Untamed Lowcountry

2 orange alligators spotted in Bluffton. What’s causing them to change colors?

Is orange the new green? Alligators are showing up in unusual colors

If the sight of an alligator isn't scary enough, they're showing up in shades of orange all over South Carolina. What makes these reptiles change color?
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If the sight of an alligator isn't scary enough, they're showing up in shades of orange all over South Carolina. What makes these reptiles change color?

Two orange alligators that look like they took a bath in some bad self-tanner are raising eyebrows in the Lowcountry again.

Exactly two years after a Cheetos-colored alligator from the Charleston area made headlines all over the world, a Bluffton man spotted two of the reptiles sunbathing next to a neighborhood pond Sunday.

Chad Godwin told The Island Packet he spotted the two carrot-colored alligators, which are approximately 4- to 5-feet long, in a Cypress Ridge pond this week.

Usually Lowcountry gators only make headlines when they’re incredibly large or when they’ve done something strange (such as the one that rang a doorbell, the one that fell asleep on the porch or the one that ate Thanksgiving dinner).

But these ginger gators are turning heads all over the internet.

Commenters on social media, of course, have many theories for what’s giving the gator sweet potato skin.

Some say the gators are supporting President Donald J. Trump. Some say the alligators are fans of the National Championship-winning Clemson Tigers. Some even have worried that the alligators are a sign of pollution.

But experts at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources have a more simple answer for the brightly colored swamp creatures.

“It’s likely due to alligators hibernating somewhere near rust, like by an old drainage pipe,” David Lucas, spokesperson for SCDNR, told The Packet. “It’s like if you stuck your hand in a bucket of rusty water where metal had been sitting for a while.”

In a photo provided by Stephen Tatum, an orange alligator is seen near a pond in Hanahan, S.C. Photos show the 4- to 5-foot-long alligator on the banks of a retention pond at the Tanner Plantation neighborhood. Jay Butfiloski with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources says the color may come from where the animal spent the winter, perhaps in a rusty steel culvert pipe. Experts say the alligator will shed its skin and probably return to a normal shade soon. Stephen Tatum via AP

DNR has not seen an “uptick” in rusty reptiles over the past couple years, and it’s “unlikely” the coloration is a sign of pollution in the water, Lucas said.

He also said it’s not really a coincidence that the orange gators are being spotted around this time of year.

“February is typically when we start seeing alligators come out of hibernation for the first time,” Lucas said. “They’re not fully out of hibernation yet, but once they get away from the source of rust, the coloring will go back to normal.”

South Carolina isn’t the only state seeing the mysterious gators. A burnt orange alligator was spotted this week at a golf course in Dublin, Ga., according to a video posted on Facebook.

South Carolina alligators move more in the springtime as they make their way into warmer waters after hibernating during the winter, and their movement patterns change as it gets closer to mating season, according to DNR.

DNR officials urge the public to keep its distance from alligators and never to feed them. Though alligator attacks are exceedingly rare, a Hilton Head Island woman was killed by an alligator while walking her dog near a pond in August.

Mandy Matney is an award-winning journalist and self-proclaimed shark enthusiast from Kansas. She worked for newspapers in Missouri and Illinois before she realized Midwestern winters are horrible, then moved to Hilton Head in 2016. She is the breaking news editor at the Island Packet.