A viral video of alligators frozen in an icy pond at North Carolina’s Shallotte River Swamp Park has been the talk of social media, with many people wondering whether coldblooded crocodilians can survive in brutally cold temperatures.
The video shows several alligator snouts sticking out of the park’s frozen pond – a deep freeze caused by a cold front that covered most of the Eastern United States last week.
George Howard, the park’s general manager, told HuffPost that while the frozen alligators in the video appear to be casualties of Old Man Winter, they’re very much alive and well. Alligators, he explained, don’t like subfreezing temperatures any more than warmblooded humans, and when faced with such extremes they go into survival mode.
“They can sense temperature changes and will stick their noses out of the water to breathe,” Howard said. “It just so happened southeastern North Carolina recently had a freeze like none other, so the ice literally froze right around their snouts.”
With their bodies on ice, alligators go into a state of dormancy called torpor in which their metabolism slows considerably. But unlike mammals that hibernate, gators don’t go into a deep sleep.
“In that state, they are still alive, still moving, but very lethargic,” Howard said, describing torpor.
If the alligators didn’t keep their snouts above the water surface, they’d perish in about 24 hours ― the maximum amount of time they can stay underwater without coming up for air.
Despite this ingenious survival instinct, Howard said gators can’t stay in icy water indefinitely.
“Obviously, that is not optimal, being frozen like that,” he said. “I can’t imagine it being very good for them if it was much over a week in cold water. That’s why you don’t see indigenous alligators north of North Carolina. Their bodies like the warmth.”
But fear not, animal lovers. The alligators at Shallotte River Swamp Park are out of danger. Temperatures at the park have warmed up lately, freeing the gators from the icy pond.
“It’s 65 degrees here today and the waters have melted,” Howard said Tuesday. “They’re out and doing their happy dance.”
Now you know. See ya later, alligator!