Members of a residential community in Hanahan, South Carolina, spotted an unusual sight near one of the retention ponds — an alligator with skin tinted an orange hue. Estiᴍᴀᴛᴇd to be 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) long, the apricot alligator was nicknamed “Trumpigator” by its human neighbors, local television newscast WCBD News 2 reported.
The carrot-colored crocodilian is most likely an American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) — the only crocodilian native to South Carolina — which can live to be more than 60 years old and reach lengths of up to 13 feet (4 m), according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).
Residents living near the pond in Hanahan say they’ve seen the orange or rust-colored alligator a number of times on the banks of a retention pond at the Tanner Plantation neighborhood.
Several Facebook commenters joked that the alligator must be a fan of the Tigers football team at Clemson University, South Carolina, which has an orange logo and uniforms.
What might have turned this alligator the unexpected hue? One explanation might be rust, iron oxide, from a steel culvert where the alligator was hiding out during the winter, an SCDNR representative tweeted.
An environmental factor like algae or a pollutant in the water could also color a gator’s skin, but it’s difficult to know for sure, Josh Zalabak, a herpetologist with the South Carolina Aquarium, told WCBD News 2. If the discoloration is only skin-deep, it should disappear in a few weeks, when the alligator sʜᴇᴅs its skin, WCBD News 2 reported.
While rusty reptiles are rare, this isn’t the first time someone has spied an alligator resembling an escaᴘᴇᴇ from a Cheetos factory.
In 2011, news of an orange alligator photographed in Venice, Florida, prompted speculation about whether the beast’s appearance represented a dramatic dye job or “evolution in action,” biologist David Steen wrote in a blog post that year.
Steen, an assistant research professor at the Auʙᴜʀɴ University Museum of Natural History in Alabama, noted that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission weighed in quickly to explain that the peculiar color was probably caused by something in the water. In fact, Steen had observed this phenomenon firsthand, in turtles he ᴄᴀᴘᴛᴜʀᴇᴅ years earlier in Nᴇᴡ Yᴏʀᴋ State, he said.
“I would occasionally visit ponds with water stained from naturally occurring sediment. As you might expect, the turtles I caught in these ponds were colored differently from those I caught elsewhere,” Steen wrote.
As tempting as it might be to venture closer to a strangely colored gator to snap a photo, wildlife officials warn that people need to exercise caution around these large ᴘʀᴇᴅᴀᴛᴏʀs, and maintain a safe distance. About 60 feet (18 m) is recommended by the Savannah River Ecology Lab (SREL) at the University of Georgia, in a post about alligator safety.
“Please remember that they are wild animals and should be respected as such,” J. Whitfield Gibbons, director of outreach for SREL, said in the statement. “A few precautions on our part can help both humans and alligators coexist safely.”