An alligator sleeps submerged in nighttime water

Strange shapes seen just below the surface of Georgia's blackwater swamps are often sleeping alligators, according to the UGA Coastal Ecology Lab.

Credit: Facebook

Winter is an eerie time in Georgia’s blackwater swamps, and among the strangest of sights are the large shadows often seen lurking just inches below the murky surface.

Never, ever reach out to touch them, experts warn.

These phantoms are alligators participating in a seasonal ritual — underwater napping, according to the University of Georgia’s Coastal Ecology lab.

“Often, you will see an alligator lazily basking in the sun enjoying an afternoon snooze, but this is not how they sleep when the sun is not shining,” the lab reports.

“Most of the time when alligators sleep, they do so under the water where it is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.”

The lab recently captured images of an alligator (named Sally) sleeping under the ominous waters of Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp Park. The unnerving photos show only a vague outline of its head was occasionally visible.

“You can barely see her as she sank deeper underwater and rests on the bottom,” the lab reported. “This is where alligators sleep most often — on the bottom of the swamp.”

Alligators, which can grow to 16 feet in Georgia, will stay submerged for as long as two hours before surfacing to poke their nose out for “a short breath.” They will then sink to the bottom again and go back to sleep, the lab reports.

This form of napping allows alligators a chance to stay warm, hidden and undisturbed.

However, it also means they’re more likely to be rowed over — or, worse, stepped on should someone get out of a boat in the wrong spot.

“It’s so easy to paddle right past them like that!” William Wise posted on the lab’s Facebook page. “Every once in a while I’ll get ‘that feeling’ and happen to spot one under the blackwater.”

“Us too,” the lab responded.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with The Telegraph.