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Frozen alligators in North Carolina aren’t dead. They’re in brumation.


In the muggy months, the alligators of the American South are on the prowl, known to lurk in swimming pools and terrify suburban neighborhoods — but when the temperature drops, they’re just chilling. Literally.

After much of the United States plunged into a freeze last week, gators in North Carolina and Texas have been spotted in their coolest winter look: submerged under ice, with just their snouts poking out to breathe. Videos of the “gator-cicles,” as the staff of a North Carolina park called them on social media, are circulating widely online, sparking amazement, fear and intrigue in brumation — the reptilian version of hibernation.

In a video posted this week that shows menacing-looking alligators beneath the frozen surface, a staff member from the Swamp Park in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., said that when it gets cold enough for the water to ice over, the gators “will instinctively tilt their nose up, to the point where it’s out of the water, so they don’t just suffocate.”

“Think of it as a cute little danger snorkel,” he said.

The organization, which cares for rescued alligators — or swamp puppies, as they are known in the South — later posted another video showing a gator slowly but surely “starting to ‘thaw’ out.”

A widely viewed video posted last week by TikTok user Eddie Hanhart shows another partially frozen alligator at the Gator Country sanctuary in Beaumont, Tex. “We bundle up but this is what the American alligator does,” he said in the video. “See he knew he was gonna freeze last night, so what he does is he went and found him a nice comfy spot.”

Alligator missing top half of its jaw is recovering at Fla. gator park

Reptiles such as alligators — which can be found as far north as North Carolina and as far west as eastern Texas — go into brumation in the winter months. Only coldblooded animals — such as turtles, snakes and frogs — brumate, a state that is similar to hibernation but different in certain ways, including that coldblooded animals will move around on warmer winter days because they depend on the environment for temperature regulation.

“For example, you might spot a lizard out on a rock during January, getting some sun to warm itself,” the University of Texas at Austin’s Biodiversity Center explains on its website.

Eric Nordberg, who heads the Reptile Ecology and Environmental Disturbance lab at the University of New England in Australia, wrote in an email that during brumation, reptiles or amphibians “reduce their body temperature (which is tightly linked to environmental temperatures), heart rate, breathing, [and] metabolic rates.” In doing so, they conserve energy “when they cannot be foraging, moving around, or mating due to the cold temperatures.”

Some alligators create mudholes for colder days, while others make do in the frigid water. As the Swamp Park in North Carolina wrote on social media, “the key to life is adaptation.” (The park also made headlines in 2018 when its alligators were spotted in brumation during a cold snap.)

Shallotte River Swamp Park posted a video in 2018 explaining how North Carolina alligators survive in a frozen pond. (Video: Shallotte River Swamp Park/Facebook)

Brumation behaviors “greatly depend on how extreme and long the cold temperatures persist in the environment,” Nordberg said. Alligators in Texas are considered “mostly inactive” from mid-October until early March, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

When the alligators eventually emerge from brumation, they are lethargic, like they’ve waked from a long slumber. And — not unlike many of us after the winter months — cold reptiles are “very slow and unable to do much of anything” until they warm up, Nordberg said, “mostly by basking in the sun.”





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