Eastern hognose snake

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Eastern hognose snakes are unique non-venomous snakes living in eastern North America. There are a couple distinctive features this snake has, starting at the very front of its body. This snake’s nose, from which it gets its name, is shaped like a pig’s nose.

The snake shown above is black and reddish-orange with some tan markings. If all eastern hognose snakes were like this, it would be very easy to identify them. However, these snakes have many different possible colorings. Even though it looks almost nothing like the hognose snake in the first picture, the snake shown below is, in fact, an eastern hognose snake! These creatures can be yellow, orange, red, brown, grey, black, and even olive green!

Despite being labeled non-venomous, eastern hognose snakes do have large fangs that produce toxins at the rear of their mouths. These toxins are harmless to humans though and only play a role in capturing prey.

The thing these snakes are likely most known for, maybe even more than the pig-noses that are their namesake, is their habit of playing dead. Shown below is an eastern hognose snake doing a pretty convincing job of playing dead. When threatened, the snake will turn on its back and open its mouth in hopes of tricking a potential predator of ignoring it.

Size

These snakes are by no means the largest snakes in North America, but they aren’t small either. They are usually between 20 and 30 inches (50-76 cm) long, and they are often near the larger end of this range! Some eastern hognose snakes may grow up to 45 inches (115 cm) long! The females are usually larger than the males.

Diet and hunting

Eastern hognose snakes are specialised for eating frogs and toads. Their up-turned nose makes it easier for them to dig in the ground to find these amphibians. They also have a wide mouth and curved teeth, which help them grab and hold on to these animals.Sometimes toads will inflate themselves with air to make it harder for snakes to catch them. These snakes have larger fangs at the back of their mouths that some people think are used to pop inflated toads. They also have special hormones that let them eat the toxins on toads’ skins.

Sometimes toads will inflate themselves with air to make it harder for snakes to catch them. These snakes have larger fangs at the back of their mouths that some people think are used to pop inflated toads. They also have special hormones that let them eat the toxins on toads’ skins. One last way eastern hognose snakes are specialized to hunt amphibians is a certain toxin they have in their saliva. It subdues amphibians but is harmless to other animals.

In addition to amphibians, these snakes will also eat birds, reptiles, eggs, insects, and small mammals, such as mice.

Habitat and range

Eastern hognose snakes live mostly in the United States. They are found most places east of the Rocky Mountains except for some areas around the Great lakes. Sometimes they will be seen in southeastern Canada, but they aren’t nearly as common here.

These snakes live in areas with dry, loose soil, but this isn’t a very specific habitat. They will inhabit forests, prairies, farmlands, and meadows.

Status and threats

These snakes are classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Redlist. Some of their major threats are humans, who often mistake them for rattlesnakes. They are also threatened by roads and are sometimes killed crossing them. Their population is declining despite habitat loss, which is the most common threat for animals, not being a real problem for them.

The predators these snakes face include raptors, skunks, opossums, and other snakes. Although playing dead would seem to be an effective protection, it is actually a last resort. When threatened, they will first flatten their neck raise their head, almost like a cobra. They will hiss and lunge at the attacker.

They will writhe on the ground, smearing themselves with bad-smelling liquids, sometimes throwing up their last meal. Only after all this will they turn over and play dead. As with most plans though, this method of protection has one flaw. It the upside-down snake is turned over, it will flip itself back upside-down, giving it away.

Reproduction

Eastern hognose snake mating season runs from April to May, which is their most active time. After mating, the females will lay up to 40 eggs (usually around 20) in an abandoned mammal burrow.

The eggs will incubate for about two months, hatching between July and September. At birth, the young snakes look pretty much the same as their parents. In about two years, they will mate themselves, and they can survive up to 15 years no in the wild.

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Eastern hognose snake – Wikipedia user: Bladerunner8u
  • Black eastern hognose snake – Patrick Coin
  • Eastern hognose snake playing dead – Virginia State Parks staff

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