Watch Alligator Use Snout as Snorkel to Survive Freezing Temperatures in North Carolina

Air-breathing alligators and their relatives spend lots of time in water, but can find themselves stuck in a pond when the water freezes over and they can’t come up for air. But alligators are survivors, and they have figured out an easy way to keep breathing, even as the the pond they're in freezes over.

As the ice closes on on alligators, they stick their nose out through the surface. Then they’re stuck, immobile, but at least they can breathe through their makeshift snorkels until the frigid weather returns to normal.

The bomb cyclone, which hit the East Coast this week, brought freezing temperatures, ground thousands of flights and coated nearly the entire East Coast in a blanket of snow. It also was cold enough to freeze over ponds in typically-warm areas. At the Shallotte River Swamp Park in North Carolina, visitors saw several alligator snouts poking up through the glassy surface. The company webpage posted video of their frozen pond on YouTube and Facebook:

The deep freeze also affected other cold-blooded animals, like sharks, sea turtles and iguanas. Sharks suffered from “cold shock,” rendering them unable to swim. So far this winter people have found four frozen thresher sharks washed up dead on beaches in Cape Cod. Turtles also became stunned from the cold, but rescuers at the Fish and Wildlife Service, SeaWorld, and other institutions collected the turtles, warmed them up, and prepared them for release. In Florida, nearly 200 cold-stunned turtles appeared on beaches and had to be rescued. Iguanas in Florida, not used to the temperatures, got too cold to move and fell out of trees.

Alligators, like the iguanas, turtles, and sharks, are cold-blooded, meaning that they need warmth to be active and can't produce their own heat. In the cold, they become sluggish or even inactive, their body processes like heartbeat and breathing slow down, and they don't burn as many calories.

alligatornose Shallotte River Swamp Park

Cold-blooded animals like to bask in the sun because they don’t produce their own heat. While this is sometimes a disadvantage—they can become too cold to function, to chase prey or evade predators—it can also be an advantage. As the gators are stuck in their frozen ponds, they don’t need to worry as much about eating. They don’t use their dinner to convert calories into heat, so every meal keeps them fueled longer. Then, when the sun comes out and melts the ice, the alligators will be able to move again—and refill their bellies.