Do Alligators and Crocodiles Live in the Sewers of New York City or is the Urban Legend a Myth?

Digging through a list of New York Times stories over the years will turn up a dozen instances in which alligators or crocodiles have mysteriously shown up in the New York City area, usually in Westchester County, for some reason.

However, almost none of the stories has anything to do with sewers, and most or all of the reptiles have turned out to be lost pets.

The “alligators in New York” stories began back in 1932, when two boys started a folktale that lingers to this day in New York mythology. The two teenagers said that they pulled a two-foot-long dead alligator from a sewer drain in New York, and claimed that the Bronx River was filled with them.

The stories hit the newspapers, and a citywide gator hunt ensued. However, upon further investigation, the dead alligator turned out to be a neighbor’s pet crocodile that had escaped from its pen weeks before the story unfolded. Likewise, no gators were found in the Bronx River, and the reptile frenzy died down after the authorities called off the hunt.

Still, rumors of alligators in the sewers just won’t die, and occasionally someone dumps a pet into a city waterway, feeding the rumors further, as happened in 2001 with a two-foot caiman that was dumped in Central Park’s Harlem Meer.

The New York City Bureau of Water and Sewer Operations gets a handful of inquiries about them each year.

The bureau’s standard response is that not one representative of Sewer Operations has ever seen an alligator in the city’s sewers.

The bureau is quick to point out that alligators, cold blooded, heat-loving animals that they are, wouldn’t be able to survive the freezing temperatures, not to mention the bacteria that thrives in the sewer system.

And the most convincing evidence according to the BWSO design chief is that if there were alligators in the sewers, labor union officials would’ve been quick to cite the toothy work hazards as reason for another pay hike for alligators in New employees.

That hasn’t happened yet. Stay tuned.