Yosemite rangers warn against eating 'watermelon snow'

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Despite the heat of the summer, Yosemite National Park still has snow in areas with high elevation (above 9,500 feet).

While everyone knows to avoid a yellow tint, how should one approach pink snow?

The "watermelon snow" perplexed visitors to the park last week, and some guessed it was iron oxide or dust from California droughts.

Although it has a sweet smell, opt for the real deal if you're craving a snow cone. Park rangers warned visitors against eating the snow algae Chlamydomonas nivalis, which lives on the snow and thrives in freezing temperatures, according to the park’s Facebook post.

The algae uses its red pigment as a barrier to shield its chlorophyll, which is necessary for the algae’s survival, from too much heat and UV radiation. This causes the snow to heat up and melt more quickly, which can cause variable conditions for hikers and visitors such as snow, mud and water crossings.

The algae is common in areas with snow co-exists with warm weather. Pink snow covered Grinnell Glacier in Montana's Glacier National Park in 2018, according to Travel + Leisure.

Although it isn’t necessarily toxic to eat, according to TODAY, snacking on the pink snow is certainly not recommended.

"Like the water in the high country streams, it is probably safe to drink," Scott Gediman, public affairs officer for Yosemite, told TODAY in an email. "However, we highly recommend treating all water before drinking since there is the possibility of giardia, a bacteria that can make you very sick. Therefore, all snow (watermelon or not) should be treated before consuming."

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