Online videos showing what appear to be dead alligators in frozen ponds in North Carolina and Texas have captured massive audiences.
Employees at the gator rescue parks where the videos were recorded say the rarely witnessed behavior is a survival instinct displayed by the cold-blooded reptiles, which are actually alive and well.
George Howard, the general manager of The Swamp Park in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, said Wednesday that what viewers are seeing on social media is the reptilian behavior known as brumation.
Alligators rely on their environment for temperature regulation, according to the South Carolina Aquarium. During brumation, alligators' metabolic rates slow down, and they become lethargic, with periods of activity, according to the aquarium.
The Swamp Park posted pictures of alligators with their snouts sticking out of ice during brumation.
“They’re putting their snouts up so when the water freezes they’re able to breathe,” Howard said. “It’s the reptiles’ version of hibernation. … Their metabolism slows down so they can get through the times they’re unable to eat because of the cold.”
Howard said the general public doesn’t usually get to see alligators in such a state. He recalled that the first time he saw an alligator brumating, in 2018, he was in “disbelief.”
“I honestly thought there was something wrong. I myself had to learn more about what it is that they do … and how they have this ability to improvise, adapt and overcome. Initially my reaction was 'crazy.'”
In a TikTok video posted by Howard’s colleague at The Swamp Park, which had garnered 1.7 million likes as of Wednesday afternoon, the employee said he was happy to report that alligators were “frozen solid.”
“We literally have gatorcicles right now,” the employee said. “They’re taking a break from being sassy and are just conserving energy.” In another part of the video, the employee “booped” an alligator on its nose.
“Don’t do this at home,” he advised. “I did it. Never in my life did I think I would do that.”
Howard said the 12 rescue alligators at The Swamp Park are about 2 to 11 feet long. They were pets that can’t return to their natural habitat because they are too comfortable around people and pose a threat to humans.
Eddie Hanhart, an intern coordinator at Gator Country Adventure Park in Beaumont, Texas, said there are about 550 rescue gators at the 15-acre park.
The park’s two biggest attractions are alligators named Big Tex and Big Al. The gigantic gators measure more than 13 feet long and tilt the scales at over 1,000 pounds. Big Al is 92 years old, Hanhart said.
“We bundle up, but this is what the American alligator does. See, he knew it was going to freeze last night, so what he does is he went and found him a nice, comfy spot, stuck its nose out of the water, and let the ice freeze around its nose,” Hanhart said in the video. “He is not dead. He is fully alive.”
The video had garnered more than 637,000 likes as of Wednesday afternoon.
Hanhart said the educational values the online videos are providing can’t be measured.
“It’s amazing the attraction these videos are bringing to this animal,” he said. “I love the fact that it’s teaching everybody.”