A thriving colony of alligators living beneath Manhattan? Well, maybe not. But the idea's been around for a while and has slipped into enough plotlines that I was almost starting to wonder. In Thomas Pynchon's novel V., some of the characters are hired to go alligator hunting; the films Alligator and Alligator II both involve break-outs from the underground colony. (Well, ok, so the latter two were set in Chicago and "a small town" according to imdb.com. Indisputable proof of the universality of urban legend?)

The most popular tale for how the alligators got there involves tourists bringing cute, little baby alligators home from Florida and flushing them down toilets when they get a little bigger and not-so-cute. Pynchon took the angle that it was Macy's selling the alligators one Easter; same basic premise, though!

In fact, the New York Times itself lists 13 stories involving NY alligators between 1905 and 1993, 12 of which are in a veritable rash between 1927 and 1942. All 13 reports total up to 16 gators found in the New York area, dead or alive, in the sewers or elsewhere, most of them fugitives from various zoos and private collections. One 1933 report gives a little extra credence to the idea that Benny Profane (the Pynchon character) could possibly get paid to hunt alligators -- it reports a squadron of riflemen being organized to hunt down an alleged 6 escaped alligators.

For all its power as a rumor, though, the alligator colony in the sewer couldn't survive for long. The NYC sewers get too cold -- alligators survive well at temperatures from 70 to 98 degrees Farenheit. Plus, they don't do so well when exposed to salmonella and E. coli as are commonly found in sewers.

Now, if anyone wants to start postulating about super-intelligent mutant gators with added survival skills...

kudos to the Urban Legends site at snopes.com where someone less lazy than I did all the actual newspaper research! http://www.snopes2.com/critters/lurkers/gator.htm

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