Alligators aren’t meant to survive winter temperatures, but what happens when they’re faced with such extreme conditions? They freeze, of course.
For the second year in a row, a cold snap blowing through the 65-acre Shallotte River Swamp Park in North Carolina forced the preserve’s 18 rescued gators to partake in some super odd behavior. What at first appeared to be teeth-baring Cypress trees poking through the ice was later revealed to be an adapted survival trait.
“I was like, holy crap, should I try to get them out of there?” swamp manager George Howard told The Washington Post at the time.
The survival mechanism first captured the attention of the Internet around this time last year, when a similar video shared to YouTube showed the living alligator “graveyard”.
“They poke their noses up and are able to breathe and be perfectly fine. [T]hey’re doing this as a mechanism so that if it freezes over, they can still breath," Howard explained to a local news outlet. "[It's] just an absolute amazing survival technique and these guys were built tough millions of years ago and they remain tough today.”
Torpor is a normal process that helps reptiles survive winter conditions through a “state of lowered body temperature and metabolic activity assumed by many species in response to adverse environmental conditions, especially cold and heat,” according to The Swamp Park in a Facebook post. When temperatures plunge, the gators dip most of their 227-kilogram (500-pound) bodies under water, leaving just their snout in the air in anticipation of the freeze. This small hole allows them to breathe, while ice sticks to the side of their snouts and holds them in a state of suspension as their bodies dangle below the surface.
Since reptiles are cold-blooded, their blood turns cold when temperatures drop, subsequently putting them in an immobile state that's reversible. A paper written in the 1980s suggests that large American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) during extremely cold conditions can endure body temperatures as low as 5°C (41°F) – but it’s all temporary. When temperatures rise, alligators and other reptiles are once again able to thermoregulate their body temperatures.
[H/T: Washington Post]