Eastern Hognose

Nov 18, 2020

Eastern hognose snakes (Heterodon platirhinos) occur throughout every Southeastern state except southeastern Louisiana. They live in a variety of habitats, including abandoned agricultural fields, open pine forests and rocky forested hillsides. They usually are associated with loose soil and if living in a forest they will usually stay near the edge where they can venture into more open areas. Hognose snakes characteristically burrow into sandy soils using their flat upturn nose as a shovel to push into the soil. For more information, refer to ‘Snakes of the Southeast’ by Whit Gibbons and Mike Dorcas.

Eastern Hognose snakes usually have a blotched pattern with color combinations that can vary greatly within a local population or even within the same clutch. The colors on back and side can include shades of red, orange, yellow, gray, olive, brown or black. Some individuals become solid black or gray above as adults, and this color pattern is prevalent in some areas of the Southeast. The adults in our area are predominantly solid gray.

Baby hognose snakes, even the ones that will turn black or gray as adults, always have a blotched pattern.

The diet of the hognose snake is mainly made of toads with an occasional frog or salamander. Toads inflate their bodies as a defense mechanism, but hognose snakes use their enlarged posterior teeth to deflate the toads and make them easier to swallow. The skin toxins of the toads are neutralized by enzymes of the snake’s digestive system.

Activity usually begins early in the spring and ends late in the fall. Adults may bask in the sun on warm days of winter. They are active above ground during day time and as a consequence have many predators like other snakes, birds of prey, and carnivorous mammals.

Hognose snakes have a distinctive set of response to threats. These responses are so dramatic that they could be considered part of the general description of the species. When initially threatened, the snake lifts the front of its body, spreads its neck like a cobra. Some may even hiss, open the mouth and move the head in a striking motion without actually trying to bite, the tail may coil rapidly from one way to the other. As a consequence, the vernacular names in the SouthEast are ‘spreading adders’ or ‘puff adders’.

If this initial display is not sufficient to discourage the attacker, the snake will feign to go into convulsions and roll on its back as if dead, often disgorging a recent meal as part of the display. The mouth is held open and the tongue hangs out. Capillaries in the mouth may rupture producing a large amount of blood to complete the effect. The snake will keep on rolling on its back if it is righted.

Although terrestrials, the dependence of hognose on toads makes the protection of small wetlands critical for their species.