The entire country is bracing for record-low temperatures this week as the winter solstice has come and gone. While most of the northern states have made it through the worst of their circumstances, some southern states are still waiting Winter Storm Elliott hit Temperatures in the Deep South will drop into the teenagers Thursday night, which could spell disaster for fish, reptiles and amphibians. In fact, such conditions are so bad for cold-blooded animals that they also pose a safety threat to humans: the National Weather Service of Miami issued a public warning for cold-stunned iguanas falling from trees in Florida in 2020 and 2021.
What should you do if an iguana falls from your tree? Well, because the species are non-native, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is tells us this is actually a good time to remove the pesky creatures. But no matter what, the FWC warns, never bring them into your home, as they can wreak quite a bit of havoc once discovered.
Other cold-blooded species have managed to find their survival skills in frigid weather over the years. Alligators are known to sink into the banks of rivers and ponds, where their body heat insulates the space around them. Sometimes they even stick their snout out of the water and let ice form around it. This allows them to breathe while they wait for the weather.
Frogs cling to the bottom of bodies of water to hibernate during the colder months. In particularly cold cases, their bodies freeze and they will even stop breathing. In this state, they rely on their liver to produce enough glucose to keep their organs from filling up with ice crystals. Up to 70 percent of the water in a frog’s body can freeze solid without the frog dying.
Unfortunately, other wildlife species are not as well developed or happy when it comes to cold weather. In March 2021, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials estimate that at least 3.8 million saltwater fish (mainly speckled trout and redfish) died in winter storm Uri. With inshore water temperatures dipping into the 40s in many of the shallow bays and back lakes, many of the fish couldn’t make it to deeper water fast enough.
Sea turtles suffered a similar fate during inevitable cold snaps. They are stunned by cold and cannot swim or save themselves in the face of predators. They usually wash up on beaches, where they have little chance to develop or be rescued.
These cold temperatures are coming soon to southern states endured record-setting heat at the beginning of December. Such large swings can mess with migrating wildlife and aquatic species that time their departure to warmer regions based on climate conditions. The late heat tricks them into staying longer in their summer range, putting them at risk of being in the wrong place when these extreme cold snaps set in. Weather extremes are just one example of how climate change is affecting wildlife around the world.
The situation is not much better for some warm-blooded marine mammals. Even though they are much better at regulating their temperature and adapting to their environment, some can still suffer from hypothermia. In 2010, 244 endangered manatees were killed in a chilling explosion in Florida waters.