Three desperate B-school students and I need to know: are there really alligators living in the sewers of New York? If so, why? I not, how did this vicious rumor get started? --Baby Needs Schoes, Chicago
If there are alligators carrying on beneath the streets of the Big Apple, they've managed to keep pretty well to themselves. No one has ever taken a live alligator out of a New York sewer, although there have been some unreliable reports of sightings, and a few dead alligators have been recovered.
In any case, it does seem possible that an alligator could survive in the sewers, if only for a matter of weeks or months. The theory goes something like this: hordes of tourists return each year from Florida, packing the baby alligators that are occasionally (and illegally) sold as souvenirs. Growing tired of their less-than-cuddly pets, some people flush them down the toilet. Out of every thousand alligators disposed of in this unseemly manner, there's an outside chance that one or two might make it to a hospitable part of the sewer system, where the water is warm enough to prevent freezing. Conceivably, the alligator could then survive by feeding on floating carrion--dead fish or birds--much as it does in the wild. But reproduction--the naturalist's one sure sign of an established population--seems utterly impossible. The sewers offer no safe haven for eggs, and the chances against a male and female alligator finding each other in the first place are astronomical--there are no singles bars for reptiles, not even in New York.