Frozen alligator WILL actually see you later

Despite being literally trapped under ice, these tough reptiles are staying alive
frozen alligator An alligator is happy during warmer times, but can it really survive freezing temperatures? (© Sarah-jane Allen |

As you may have noticed, it's been rather cold in North America lately. Colder than usual, and colder in more places than usual. Places such as the American state of North Carolina.

It's not that North Carolina doesn't have winter. But its winters are not as severe as throughout Canada and the northern and central United States. So when images began circulating of alligators frozen in water at Shallotte River Swamp Park this week, you'd be forgiven for thinking that things wouldn't end well. But as it turns out, the gators were doing just fine. Observe...

Snout out, no doubt

Just how is this possible? Shouldn't living in ice be too much for a cold-blooded tropical reptile to take?

It is true that American alligators do not make a habit of hanging out in the snow. As cold-blooded animals, they rely on external temperatures to keep their body temperature at the right point. If it gets too hot, reptiles seek shade or take a cool dip; too cold, and they will look to bask in the sun and warm themselves. But despite depending on outside temperatures to stay alive, a frozen alligator isn't necessarily a goner.

Alligators have demonstrated a unique ability to survive a cold snap. First, they stay in the water during freezing temperatures. Water changes temperature much slower than air. So even if there is a layer of ice on the surface, the water underneath will be warmer than the air above after the temperature drops.

And speaking of that ice, the gators make sure to poke their snouts above the surface before it freezes. Why? So they can breathe, of course!

Here are the same gators a couple of days later, with the ice starting to melt a little.

Slow down, stay alive

There is one last twist to the story of how these cold-blooded animals manage to survive their chilly dip. Cold water makes their bodily functions slow down. In effect, it creates a state similar to hibernation called brumation. Slower body function means that the animal's body requires less energy to survive. Its ability to stay still is kind of what keeps it alive.

Now to be clear, an alligator can't do this indefinitely. Nor could it survive being fully encased within ice. A truly frozen alligator could not live. But as a way to get through a period of unexpected cold, its snout-first policy is a stunning adaptation.

And in case you doubt their power, see one of the same gators alive and well as staff at the park check up on him. (Do NOT try this at home!)

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