The alligators of Oklahoma had a clever trick up their sleeves when a cold snap hit the US southern states last month. As cold-blooded reptiles, they may not like the freezing conditions, preferring to bask on the banks of rivers and lakes in the sunshine. However, in this case, they have adapted by embracing the idea of becoming toothsome popsicles for a few days to survive.
"Snorkeling" alligators were spotted in a frozen lake at the Red Slough Wildlife Management Area in McCurtain County, Oklahoma in February, sparking locals to wonder about this curious sight. Officials at the wildlife refuge, managed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, the US Forest Service, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service have assured people this is quite normal behavior – and a clever survival technique.
During this time of year in America, alligators are in a process of brumation – similar to hibernation, but where they are aware. Because they are cold-blooded, they cannot regulate their own body temperature, so depend on the temperature around them. To deal with the cold, they lower their metabolism, allowing the 'gators to rest and go without food for months. However, if they get too cold they can die.
Some alligators will lay low in dens and burrows to brumate, but there is a danger of lakes freezing over and the alligators getting trapped. So instead, some swim to the surface and stick their snout out, ensuring a steady supply of oxygen when the surface freezes.
They can stay like this with their snoots sticking out from hours to days.
Breaking through the ice to create their air hole does not hurt the alligators' snouts as they are made of cartilage, which also means they don't get damaged being exposed to the freezing air.
Freezing conditions aren't unusual in Oklahoma, with around three months of the year hitting 0°C (32°F), so this sight isn't completely unexpected. Alligators have been spotted using this survival technique in North Carolina too. They can survive in frozen water like this for a few days but it's not ideal.
Although alligators are tough – they essentially haven't changed for millions of years – not all of the ones seen at the Red Slough Wildlife Management Area survived, according to Live Science. Though it's thought most of the adults lived, some of the younger ones perished, likely due to not being able to keep their body temperatures from plummeting.
Now that temperatures in Oklahoma are back up it's unlikely to see any more of these alligator popsicles, but it's a fascinating glimpse into animal adaptations and survival while it lasts.