The bizarre and totally scientific way that alligators breathe in icy water

Winter storms have battered the US this week, and many animals are...

Posted: Feb 19, 2021 12:02 PM

Winter storms have battered the US this week, and many animals are struggling in the cold.

The cold-blooded alligator, though, is getting through the week with an unusual method of survival.

This week, an employee at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation posted photos of alligators frozen in water. A grim scene, maybe -- if their snouts weren't sticking out.

It's called "icing," and it's how alligators breathe when submerged in freezing temperatures.

While they may look dead in photos, they're surviving -- and in the middle of a fight of their lives.

What is 'icing'?

The "icing" response is tied to brumation, which is basically the reptile version of a mammal's hibernation.

By lowering their metabolic rates, becoming lethargic and keeping their snouts above water, alligators are able to survive brief periods of freezing weather.

As cold-blooded reptiles, alligators rely on their external environments for temperature regulation, which means cold weather is not conducive to their survival.

David Arbour, with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, posted photos of alligators icing to his Facebook page.

"The gators won't freeze if the water stays liquid," he said in a comment. "Their snouts are just cartilage so freezing doesn't hurt their snouts ... They can still move and are aware of things."

Alligators aren't the only animals with unusual survival tactics

Animals are weathering the freezing temperatures in different ways.

Take the wood frog: In the winter, they are able to literally freeze solid -- without even a heart beat -- until it's safe to thaw themselves.

Red bats, on the other hand, leave their elevated roosts and hit the ground in freezing weather. They cover themselves with leaves like a blanket, comfortably camouflaged from predators.

Alligators may not be unique in their fight for survival, but you can definitely add this to the list of cool things they do.

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