How Carolina alligators behave when their swamp is frozen over

A North Carolina “swamp park” has posted a video explaining how alligators survive in a frozen pond and it’s both creepy and bizarre. The cold-blooded devils essentially allow themselves to be frozen in place, with their noses just above the surfa
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A North Carolina “swamp park” has posted a video explaining how alligators survive in a frozen pond and it’s both creepy and bizarre. The cold-blooded devils essentially allow themselves to be frozen in place, with their noses just above the surfa

Untamed Lowcountry

Florida iguanas stunned. Elsewhere sharks froze. But how did SC animals survive the snow?

By Kelly Meyerhofer And Michael Olinger

January 06, 2018 04:05 PM

“Beware of the falling iguanas in south Florida,” a New York Times story began.

The country seemed captivated by the internet’s photos of frozen iguanas earlier this week.

The snow storm tracking up the East Coast caused many of the lizards to be stunned by the blast of arctic temperatures and fall from the trees in which they were perched.

But the cold probably didn’t kill the iguanas, scientists say. They can come back to life again when it warms up.

Those iguanas falling from trees in Florida? They probably aren’t dead

— NYT Science (@NYTScience) January 5, 2018

Meanwhile, off of Cape Cod, at least four sharks froze, the Boston Globe reported.

While iguanas aren’t native to South Carolina, and water temperatures likely weren’t cold enough to freeze sharks swimming in South Carolina’s waters, here’s how some other Lowcountry animals fared during the winter storm:


Most species native to South Carolina have adapted to the occasional cold spell.

“​Mammals tolerate cold weather pretty well,” S.C. Department of Natural Resources spokesman David Lucas said. “They hunker down, they burrow, in general, they tolerate it pretty well.​”

However, a dead manatee was discovered on a Hilton Head Island beach Thursday.

“We are assuming it suffered from hypothermia, but the necropsy will verify that,” said Amber Kuehn, volunteer coordinator for the S.C. Marine Mammal Stranding Network. “... It’s really uncommon.”


Alligators retreat to burrows and dens under roads or in the banks of ponds and lakes, many of them under water, according to Andrew Grosse, alligator program biologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

As temperatures cool, alligators’ metabolism slows and they begin a process known as brumation. This is different from hibernation, which occurs in mammals and involves a deep, seasonally induced sleep.

Brumation means that alligators are very much awake during winter. They’re just not doing anything. It only takes a few warm days, though, to shake them from their self-imposed stupor, Grosse said.

When temperatures get up into the 60s or 70s and stay there for a few days, something not that uncommon during Lowcountry winters, gators will emerge from their burrows and dens to bask in the sun and gather warmth.

Other reptiles, amphibians

Cold-blooded animals, which don’t have the ability to produce their own heat, slow down in the winter and must warm up by sitting in the sun.

Frogs and other amphibians can survive sub-freezing temperatures.

Turtles may spend winters in ponds that haven’t frozen over, while some move beneath the ice.

“We have thankfully not had any reports of cold stunned turtles thus far from the winter storm, but our biologists are concerned about impacts of the cold water temps and will be closely monitoring a number of species as soon as we’re able to get back on the water next week,” Erin Weeks, a spokeswoman for the Marine Resources Division of SCDNR, wrote in an email Saturday.

The relatively colder days leading up to the snow may have helped in driving reptiles and amphibians into hibernation activity already, according to Will Dillman a SCDNR herpetologist.

The majority of the Lowcountry’s reptiles and amphibians likely sought refuge in log piles, stump holes and underground or covered shelters.

A few animals, however, may not have been so lucky.

“Some may have gone out to bask in the sun and did not get into an appropriate refuge, so they certainly may have experienced lethal conditions,” Dillman said.

Of those that survived Beaufort County’s biggest snow storm since 1989, he said to expect the cold-blooded creatures to start moving around again in March.

Palmetto Bugs

Winter cold tends to kill adult palmetto bugs outright says Eric Benson, professor of urban and medical entomology at Clemson.

They certainly weren’t helped by the Lowcountry’s extreme cold snap.

As for younger palmetto bugs, when things cool down they seek shelter wherever they can, according to Benson. That can include piles of leaves, mulch, holes in trees and, if possible, your home.

“If a Palmetto bug, which is basically just a cockroach, if they’re against a structure and they have a choice between being out in the mulch or finding that crack or crevice that lets them wriggle into the structure, they’ll often go into the structure,” said Benson.

Once they’re inside they remain inactive during the winter months, so you are unlikely to see them, but once things warm up in the spring they begin to make their presence known. Fall and spring are the times when Benson recieves the most calls about palmetto bugs as they move into and then out of homes.

Unlike most creatures on this list, however, few are likely interested in saving a freezing palmetto bug. If you think you have an infestation, Benson recommends using roach baits, roach sprays or boric acid power to get rid of them.

Kelly Meyerhofer: 843-706-8136, @KellyMeyerhofer

Michael Olinger: 843-706-8107, @mikejolinger

Do you see an animal in need?

Contact SCDNR’s wildlife hotline at SCDNR wildlife hotline at 1-800-922-5431.