Alligators do not hibernate. They go through a period of dormancy when the temperatures drop. This dormancy is not hibernation, but scientists refer to it as brumation.
Alligators, like crocodiles and other cold-blooded reptiles, cannot regulate their body temperature. As such, they have to find a way to survive the winter. What they do is to stay submerged underwater and poke their noses out.
What is Alligator Brumation?
Alligator brumation is like hibernation in the sense that the animal goes through a period of dormancy. In this state, however, the alligator does not sleep. It will still come out and bask under the sun if the temperatures are forgiving.
Alligators love the water. Unfortunately, some areas, especially in the US, freeze during winter. Alligators typically live in freshwater and slow-moving rivers. They also love to live in swamps and lakes.
In areas where the water freezes, the alligator stays underwater and sticks its snout out. Over time, the water begins to freeze. The alligator now has its snout above the ice so that it can breathe.
The rest of its body is underwater. That part of the habitat does not freeze. In this scenario, the water has a higher temperature than the surface. As such, the alligator can still sustain an ideal body temperature despite being submerged.
During brumation, the alligator slows down its metabolic rate. As a result, the heart rate also slows down. What the alligator is trying to do is reduce its consumption of energy. At this time, the alligator will not eat for several months.
In areas with no freezing water, the alligator would create mud holes. It will dig a burrow and stay there until the winter is over. Then, if the conditions are great, it will come out ad bask under the sun.
At What Temperature do Alligators Hibernate?
Alligators are active in temperatures above 40 degrees. Once the temperature drops below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, they stop feeding. Once the temperature is at 55 degrees, they become dormant.
On average, brumation begins when the temperature goes below 40 degrees.
Are Alligators Active During Winter?
Some alligators remain active during winter if the sun is out and the water temperature remains above freezing. If alligators have a burrow, they stay tucked away during the night but will come out if the temperatures are warm enough during the day.
At night, however, the alligator comes back to its brumation. Now, not all alligators burrow. Some stay underwater even if the to freezes. In this case, the alligator remains inactive during the winter.
What many alligators do is stay submerged at the bottom of the water. Alligators can hold their breath underwater for an hour. Then, they float from time to time to breathe.
Alligators are not active in the winter. Some people may see them move and go about, but only when the sun is up. The alligator basks to get enough heat, but it is not seeking prey to eat.
Can Alligators Freeze and Come Back to Life?
Alligators can not freeze and come back to life. This is a myth that developed because alligators can sometimes be seen in frozen water.
Freezing damages cells. The water in the body expands when it freezes. And since it does, the water can make a container burst. As such, it will damage organs and tissues. It is what happens in frostbite.
Some animals, however, can survive freezing temperatures. These animals have “anti-freeze” molecules in their blood. As a result, it can be partially frozen but will live. Examples of these animals are wood frogs, turtle hatchlings, microscopic water bears, and beetles.
How Long Can Alligators Go Without Food?
Alligators can last up to three years without food, so getting through the winter months when food is scarce is not a problem. The main concern of the alligator is how to keep itself warm.
Alligators have an open menu. It is one of the reasons they can survive in any kind of environment. While they are carnivores, they would eat anything. In parks, people even threw marshmallows at them, and they would eat the stuff.
Alligators also eat fruits, but they love to eat fish, turtles, snakes, mammals, and other reptiles. They eat a lot, and they mainly use the food for body repair, growth, and reproduction.
Despite being voracious eaters, alligators do not need to eat often. But when they do, they feast on what is available.
Do Alligators Migrate?
Alligators do not migrate, they brumate to handle the colder winter temperatures. Alligators may move from one place to another to explore their habitat or to find somewhere more suitable for them.
In the study, all alligators showed high site fidelity. It means they did not move. However, some move not to migrate but to explore their habitat. In their observation, scientists remarked that two alligators stayed in the upper stream zone of the study area.
One alligator moved from freshwater marsh to the estuary where the study began. Despite this movement, it still stayed in the upstream area.
Two alligators travelled downstream and moved into more saline waters. It showed the scientists that these alligators had enormous tolerance to saline water. Overall, they concluded that the movements depended on salinity, temperature, and the seasons.
In reserve parks and most wildlife environments, the alligators do not move. It is why they become things of interest once the water freezes. They stay submerged with their snouts above the frozen water.
Some people do not understand that alligators must stay underwater to survive. Even this guy attempted to get an alligator out of the ice. The good thing was he did a Google search and realized that if he had rescued the gator, it would have died.
Summary: Do Alligators Hibernate?
Alligators do not hibernate. Hibernation is an inactive state for endotherms or animals that can regulate their body temperature. Instead, alligators go through a process of brumation.
Brumation is a dormant state that helps the alligator conserve energy. As a result, the alligator slows down its metabolism. In freezing areas, alligators do this in the water. The brumation can last up to five months, depending on the winter.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.