The cold snap across South Carolina earlier this year is still devastating animals more than a month later.
Over the last month, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources has received about two dozen reports of dead alligators across the state, according to Andrew Grosse, alligator program biologist for the SCDNR.
The dead alligators, which have ranged from 4 to 10 feet long, have been spotted both near the coast and in more inland areas, Grosse said.
Two individuals who commented on an SCDNR Facebook post Wednesday said that they had spotted a dead alligator recently at the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area in Green Pond and in St. Stephen.
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“Freezing temperatures are not something alligators can handle generally,” Grosse said. “Some may be able to adapt to the cold, but in general that’s why their range is limited to these areas.”
Due to the timing of the deaths and the lack of visible signs of disease or other factors, the cold is the biologists “best guess” for a cause at this point, Grosse said.
The smell is usually a clear indicator of a dead alligator, as well as bloating, discoloration and floating upside down, according to Grosse.
SCDNR recommends that those who are unsure if an alligator is dead should err on the side of caution and not approach the reptile.
“We’re still trying to get a sense of how widespread this is and if this is something that might impact the population,” Grosse said. “...If you lose a lot of the big animals in a certain area that would have a much larger impact than if its the young ones, because then you wouldn’t have breeding adults in an area for a while.”
South Carolina is not the only state where dead gators have turned up recently.
On Sunday afternoon, a 5-foot “fat” alligator was found dead and floating in the Catawba River south of Charlotte, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Alligators aren’t native to Western North Carolina and the cause of death for the reptile is unknown.
Unlike the dead alligators in South Carolina, the wildlife biologists in North Carolina believe the gator may have been someone’s well-fed pet.
If you’ve seen a dead alligator over the past month, SCDNR is asking you to report your sighting—with location, date found, number of gators and a size estimate—to GrosseA@dnr.sc.gov.
How do gators usually survive the winter?
Alligators are cold-blooded, so they slow down when temperatures drop and devote their winters to staying as warm as possible during a process known as brumation.
During brumation, alligators are not in a deep sleep like mammals. Instead, they’re awake but try to exert as minimal energy as possible.
Most alligators retreat to burrows and dens under roads or in banks of ponds and lakes, many of them under water.
Once, the weather warms up alligators retreat from their hiding spaces and get ready for the mating season in the spring.