You expect to find alligators lurking in swamps. Many have been spotted on golf courses and even residential neighborhoods around the Southeast. But creeping around a midwestern airport? This may be a first.
The 18-inch gator, nicknamed Allie by airport personnel, was discovered under an escalator at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport Friday by security guard Tineka Walker. She was on patrol when a passenger alerted her to the alligator.
"I looked, I said, 'What?'" Walker told a CNN affiliate.
On Monday, airport officials continue their search for answers about this unattended and apparently undernourished reptile, an American alligator.
An airport worker reportedly used a broom and dustpan to capture this one, which was weak, likely from a poor diet. Animal control picked it up from police and handed it over to the Chicago Herpetological Society.
"What if a little kid grabbed this, thinking it was a toy? That could do a nasty job," said Bob Bavirsha, a reptile rescuer with the group.
A major clue to how it ended up at the airport emerged on Twitter on Friday when someone posted photos of a man holding what appeared to be the same alligator.
"The patterns on an alligator are as unique as your fingerprints," Bavirsha said. "We can actually match this band right here with that band right there."
The man holding the alligator in the tweeted photos had distinctive markings of his own, a tattoo on his arm that could ultimately help investigators identify him. (Perhaps the person who took and tweeted the photos could have also alerted airport authorities.)
Officials suspect the alligator's captor realized he couldn't take the creature through the Transportation Security Administration's checkpoint and simply let him go.
The alligator will eventually find a new life in a reptile park. American alligator's typically live in freshwater rivers and marshes across the Southeast. Males can reach lengths of 10' - 15'; females, up to 9'8".