern that would be for a gator, but I would tend to think that could cause major health concerns (disentary for one) as that isn’t really the same as decomposing flesh. I guess it is safe to assume the gator’s ability to ingest decomposing flesh is due to the bacteria within his digestive system? However, decomposing flesh and “highly concentrated disease-ridden fecal matter” are 2 different things. Anyway, that is the point I was trying to make in far less words earlier, sorry if my point wasn’t clear.

    As far as heat in the storm sewer – You are right, with the storm sewer being so open, it doesn’t have the same ability to trap heat like the closed system sanitary sewer. Here is a good way to look at that I think: (For the Sanitary Sewer) Imagine it is winter and only 30 deg F outside. You are in your house and the heat is on and you are nice and toasty. (For the Storm Sewer) Imagine the same exact conditions outside, now you go open all the doors and windows and leave them open. You wouldn’t be nice and toasty anymore, huh? And I don’t feel that is an exaggeration either really. Also, while there would be some decomposing matter in the storm sewer that has the potential to produce heat, it is mostly in the form of trash that washes into the inlets from the streets, so you don’t have the same magnitude of heat producing decomp in the storm as you would find in the sanitary. So I absolutely agree, in the winter, the storm sewers would not be conducive to gator survival. And you can also consider some of the extreme situations of NYC storm sewers in winter. Say you have a substantial snowfall and when it begins to melt, the “nearly freezing” water drains into the storm sewers and comes into contact with these cold-blooded reptiles and their food source. I would think the consequences of such a situation have the potential to be fatal. And of course a heavy snowfall, several inches, melting quickly would cause full flow conditions of water that is just a bit over the freezing point.

    Back to sanitary – As far as system design, the upper reaches of the system is comprised of small pipelines, but as you get farther downstream the pipe sizes being to get larger in diameter. This is because the flow accumulates and gets larger the farther you go down the system. Consider a few city blocks, starting at a dead end, but getting more and more dense as you go: If the sanitary line begins at the dead end, there may only be one service tap discharging into the end of that small main, but as we go down the street, more and more service taps discharge into the main, so because the flow accumulates, the next few pipeline “main” segments may be larger than what we started with at the beginning of the system. And that process continues, all the way to the treatment plant. So although at that dead end we may have started with only an 8″ main, by the time we reach the treatment plant, we have increased to a 60″ diameter sewer main (or larger). During peak times (when people use large amounts of water), this 60″ diameter main is probably flowing at least half full, if not completely full. This doesn’t just happen once per day, it happens in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening. So we’re talking about at least 3 “peak times” per day when the liquid poop, toilet paper, condoms, hemorroid pads, tampons, chunks of grease from restaurants etc. are flowing full. Of course the morning flows (before work, cooking, bathing, etc) and the evening flows (after work, cooking, bathing, etc) are the most substantial flows. So the area immediate to the treatment plant would experience the heaviest flow activity, massive flows of the most horrendous substance you could imagine. Ugh, I think I’m gonna be sick now, lol. But as far as a gator being able to avoid the flows, I’m personally not seeing the possibilities of how this could be accomplished. There aren’t any “gator rest stops” along the liquid poop superhighway :)

    One of the commenters above mentioned something about “sandbanks” in the sewers where gators could chill out. All I can say is that unless you’ve spent substantial amounts of time in sewers and working with them you may not understand that it isn’t really a poop river with “sandbanks”. I didn’t really understand the comment, but as far as sandbanks, I wouldn’t spend too much time entertaining that notion.

    And as far as the gators not wondering out into the treatment plant during spring, summer, or fall, or getting washed out by the flow conditions, I honestly can’t see this being avoided long-term. Even in sewers that aren’t cylindrical, the ones that are designed to be more square or rectangular, all the same priciples of full flow still apply. Even with the sewers that are rectangular with an internal trough to channel flow, you can compare those to rivers that don’t stay within their banks, eventually there will be flow conditions that test the integrity of the system and exceed normal capacity and would wash everything into the treatment plant.

    So yeah, like I said and like you said, this could very well only be the tip of the iceburg, and it appears highly likely that we could actively debate this with new info and new examples, every day from now until the end of the world in 2012 :)

    I’m begining to wonder if we need to start a list with all the pros and cons for each system, so when we reach a consensus on a particular issue we can just move on to the next without backtracking too much, lol.

    I think I will spend some time over the weekend trying to come up with possible answers, or lack thereof, for ways that gators could avoid full flow in both sanitary and storm. So far I haven’t been able to think if anything that really convinces me, but it is worth looking into. I just have to spend time running different scenarios through my head and maybe even see if some of the hydrology or pipeline/channel flow software I have could be of some use. In storm, even upper reaches (smaller diameter) pipelines experience heavy flows and high pressure and velocity in extreme precip events, so this is going to require some creative thought in trying to figure out system design parameters that would make this a possibility. But off the top of my head, and using the storm system design parameters that I am accustom to, I have to say that storm systems are designed specifically to drain water completely without retaining any water in the system. And to accomplish that, you want to get the water out of the system and into natural waterways/drainage ways as quickly and efficiently as possible, hence the high velocities. But like I said, there are no “rest stops”, public money is monitored very frugally on infrastructure construction projects, there really isn’t room for redundant sewer lines, each one has a purpose and is sized to handle its expected load. But I will be back here Monday to see what new info is available. Have a good weekend :)

  54. cliffhanger042002 responds:

    Loren – Great photo!!

    This photo looks like a classic sanitary sewer photo. There are a few things I can point out about the photo. First, look up at the very top of the photo where the bricks are bright red, this is the high water line, where sewage flows have gotten somewhat severe, actually very severe, and this would represent “full flow” at its peak. At the moment the photo was taken, the sewer appears to be experiencing normal flow conditions, indicated by the fact that the sewage flow level is contained completely within the invert. The 2 areas on either side of the invert are called “benches” and were constructed so that maintenance crews can get down there, manuever, and do whatever work is needed during low or normal flow conditions. Near the bottom left of the photo, there appears to be an accumulation of grease, which is what usually causes most of the obstruction problems inside the sewers. Most restaurants have grease traps, but the grease from residential kitchens typically drains into the public sanitary sewer system, and it tends to accumulate as shown.

    The benches would be an ideal spot for gators to lounge during normal and low flow conditions, but during full flow you can see from the photo how the capacity of the pipeline is challenged and there is nothing to hold on to in order to maintain position and prevent being swept downstream and possibly into the sewage treatment plant.

  55. qa_or_bust responds:

    Someone mentioned that this isn’t a cryptid since we know alligators exist. I beg to differ, sewer gators may actually be an evolve sub species, that since they are elusive and cleaned up to incinerate, no scientist has yet had a chance to examine. Therefore, if something is living in the sewers of NY (and not Philly?) then it may have evolved to survive in the sewer enough to be an alligator sub species and not a true alligator.

    Alligators typically need larger prey at larger sizes, need deep water to roll and do not do well in high bacteria environments without sunlight (or desire to go in the sunlight). These distinctions, plus the fact that alligators don’t belong in NY might be enough to classify such a creature as a cryptid.

    I know this stretching a little, but recently an African elephant sub species was found (I think I read about it on Loren’s site?) with only minor evolutionary differences.

  56. norman-uk responds:

    Relevant to this is evidence of two cave dwelling crocodiles and at least one seems to have evolved to fit circumstances; see here and here.

  57. norman-uk responds:

    Fascinating stuff and very relevant!

  58. cliff responds:

    I guess the evolution is something to consider, it would certainly be something that could be tested if a gator was actually ever taken from the NYC sewers. But one thing is for certain, if they were/are an evolved sub-species, that was done in really fast order. The cases that I’ve read involving the evolution of animals, most recently the one in norman-uk’s link above, the evolution takes place over thousands of years. I’m no expert on evolution, but the cave crocodiles and the “non-aggressive” crocs mentioned in those links had thousands to tens of thousands of years to evolve, whereas in the case of the alleged NYC sewer gators, they haven’t had thousands of years, only 100-150 years or so, if that long, since the NYC sewers were constructed and a gator could have been introduced into the system. So if a gator was ever pulled from the sewers in NYC, I would be interested to see a DNA test, but I wouldn’t really expect to see any indication of evolution, I would expect that it was a known species that was recently released into the sewers by some irresponsible human. But I’m no evolution expert, I’m not saying it’s impossible for a species to significantly evolve over just a few decades, but I can’t really think of any examples of that right off the top of my head.

  59. norman-uk responds:

    Here’s some work (see below) which suggests that evolution can be and is sped up because of human interference. Like elephants naturally without tusks becoming the norm. It’s full steam ahead or bust for many creatures, whether this applies to crocs in sewers I don’t know or if there is a short lived population, sustained by immigration from more usual territory or if there is a more permanent population. Breeding seems rather unlikely at this point.

    Super-Predators: Humans Force Rapid Evolution of Animals

    One point about sewage water quality. In the UK rain water from roofs, yards and I believe roads is normally drained through the foul sewage system and this may considerably improve the quality of the water and purge the system. Does this not happen in the USA? I imagine in Florida for example there would be a lot of water from its high rainfall not all going via the storm drains.

  60. cliff responds:

    norman-uk – Those are some good points about evolution, but isn’t that (elephant example) more along the lines of selective breeding by humans to get a desired result? I’m not sure that is the same thing really, but I get your point. I actually have a corn snake that is black, white, an grey that is a result of selective breeding because corns are typically red, orange and yellow.

    As far as the sewers go, I’ve done some research and found that there are indeed some places with combined sewers and those municipalities actually “treat” or clean the stormwater just as they do the raw sewage. So in a combined sanitary/storm system the raw sewage would be somewhat diluted, but that would only apply during heavy rain storms. I would venture to guess that the municipalities that would require combined systems are those that typically experience less annual rainfall than others and also have very scarce natural waterways to route the stormwater to. In Florida and in my state (Alabama) for example, most places wouldn’t have combined systems because of the availability of natural waterways (branches, streams, creeks, rivers, ocean) to discharge the water into. But New York, due to the size of the city, would probably benefit more financially from treating the stormwater than to pay for the cost of extra piping to route the water to natural drainage features. So I’m kinda going back on what I said before about the systems not being combined, I have found that there are some places (New York for example) that do actually treat stormwater. But as far as my original position of not really being too convinced personally of the possibility, it still stands because all the other issues I have regarding full flow, gators not being reported to have been washed into the treatment plant or surface through a curb inlet, etc, still apply.

  61. norman-uk responds:


    I would not have thought it probable that crocs or gators did live in sewers, but I think it has been shown that in some cases they in fact do. Though I doubt they breed successfully. Where they are found it seems they are quickly bumped off.

    What allows these animals to make it in this unnatural environment? I would suggest it is because every sewer may be different and here and there are niche environments where they can survive. A description of these would not be found in any text book. In some there could be links with ancient sewers no longer used or natural cave systems. There is almost certainly ground water and flows (in the UK at least) and huge leakages from water supplies.

    Isn’t it true that even people manage to live in sewers, rarely I hope!

  62. MattBille responds:

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned the enjoyably goofy film “Alligator.” It was one of those rare films that knows it’s preposterous and just has fun with it. Then there’s Harlan Ellison’s memorably creepy story “Croatoan” (there have been other fictional treatments of the idea, but anything from Ellison is always unique.)

  63. mystery_man responds:

    Ahh I remember this thread. One of my favorite discussions I’ve had on this site. I wonder if cliff is still around. You still out there, buddy?

    MattBille- Oh wow, what a blast from the past. I used to love that movie. Absolutely brilliant.

  64. TheForthcoming responds:

    Thank you Loren for bring this much interesting subject to our attention. As for mysteryman and cliffhanger, I have two responses for you about the gators and worm like intestine organism that reminds me of the movie the blob:

    1. Sanitary” sewers, no, they’re a closed system. No way in unless it’s flushed in, and in that case, there’s little to no access to sunlight and an abundance of toxic gasses.

    Storm “sewers” or culvert pipes, yes. This nice little system that was designed to keep towns from flooding during rains has actually made life easier for alligators. Culvert pipes leading from retention pond to retention pond act as alligator “highways”, and it’s amazing how quickly an alligator can find it’s way to a new pond that’s miles away from any other water source. Not to mention that the temperature tends to be constant in these systems, which eliminates the need for gators to excavate their own caves for shelter during cold weather…

    So, in conclusion… where your poopie goes, no, where the storm water goes, yes maybe.

    2. What you saw was very interesting btw on the cam.

    It could be thousands of worms what you saw aka a Bryozoan Colony of worms.

    Go here: Sewer Monster Confirmed as Bryozoan Colony

  65. TheForthcoming responds:


    Alligator was a funny, campy and somewhat scary movie
    and I did enjoy watching it and aligator 2 back in the 90’s
    when I first saw those movies. I know they were probably made in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

  66. coelacanth1938 responds:

    Alligator Surfaces Beneath a Car in Queens.

  67. Cryptoraptor responds:

    The Drudgereport currently has 3 back to back Croc stories- NYC, Chicago, and Brockton, Mass.

  68. TheForthcoming responds:

    I live near Chicago and we just had a 2nd Crocodile sighting and this time the local fox news 32 wfld tv channel caught it on tape!! It’s only about 5-6 feet long and maybe 250-400 pounds at most but still impressive.

  69. TheForthcoming responds:

    Loren and all

    Here is a link about crocodile sightings in the NY and Chicago areas.

    The above site proudly advertises Cryptomundo btw!!

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