Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake

Hognosed coiled (1 of 1)

There are a lot of great things about Hog-nosed snakes, beginning with their almost unbelievable behaviors. If unable to escape, they take in air and within a few seconds become at least two times thicker. They also lift their heads and spread their neck vertebrae to form a perfect cobra-like hood. And, they’re the only Western Mass snakes that can hiss loudly and repeatedly (Ratsnakes and Racers can make a bit of sound, but nothing compared to Hog-nosed snakes). They may then strike at any intruder (including you) with mouth either open or closed. If all that doesn’t scare predators (or you), they wobble back and forth, droop their tongues, and keel over backward, playing dead. You could pick it up and twirl it like a piece of spaghetti (don’t do it, please!). If you encounter this behavior, try sneaking behind cover and remain still. The snake will slowly twist its head upright; if it determines it’s safe, it will right itself and crawl away. The first time I saw this, I applauded.

Hognose death feigning-1

Some early European naturalists reported that Hog-nosed snakes were venomous. The snakes do indeed have saliva that produces strong reactions in some people. And, they possess several enlarged teeth (not fangs) at the rear of their mouths. These are both probably adaptations for hunting toads that have two defenses of their own — toads puff up with air to become huge (countered by the snake’s enlarged teeth which puncture them) and toads have many toxic glands in their skin (possibly neutralized by the strong saliva).

This is also a snake of the Connecticut River watershed where sandy soils allow it to dig with its upturned snout and where there are plenty of toads. This species reaches the northern limit of its geographic range here in New England, making it up to southern New Hampshire, but not found in Vermont or the Berkshires. It is unclear what the population status of the Hog-nosed snake is in our state, so report any observations.

Hognose recovering-1

Hognose "recovering" from near death experience

In this past year, several friends and I have attempted to find a hognose anywhere in the state, with no results whatsoever! Not for lack of trying, either. We logged more than a hundred person-hours from southeastern Mass to the Ct. Valley. We met other people who had encounters with them, but not us. I’m getting the impression these are not as common as they were just a few years ago. Perhaps we have lost our search image for these remarkable animals. All the more reason for you to report any sightings you have. Maybe I’ll have more luck this year.

© Tom Tyning 2013