Precautions needed for alligators in southeast Oklahoma, even in winter

While the toothy reptiles slow down during cold weather, Oklahomans should still be cautious of them, officials say.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: October 18, 2010

As colder temperatures move into Oklahoma, alligators and other reptiles begin to slow down.

Alligators are found in the far southeast corner of Oklahoma, said Micah Holmes, spokesman for the state Department of Wildlife Conservation. They are sometimes spotted in McCurtain County and occasionally seen in Choctaw, Pushmataha and Le Flore counties.

Oklahoma alligators represent the farthest northwest habitat where American alligators can survive, Holmes said.

"They just don't make it during the winter because they can't survive the cold," he said.

During the winter, alligators go into a type of dormancy called torpor, said Jorge Chavez, supervisor of the herpetarium at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

At the zoo, alligators are offered food all winter, but eventually they stop eating in the coldest part of winter, he said. They eat again when temperatures rise.

Although they have access to a heated pool indoors, most alligators at the zoo prefer to stay outside all year, he said.

In the wild, alligators move less but still are potentially dangerous, Holmes said. Approaching or taunting an alligator is a bad idea, even in cold weather.

"You should treat it the same way you would in July," he said. "Observe it from a distance. It's nothing to be scared of, but just use common sense."

Holmes said any alligator spotted beyond its natural habitat should be reported immediately to wildlife officials.

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