Alligators are resorting to a unique behavioral adaptation to survive the freezing temperatures that have rocked America these last few weeks.
As rivers and lakes freeze over in areas that don’t normally see such frigid temperatures, the American alligator is resorting to an old standby method of survival: sticking their noses through the ice so they can breathe as it covers their watery homes.
Alligators normally hibernate through the winter months similar to other forest creatures. Called “brumation” in reptiles, the process is fairly similar: as the temperatures drop, the alligator slows its metabolism, lowers its body temperature, and drops into a sort of slumber.
While mammals will still periodically wake up to eat, alligators go completely without food during their months of hibernation. They do however still need to drink and breathe, so if the water ices over they can be in serious trouble.
To prevent themselves from drowning, alligators stick their snouts out of the water as the ice encloses around it. This gives them a breathing hole so they don’t suffocate.
A video from the Shallotte River Swamp Park in North Carolina shows this unique adaptation in action. Or inaction. There’s not really a lot of action when it comes to half-frozen alligators.
Survival machines! The American Alligator in ice.
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#natgeo Brunswick County, North Carolina
Speaking to Live Science, James Perran Ross, a retired associate scientist of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida said, “It’s an interesting behavior because it’s opposite of what most crocodilians do. The normal response of most other crocs when it gets really cold is to come out of the water and try to bask to get warm again.”
That’s a bad idea if you’re an alligator, says Ross, as normally the water is far warmer than the air above it. If the alligator were to get out of the water they’d freeze to death almost immediately.
There’s quite a few bizarre happenings in the United States thanks to the extremely cold temperatures. In Florida, iguanas are falling out of trees frozen stuff, while in Massachusetts sharks are freezing to death and washing up on the ice.
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