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Alligators Are Literally Chilling in North Carolina

Screenshot from Alligator in frozen NC pond. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: 11Alive

Recent sightings in North Carolina of alligators chilling in frozen water have everyone talking about these creatures’ magnificent survival tactics. Let’s have a further look at these alligators chilling, and why they can. 

Cold-blooded Alligators

Alligator. Image via Depositphotos.

Alligators are cold-blooded reptiles. This means that they are dependent on their environments for body heat, as they can’t regulate their temperature themselves. The ridges on alligators’ back are called scutes. These bone plates act as heat conductors for the gators.

Sun Lovers

american alligator
Image of an American alligator they can’t survive in salt water. Image via Donald W DeLoach Jr, CC BY-SA 3.0

As an alligator bakes in the sun, the blood flowing through their scutes is also warmed up and distributed through the gator’s body. Of course, if they get too warm baking in the sun, they have to relieve the heat. And alligators will do so by opening their mouths and letting some of the warmth escape. 

Brumation

Alligator
Alligator mississippiensis (Daudin, 1802), American alligator; Loro Parque, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. By H. Zell via Wikimedia – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

During the cold (and icy) winter months, alligators go into a type of hibernation called brumation. In a state of brumation, reptiles become lethargic, have a lower metabolic state, respiratory rate and heart rate. During this time they engage in minimal activity. This allows them to survive the cold temperatures by using their energy to survive instead of partaking in their normal summertime activities. Different from the deep-sleep hibernation mammals enter, alligators and other reptiles in brumation will still drink water to prevent dehydration, and even move around on slightly warmer days. 

But why freeze?

Frozen alligator in North Carolina
Alligator with his snout sticking out from frozen water at the Swamp Park. Screenshot from the YouTube video by 11Alive on YouTube

If given the option, alligators will create shelters in mud for brumation. But in cases where they are water-bound, such as the Swamp Park Outdoor Adventure Centre where the recent sightings took place, they will feel the water starting to ice over and pop their snouts up to avoid freezing underneath the water. With their nostrils free they can easily breathe during their state of brumation. 

Animals Who Brumate

Alligator. Image via Depositphotos.

Animals who brumate to survive cold temperatures are cold-blooded reptiles and amphibians, such as snakes, turtles, lizards, and of course alligators! There is no set period for which these animals brumate, it could range anywhere from several weeks to months.

Animals Who Hibernate

Eurasian brown bear and cubs
Close up of female Eurasian brown bear (Ursos arctos) and her cubs in boreal forest, Finland. Image via Depositphotos

The animals who hibernate, the form of winter sleep we know better, are warm-blooded mammals, such as bears, hedgehogs, and squirrels.

What Happens During Brumation

Alligator. Image via Depositphotos.

During this time the animals’ metabolic, heart, and respiratory rate decreases to conserve energy during this time of environmental stress. Their body temperature fluctuates with the ambient temperature around them. In a state of brumation, animals become lethargic, less responsive to stimuli, and cease feeding, but still hydrate at times. 

What Happens During Hibernation

Eurasian brown bear. Image via Depositphotos

During this time the animals’ metabolic, heart, and respiration rate significantly decreases during a deep sleep. While their internal body temperatures are kept consistent. In a hibernating state, animals are unresponsive to external stimuli and appear to be in topor or deep sleep.

The Video

Screenshot from Alligator in frozen NC pond. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: 11Alive

In the video, we can see the alligators are completely submerged in ice water, except for their snouts – quite eerie. WATCH HERE.

Time to Chill

American alligator
Image by Hans Stieglitz. Via Wikimedia – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0

Now we all can relax knowing these alligators frozen in water with their snouts sticking out aren’t a scene from a childhood nightmare, but actually an incredible display of adaptation. If you ask me, they are taking winter chilling to the next level!

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Screenshot from Alligator in frozen NC pond. Source: Youtube, Uploaded: 11Alive

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