The normally choppy waters of Bluff Lake were frozen Tuesday morning as Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge Manager Henry Sansing took a stroll along a recently completed pier and gazed through the icy patchwork of trees and downed branches.
A small area in the center of the 1,200-acre lake was thawed and the nearby spillways flowed freely, but most of the surface was covered by a thin layer of ice.
Temperatures Tuesday climbed into the low 40s, which caused the ice to creak, crack and slowly melt, but the recent cold snap has wildlife officials concerned about the 70-75 adult alligators and their offspring who populate Bluff Lake and the surrounding waterways. Bluff Lake, its tributaries and Lake Loakfoma are located in the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Alligators, which are warm-weather creatures, live throughout the 48,000-acre refuge.
A “freeze-over” of Bluff Lake in 2001 resulted in the deaths of at least 15 adult alligators, said ranger Andrea Dunstan, including one named “Big Al,” who measured 12 feet, 8 inches in length. During the winter, alligators go into a sort of hibernation called “torpor,” which causes their metabolism and body temperatures to decrease, Dunstan said.
“They don’t die specifically from this,” Dunstan said of the cold weather and frozen lake surface. “It can get so cold that even their immune systems shut down and, at that point, if they have any bacteria, the bacteria keeps growing and they end up with these respiratory infections that could kill them when they come out of torpor.”
Read full story HERE.