How To Survive the Big Freeze

Become a reptile. Yes reptiles can withstand being frozen solid. For a time. Other options include sleeping and migrating South.

There are many insects and amphibians which can tolerate being trapped in ice for prolonged periods. Their internal organs naturally producing glycerol and other cryoprotectants. Anti freeze to you and I.

Reptiles, at least some from more temperate climes, can also survive being frozen for short periods. So long as the initial freezing happens gradually, is not too prolonged and the thawing out is also gradual, it seems they can withstand icy conditions better than many mammals and certainly humans.

Frozen conditions across the country don’t spell doom for reptiles.

A study on garter snakes in America suggest that adult snakes in particular, with a greater body mass, can cope with up to 34% of their internal fluids being frozen. Again, the natural production of chemicals in the blood and organs helps prevent damage to the inner workings of the animal.

Common Lizard are able to tolerate being frozen.

Juvenile animals, with less body mass, are less able to withstand these lower extremes in temperature. They need to be in more insulated surrounding when finding places to shelter for the Winter. Often though, many will be caught out by sudden falls in temperature such as we’ve had this last week. We can only hope their super sensitive powers have helped them descend deep under cover to escape the beast from the East.

I’ve witnessed the survival of a freezing event in the efts of palmate and smooth newts. Years ago when I only had one pond in the garden, I translocated as many newts as possible from the pond to a large aquarium. This was so I could then deal with the burgeoning dragon fly larva population. These I relocated to the Tanfield marshes. Once balance was restored I put the newts back, leaving a couple of pairs of each species for observation and entertainment, in the aquarium. This sat on a large wooden table on the decking in the garden. As Autumn approached I removed the adult newts and plants back into the pond. Leaving only some water and some pond invertebrates in the aquarium. During the Winter, a particularly harsh one, the water froze solid in the aquarium. Several months later when it had thawed and I could be bothered to go outside again, I witnessed several healthy looking baby newt tadpoles swimming in the water. I was astonished to say the least.

Newt efts after being frozen for several weeks.

I’ve known colleagues who have photographed common lizard, found under corrugated Onduline sheets, frozen stiff and lifeless in appearance. Their only protection from the cold, a rubber layer with some moss and grass on top. It seems these already incredible animals can still offer fresh surprises in their adaptation the world in which they live.

So remember you can offer some habitat help in your own gardens for reptiles. Log and stone piles. Through some thick layers of vegetation over these for extra insulation. Do your bit.