River Talk

Hognose heaven

By SCOTT RANDO
Posted 7/15/20

There are about 20 or so species of snake that inhabit the region, depending on the habitat. Two, the timber rattlesnake and the Northern copperhead, are venomous, but you usually have to go out of …

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River Talk

Hognose heaven

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There are about 20 or so species of snake that inhabit the region, depending on the habitat. Two, the timber rattlesnake and the Northern copperhead, are venomous, but you usually have to go out of your way to find one. Species such as Eastern garter snakes and Northern watersnakes are usually seen several times a summer. Other species are more elusive.

If you run across a snake that has a brownish color with squarish marks that hisses at you and flattens its head like a cobra, it’s a native snake, but not very often seen. You have likely spotted an Eastern hog-nosed snake. This snake has several tricks of deception, which appear to come straight from Hollywood, to ensure its survival when faced with predators.

The hog-nosed snake’s name comes from its upturned snout. The back markings may almost appear as a “checkerboard” due to another row of marks along its side. Younger snakes may have a more contrasting pattern. Many adults appear uniformly dark with no back markings visible; they display a melanistic color phase and may be mistaken for other species if their snout isn’t visible.

The favorite prey of a hog-nosed snake are toads, though they will take other amphibians or even small mammals. This species has larger teeth near the rear of their jaw; American toads can inflate themselves as a defense mechanism, but the hognose’s larger teeth are used to deflate toads as they are swallowed. A mild venom is also contained in glands at the base of these teeth, but only toads are affected, the venom is harmless to humans.

The notable trait of the Eastern hog-nosed snake is its acting ability. If a person or predator gets too close, it will first flatten its head and may try some bluff strikes. Most of these strikes are with a closed mouth. It may emit a hissing sound which may be mistaken for a rattlesnake. If these methods don’t work to deter the predator, it may roll on its back and play dead, frequently emitting a foul-smelling “musk” out its anal vent as it attempts to portray itself as a very undesirable meal.

The Eastern hog-nosed snake is listed as a species of special concern in both PA and NY. In areas where they are found, they are seen infrequently. They frequently share the same habitat as other species of snakes, including black racers and timber rattlesnakes. Like all snakes, if you are not sure of the species, don’t get too close. It behaves kind of ornery when threatened, but like anything else, they just want peace and a little piece of “hognose heaven” for habitat.

snakes, hog nose

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