‘Cute little danger snorkels’: How alligators have adapted to survive in ice

Footage showing American alligators seemingly frozen under solid sheets of ice in eastern North Carolina have captivated some social media users, and raised the question; are the animals alive or dead?

The images show the reptiles with their snouts and mouths poking up above the ice layers. The rest of their bodies can be seen lying or floating perfectly still in the freezing water below.

Thankfully for the alligators, the footage is a rare glimpse at an adaptation the reptiles have developed to survive the cold.

"The key to life is adaptation, who better to show this than the American Alligator," the Swamp Park & Outdoor Center said in a post on Facebook.

The Swamp Park & Outdoor Centre is a tourist destination that features alligators living in their natural habitats.

“Their pond that they live in has frozen,” the park's manager, George Howard, said in a Facebook post. “Thick enough for these guys to do what they do, which is stick their nose up out of the ice so that they can breathe, and suspend themselves in the water.”

An employee at the park explained in a video that the alligators “will instinctively tilt their nose up, to the point where it’s out of the water, so they don’t just suffocate."

The employee described the survival instinct as a "cute little danger snorkel."

The action is an extreme type of burmation, which is a reptilian version of winter hibernation according to the News & Observer. The alligators will wake up, drink, and bathe in the sun once the temperatures increase.

North Carolina is the northernmost US state with natural alligator habitation.

On the day the video at Swamp Park was filmed, the temperature in the region was 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

Two days later, the park shared a photo of the now-thawed alligators, assuring worried commenters that the reptiles were fine.

“For those that may have been concerned about the alligators in ice, I assure you, they are just fine,” the park said in the post.

Social media users were fascinated by the footage. Some dared the Swamp Park's staff to "boop the snoot" — touch the nose — of the alligators to see if they react.

A staffer recorded a video doing so, but he did not wait around to see if the gator would respond to his presence.

“Don’t do this at home,” the staffer said in the video. “Never in my life did I think I’d do that.”