The Bizarre History Of Animals In Our Sewers And Toilets
In the canon of great American folklore, few tall tales rank as high as the fabled gator-in-the-toilet myth. Though repeatedly debunked by well-meaning historians and biologists who insist that no large predator could survive even in the all-you-can-eat rat and mutant turtle buffet that is the New York City municipal sewer system, there's only one problem. Sewer gators are real, and they are extremely well documented.
The fear of animals living in sewers predates the English language. Hell, it predates modern sewer systems, for that matter. Little did the cast and crew behind the campy B-movie Alligator realize they were making a serious social-message film about the dangers of invasive species in fragile urban ecosystems. The "Jaws in Chicago" plot isn't as idiotic as you might first suspect. (Or so Robert Forster's agent insists.)
Alright, we don't actually have any accounts of giant mutated alligators run amok in Chicago ... yet. Give it some time. Panic over sewer monsters is a universal phenomenon, French underground workers infamously dislodging a Nile crocodile from their underground network in 1984. Don't worry, animal lovers; Eleonor is doing fine and currently resides at the Aquarium de Vannes. It's unclear how a species that is not native to northern Europe and that is that gigantic got there. That old story about kids flushing baby reptiles down the drain has some truth to it. It's not an isolated incident. Oh, you think we're joking, do you? Tell that to this poor dude just trying to check his mail and discovering an apex predator creeping instead:
Consider it revenge for Taco Tuesday.
British sewer systems might not have housed any species as cool as their cousins across the Channel, but if the legend is true, a band of feral pigs did once run amok in Hampstead. Sewer terror dates to the start of plumbing itself. Roman writers recorded strangely familiar horror stories about octopuses crawling up municipal storm pipes and up to street level. Ancient Romans spared the sight of a Kraken springing out of their latrines only by the fact their crappers weren't connected to the sewers. The Romans were already wise to the dangers.
In reality, it's not the gators or pigs you really need to worry about. Very few animals can manage to sneak their way through the curved pipes that trap sewer gas from entering your house. Brilliantly conceived to flush away waste, your porcelain throne still is no match for mother nature's hardiest urban explorers. There is a high percentage of dead animals that drown in your waste every year. And that's the good news. Unfortunately, there is a class of animals, such as snakes and spiders, that have evolutionary adaptations that make them superbly well-suited to climb up hundreds of feet of slimy, dark pipes and sink their fangs into your vulnerable genital buffet. Aussies, you know the drill.
Certain spiders have microscopic hairs that trap air bubbles, permitting them to breathe submerged in fluids for a dozen hours thanks to the anatomical quirk that functions as scuba gear. Snakes are so perfectly shaped that they see your john more as a playground or motel than a risk. After seeing a snake emerging from your toilet, we guarantee you will never crap in relaxation ever again.
In addition to being able to survive decapitation, cockroaches can hold their breath for hours. Experts suggest you resist the urge to flush them down the toilet; they will just come back. A lot of animals can survive in your pipes, even certain scat-fetish-loving marsupials. But that's nothing in comparison to the most prevalent fecal monster. The most common danger you will statistically run onto during your next bathroom break are these fun little fellows:
An Irish town recently warned residents to keep their seats securely closed after a man was bitten on the butt by a surprise rodent visitor. Maybe we can't convince you to take this so-called "urban legend" seriously, but a tetanus shot in your butt cheeks should do the trick. Use some caution the next you hear a strange sound emanating from the neighborhood storm drain. Don't bend down to get a closer look at the beady eyes staring back at you. Just slowly walk away. And whatever you do, never make small talk with the clowns down there.
Top Image: Herbert2512/Pixabay