If you had to make a list of places you never want to go, a sewer has to rank on there somewhere. You don’t need to experience one to know you won’t enjoy it. Depending on the sewer and its location you can expect to find human waste, cockroaches, rats, trash and a whole host of other unpleasantries. And that’s just the usual contents of a sewer. Sometimes it gets even weirder.
10. A Lion Once Got Loose in the Sewers of Birmingham, England
Nothing should live in a sewer but that doesn’t mean nothing does. As mentioned, rats and roaches can make a fine home in the damp, dark tunnels beneath our feet and there’s not a lot to be done about it. But in 1889 a much larger resident set up shop in the sewers beneath Birmingham, England.
A traveling menagerie, which was like a traveling zoo, was in town and they had their display of exotic animals in tow. This included a male lion that made its escape in town and flee to the local sewer. The lion had previously mauled a person and killed another, so this wasn’t exactly a cute case of circus animals gone wild.
In order to quell the panic of the people, the menagerie owner pulled a fast one by sneaking a second lion out of the show and then pretending to capture it at a different sewer entrance. Since no one saw a second lion escape, the man was hailed as a hero for snagging the beast.
In reality, he had to come clean about his ruse to the local police who then helped him capture the escaped lion for real, just a day late.
9. A Nile Crocodile Was Discovered in Paris Sewers
In 1984, workers in Paris discovered one of the least likely things to find in a Paris sewer – a Nile crocodile. Named Eleanor, the baby crocodile had been eating rats near an entrance to the Seine River.
As helpful as a rat-eating crocodile might be, the city still captured the animal and placed it temporarily in the zoo. From there it was moved and most people forgot about it, but she ended up in an aquarium in Vannes where she spent most of the rest of her life.
The Vanne aquarium closed in 2020 when Eleanor was 38. She was transferred to a sanctuary called La Ferme aux Crocodiles but didn’t survive the re-homing and died soon after.
It’s believed Eleanor had probably been illegally imported and then abandoned when she started growing too large and dangerous.
8. British Sewer Workers Had to Deal With a 130 Ton Sewer Fatberg
Misplaced animals in a sewer are one thing but a fatberg is quite another. That’s the name we’ve given to masses of goop that clog modern sewers thanks to people flushing too much junk into a sewer that it can’t handle.
In particular, things like baby wipes which don’t break apart like toilet paper and aren’t meant to be flushed are the primary culprit. They form masses along with grease, human waste and more trash that can become so huge they can stop all flow in a sewer and need to be dislodged by entire teams of workers.
One of the biggest fatbergs on record was discovered in Whitechapel in London’s east end. This 130 ton monster had to be removed by trained professionals and the process was both disgusting and dangerous.
On the surface it sounds just gross and maybe a little funny, but there is real danger. The amount of bacteria and potential disease present cannot be underestimated. As well, the bulky chunks of congealed fat and waste can hide things like needles or other hazards that put workers at risk.
The local population became oddly fascinated with the blob of cooking oil, used condoms and old tampons. Pieces of the Whitechapel fatberg were preserved by the Museum of London and it took a lot of effort to do so as the salvaged chunks kept growing mold or hatching flies during the process.
7. Thousands of Bucharest Orphans Live Below the City
There’s another kind of nightmare you can find in sewers not related to something that makes you cringe in fear. In Bucharest there are thousands of orphans who live in the city’s sewers. The former regime had banned both abortion and contraception and the number of orphans was estimated to be north of 100,000. They’ve been living there since 1989 and many of them have grown up and started their own families beneath the streets.
The Communist regime in Romania ended in 1989 and that meant every orphanage was summarily closed. The children were literally thrown onto the streets to fend for themselves. The sewers of Bucharest are home to steam pipes which allowed many of them to keep warm and, having nowhere else to go, many of them stayed.
As you might imagine, life in a Romanian sewer is no picnic. Many of those in the tunnels dealt with addiction issues and illness including HIV and tuberculosis.
6. Sydney Has Had Giant Snapping Turtles in the Sewer
We’ve seen how sewers across Europe are beset by unexpected visitors but it’s not restricted to the continent. Sydney, Australia has its own subterranean problems in the form of snapping turtles.
An alligator snapping turtle named Leonardo is Australia’s most famous sewer resident. The turtle was rescued and sent to a zoo where it has grown to be over 100 lbs. Fans of the reptile rallied in 2016 to get him a larger enclosure as the zoo where he was sent had never upgraded his home despite him doubling in size. A petition to expand his digs garnered over 16,000 signatures.
It’s believed the turtle was smuggled into Australia before being illegally dumped in a drain. When he was discovered in the sewer in the year 2000 he only weighed 55 lbs and was briefly named Cowabunga.
Alligator snapping turtles can grow to over 200 lbs and their jaws are strong enough to take a human finger clean off. Though they are native to North America, there was some speculation it may have also been stolen from a display at the zoo in 1979.
5. North Carolina Had a Viral Sewer Monster
When you want to see a true sewer monster, you need to head to the internet. That’s where most people first saw something no one could explain back in 2009. This sewer monster was discovered in Raleigh, North Carolina and for a while people thought it had to be a hoax or even a promo for some kind of found footage movie.
A viral video depicted a writhing, pulsating thing that would have looked at home in a Hellraiser film. It took a bit of time but people managed to sleuth out what it was. The thing was actually a colony of tubifex worms. The worms can be found in sewers where they attach to roots that have broken through bricks and cracks in walls.
The lights from the camera disturbed the worms and caused them to pulse and retract while they were being filmed, creating the look of a single, mysterious and unsettling creature.
There was also a competing theory that it wasn’t tubifex worms but a colony of bryozoans, which is just another small,creepy creature most of us on the surface have never seen in the light of day.
4. An Ancient Roman Wrote About an Octopus Breaking in Through the Sewer
The ancient Romans learned the art of making sewers from the Etruscans and put them to good use throughout the empire. Just like in modern times, these ancient sewers were prone to attracting unwanted guests. Unlike in modern times, the simplistic way that some Romans made sewers, which included attaching them directly to the open sea, created an opportunity for some more diverse visitors.
There is a story which has lasted since Roman times, penned by the writer Aelian. He told of an Iberian merchant who had to deal with nightly visits from an octopus that would crawl from the sea, slink up the sewer and invade the man’s home.
If you’ve studied much about octopus, you know they are extremely intelligent and also skilled at getting into and out of all kinds of tight spots. This octopus would raid the man’s pantry and steal his pickled fish.
3. Snake Nests Are Not Uncommon in Sewers
The internet has more than its fair share of “snake in a toilet” videos for you to choose from. These can hail from Australia, South America, Africa, Asia and even North America. Arizona, for instance, is no stranger to toilet snakes.
Many snakes find their way into a toilet from outside in, looking for a cool and damp place to hang out in high heat. But some take the long way around and work their way through sewers. For every snake that ends up in a toilet, it’s a safe bet a lot more are still down the drain somewhere.
In Thailand, a colony of over 100 snakes was found in a sewer in 2022. Flooding caused the sewer to back up which disturbed a snake nest and the hundred babies that were calling it home.
Despite what you may think or feel about snakes, locals took the time to go out of their way and help the little guys who were trapped in the water by fishing them out and putting them safely on dry land again.
A similar incident in Washington occurred back in 2014 when a contractor inspected a clogged line and found a half dozen snakes trapped inside. Because of the way lines had been constructed, there was unfortunately no way for those ones to be rescued and it was assumed they had been pets someone tried to flush.
2. Piranha Fish Have Made Their Way to UK Sewers
Just because something fits in a toilet doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to flush it. In the town of Chichester in the UK, a piranha was found in the local sewers in 2018 prompting the local water company to remind people only to flush their waste down the loo.
The freshwater fish are mostly known for their remarkably sharp teeth and bad reputation as carnivores, though in real life they rarely cause harm to humans. That said, they are an invasive species since they are not even indigenous to the continent and if a population of them were established it would be incredibly dangerous for the ecosystem, not to mention sewer workers.
1. Dozens of Corpses From a Cemetery Were Found During a New Sewer Excavation
Short of evil clowns there are few things any of us would want to find in a sewer less than an actual dead body. Workers in Indiana in 2023 found almost 70 of them when working on a new sewer system that was being run under what had once been a church.
No one knew that there had been a cemetery on site over a hundred years past, so their efforts to run the sewer through unintentionally disinterred the residents. The crew didn’t find them all at once so plans were made to move the deceased for proper burial as they came upon them.
The cemetery itself was over 200 years old, older than the town that was built over it. The city was surprised that so many graves had remained hidden for so long with no other construction project disturbing them. Officials knew a cemetery was in the area but since it had never been officially marked, no one knew where to look.