Alligators are cold-blooded animals, which means they have to rely on their environment to help regulate their temperature. South Carolina winters might not feature snow and ice but they can get cold. With such cold temperatures, alligators don’t have the heat they need from their environment. Warm-blooded animals hibernate during the winter. But how do alligators survive the winter in South Carolina?

Brumation vs Hibernation

Cold-blooded animals don’t hibernate like warm-blooded animals. Instead, they bromate. Brumation is very similar to hibernation in several ways but is still different. Brumation and hibernation are both dormant-like states that the animal goes into where metabolic and physiological processes slow way down to conserve energy. When warm-blooded animals like bears hibernate, they go into a deep sleep and don’t eat or drink and don’t emerge until spring. When cold-blooded animals bromate, they do not go into a deep sleep. They don’t eat but they do drink water to avoid dehydration. On particularly warm days, cold-blooded animals will often have periods of activity where they bask in the sun to absorb the warmth of the sun’s rays, even during brumation. So, it is possible to see alligators and other reptiles sunning themselves during brumation season.

Brumation and hibernation both last four to five months, starting in November and lasting until March. During brumation, alligators create mud holes for shelter and warmth and typically only emerge on warm days to bask in the sun. This is different from a bear, for example, who will remain in their hibernation den until they emerge in March. Once the night comes or the weather turns cold, the alligators return to their mud holes to conserve the warmth they gained from sunning themselves. Other reptiles and amphibians that bromate include turtles, snakes, lizards, frogs and salamanders.


Why Reptiles Bromate

There are several reasons why alligators and other cold-blooded animals will bromate. Firstly, there tends to be a lack of adequate food during the winter months to maintain the animal’s normal metabolism. Secondly, the temperatures outside are too cold for them to survive since they derive their body heat from their environment. Lastly, the cold slows them down, making it a challenge for them to heal from injuries, fight off infections or escape predators. Brumation helps them conserve energy so they can survive the cold temperatures and other factors of the winter season.

Even though our winters are relatively mild here in South Carolina, alligators and other reptiles do bromate here. The cooler temperatures combined with the scarcity of food during winter months are significant enough here to require these animals to bromate. So, that is how alligators survive the winter in South Carolina!