'Trumpagator' Sighting: Orange Alligator Surfaces in South Carolina

The Cheetos-hued alligator, nicknamed after the U.S. president on social media, has animal experts suggesting one of three possible scenarios behind its color.

An orange-colored alligator, which admirers on social media have nicknamed "Trumpagator," surfaced this week from the retention ponds at Tanner Plantation in Hanahan, South Carolina.

Animals experts confirm that alligators are not born with such a distinctive Cheetos hue, but they suspect that one of three possible reasons could help to explain the four-to five-foot-long alligator's unique coloration.

Peter Critchlow, park manager at Alligator Sanctuary in Michigan, told Seeker, "For three to four months out of every year, alligators go into a hibernation-like state called brumation. During this time they tend to do a lot of digging into mud, covering themselves and being more dormant."

"The orange color," he continued, "could be due to iron oxide from clay or mud. Another way to put it is that the alligator might have gotten into rusty mud."

He said that alligators are also attracted to culverts, which are drains or channels that direct the movement of water. Like cats feeling comfortable while curling up into a box, alligators seem to gravitate toward tight enclosures like drainage pipes.

"In undeveloped areas, alligators will naturally go into caves, so culverts must seem like a nice, safe cave to them," Critchlow explained.

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If made from metal, these drainpipes can rust, particularly on the inside. An alligator that jammed itself into one could therefore come out completely covered in muddy rust.

Herpetologist Josh Zalabak thinks there is another possible source for the bright orange coloration.

"Algae - maybe some pollutant in the water, but it's hard to say unless the water is tested," Zalabak told WBTW in South Carolina.

Iron oxide can also be a pollutant, depending on its source. Natural clays may contain up to 8 percent iron oxide. The site, Tanner Plantation, is a residential community, so it is hard at this point to know where the possible iron oxide could have originated.

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The third theory to explain what might have happened to the gator is that some prankster somehow managed to paint the reptile orange. As the reporter in the below video mentions, "It's awfully suspicious, as the Hanahan school colors are orange and blue."

click to play video

Whatever the cause behind Trumpagator's hue, alligators shed their skin at varying intervals. Within a matter of weeks to months, the gator should go back to its normal grey-green shade (black when wet).

Some alligators are born albino, which means that their skin lacks the pigment melanin. These alligators usually look bright white. A beloved well known albino alligator is "Claude" at the California Academy of Sciences. In some photos, Claude actually looks a little orange too, but definitely not as Cheetos-resembling as Trumpagator.