Monday, December 20, 2010

The Icing Response In Alligators

Just trying to survive here ...

Icing on the Lake.
(subtlepunnicity ... I slay me)

My mistake last Wednesday, was the assumption that the gators at Payne's Prairie would be up basking on the banks due to the very cold weather. They were not.

In fact, they were all but invisible.

Temps had dropped below freezing that night and were still around 35 when I arrived at the preserve.

The spate of cold weather that week made the physical act of crawling out to bask in the sun not only a tougher physical challenge, but a poor survival choice for smaller gators, since the water was warmer than the air.

I observed about 4 gators in the 3 hours I spent roaming the prairie that day. Two were "icing", one was water basking, and one huge black gator had actually hauled itself out to sun.

Here's a little bit about "ICING" from one of Florida's best public treasures, The Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville ...

"Adult alligators can survive freezing conditions if they are in water. They submerge their body but keep their nostrils projecting above the water surface, so that when the surface freezes they can still breathe (called the "icing response"). Essentially their upper body becomes trapped in the ice. " (Credit: Florida Museum Of Natural History)

So an icing gator like this is not "... a lazy gator".
He's actually working real hard at getting through a life threatening event... i.e., a North Florida winter. He probably has not eaten for weeks, since gators generally stop eating below 70 degrees.

On my hike back to the Preserve entrance, with a noonday sun beating down, a pair of gators at the Alachua sink were exposing a little more skin to the air. Nobody was moving though.
The gator above has been floating long enough for his skin to dry out (the grey).

He remained immobile like that while a duck and an egret hunted (seemingly cooperatively ... more on that later) directly in front of him.
Eating was not an option for the gator. Heat absorption was the priority.

This gator was nowhere to be seen when I walked by on the way out to the prairie at around 0900 hours.
I took this picture at noon. For him, soaking up heat on the bank is a good gamble. His large size and dark color will allow him to absorb and store lots of solar energy before dusk brings another freezing night.

Another freezing night, another challenge for a critter with a survival tool box labeled, "Instinctive Behaviors".

You can collect a lot of tools in 200,000,000 years.
The "Icing Response" is just one of them.


robin andrea said...

This is great, fc. I've never heard of the "icing response" and here it is with excellent photographic evidence. I love survival tools like this.

Troll said...

I'd never heard of this either.

Gators are dumb critters but they do a lot of smart things in terms of survival.

Sandcastle Momma said...

You learn something new every day.
I've been up on the Choctawhatchee River when it was freezing before and wondered why the gators weren't basking in the sun like they do on normally cold days.
Now I know.

Sayre said...

I've grown up around gators since I was little - but I didn't know this. Perhaps we are just enough farther north (and I don't venture much into gator-land when it's really cold) that I've never seen this.

Aunty Belle said...


Gator population is hefty--mercy.

Uncle loved the photos of the RT Hawk, I liked seein' how to protect our tangerine tree--next time, an' ain't'cha writin' awfully fast? I cain't keep up. Gotta have a talk with the Queen--send you on elf errands or somethin' so yore readers can keep up.

Carol said...

Good post...havn't had my "gator fix" in a couple of months.

Island Rider said...

How cool. Literally.

Floridacracker said...

Me too. I love the way wildlife on the edge of their range deal with extremes.

They've had a lot of time to hone their skills.

Easy to miss em when all they are poking up is a pair of nostrils!

These guys go all the way up to NC so they must be pretty good at surviving cold.

I am off work and my brain is free of educational bureaucracy and lesson planning.
I'm playing as hard as I can while the playing is good.
Tell Uncle, I am glad he liked that hawk shot.

Seriously ... me either. Feast or famine with gators this year. I probably should have posted this over at my gator site, but I had not had any gator shots here for so long.

Cathy S,
Truly. Tres froid.

Miz S said...

Wow. I feel kinda sorry for the gators. And I learned something new. And I snickered at your subtlepunnicity. All in all, a satisfying foray into Pure Florida.

Floridacracker said...

Miz S,
Foray away my dear.
Miz S always welcome here.