Sunday, August 28, 2011

An Eastern Hognose Snake with all his antics...

Eastern Hognose Snakes (Heterodon platyrhinos) are the drama kings and queens of the snake world----they are blustery and filled with air (literally), put on a great act, and work very hard to convince you they’re dangerous…


Yikes! If that doesn't convince you there's danger lurking in the grass, I don't know what will, but it's all an act. Eastern Hognose snakes are harmless to humans. If you look in that gaping maw (and how can you not?) you'll see there are no fangs to deliver venom. There are teeth in the back (rear fangs), but they are mainly used to puncture inflated toads (their favorite food) and hold them in place (toads will sometimes inflate their bodies when captured to try to keep from being swallowed, but a hognose takes care of that minor problem in short order!).

When I was looking at the above photo, it dawned on me that I saw no tongue. Where on earth was it? Then I noticed the sheath on the bottom jaw...ahhh haaaa! A snake's tongue is encased in a sheath in the lower jaw when it is retracted. Since a snake's tongue is so integral to its survival, it only makes sense it would have evolved with a sheath to protect the tongue from injury.

When alarmed, an Eastern Hognose Snake will flatten out its head and neck to form a cobra-like hood. Here you can see he's just starting to produce the flaring hood, which is one of his tricks to try to convince you he's venomous and dangerous. Venomous snakes have triangular-shaped heads, while non-venoums snakes have more oval-shaped heads, but if you look at his eye you can see it's all a ruse. He has oval-shaped pupils, which means he is non-venomous. Venomous snakes have elliptical-shaped pupils.


...here you can see the fully formed cobra-like hood. It's pretty convincing!


...from behind the look is just as dramatic...


...and from straight on...ack! That is one dangerous-looking snake. His head screams triangle and his little triangular-shaped snout (the hognose namesake) only adds to his fierceness. Of course, once again, his round pupils give away the fact that he's nonvenomous and harmless...


...and if all that blustering doesn't scare you away, the hognose then does the next best thing. He plays dead, flipping over on his back and lolling out his tongue!

...yes, he actually lolls out his tongue, which is a clever touch because he really does look quite dead! If you want an encore performance, just flip him over. He will immediately flop onto his back again...and loll out that tongue as well!

Matty and I watched this grand performance on 6/29/2011 at Shawnee State Park in Ohio when we were volunteering with Jenny Richards, the park's amazing naturalist. You learn and get to see so much when you volunteer in the parks!

Note: The hognose snake has another method of defense. It will inflate its body with air by expanding its lung like a balloon (most snakes have only one functioning lung that extends most of the length of its body). It then lets the air out emitting a loud hissing sound. I couldn't capture this with the camera... This behavior accounts for many of its common names of "puff adder, blow snake, and hissing viper" (common name source: Ohio Department of Natural Resources A-Z Species Guide).

31 comments:

rebeccainthewoods said...

Gorgeous! I've never seen a hognose snake in the wild, but we had a captive one in Georgia who was a total drama queen, just as you describe. When you reached in to pick her up she would tense up and hiss, which impressed kids immensely, but it was all just for show and as soon as you got her in your hands she'd resign herself to her fate of being passed around to a group of children once again.

Kelly said...

Thanks, Rebecca...I bet the kids loved seeing that!!! This was not a captive snake, so we were lucky to see the behavior. At the nature center, however, Jenny does have a captive Western Hognose Snake, Piglet, but she is so friendly she never exhibits any of the typical hognose defense behaviors.

Jennifer MacNeill-Traylor said...

Wow, that ia amzing!

Kyna said...

Ha! What a coincedence, Chuck was just talking about those last night, when we were sitting around with some neighbours after the hurricane left. :D They're really interesting snakes.

Kelly said...

...thanks, Jennifer!

...cool, Kyna! They really are interesting snakes. I was blown away when he put on his act for us. Glad you survived the hurricane! :-)

Mike Whittemore said...

Great shots! I love this snake but never have seen one in the wild

holdingmoments said...

Fascinating post Kelly, about a fascinating snake. He certainly looks dangerous.

Bob Bushell said...

Cor, what a beautiful snake is, no velum, poor old toads.

TexWisGirl said...

fabulous shots, kelly! and great to know all of its secrets! it would have fooled me!

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Holy Cow---I had no idea... To me, a snake is a snake --and I'm afraid of all of them.. SO interesting to read about the Hognose.... Thanks so much!!!
Hugs,
Betsy

Steve Borichevsky said...

The tongue is a nice touch!

Laure Ferlita said...

Still not sure I'd know a venomous from a non-venomous out in the wilds, but still cool to see the "performance!"

Lois Evensen said...

Incredible shots once again! Wow!

freebird said...

Having two dogs bit by rattlers (one survived and one did not) we don't wait till we see if the eyes are oval or not! I did feel really badly last year when it turned out we shot a king snake but we just don't take chances anymore. Our beyond our fence, they can roam all they want but inside, if we see them they are killed if they look anything like a rattler.

Jenny wren's nest said...

My 17 year old son will so jealous when he gets to see this. he just bought a ball python today at a reptil show.

Randy Emmitt said...

Kelly,
Awesome first photo! Does look scary. I have a photo like that with a Cottonmouth fangs out!

Caroline said...

I always know I'll learn something when I visit your blog, Kelly! This was fascinating and the photos quite amazing!

Banjo52 said...

Something tells me I wouldn't be calm enough to compare round vs. elliptical eyes if I saw this guy. But this info is amazing, esp. the playing dead.

Kathy A. Johnson said...

Now THAT is a talented snake. He's quite the actor. Interesting post and great photos. I agree with Banjo52, though--I don't think I'd stick around to look at his eyes!

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

This is a wonderful post I had heard description of this behavior but never seen it captured so beautifully.

Thanks Guy

Janice K said...

He looks ferocious!..and so smart! Your pictures are tremendous.

Montanagirl said...

Kelly, your photos are superb, and this was a very interesting post. Had no idea they had a sheath for their tongue! Your description of his antics is so well done....another of your many talents.

Out on the prairie said...

Great shots of a unique snake.

Brian said...

Great post! I thoroughly enjoyed it! I'll stop for a snake photo anywhere at any time.

KAT said...

how do you get those photos ! amazing to me ! thanks for all the interesting stuff
KAT

Kelly said...

...thanks, everyone!! Isn't he a sight to behold? There is no getting over his act. It's wonderful!!! He really transforms from mild-mannered to frightful beast in seconds.

Chris said...

Beuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrkkkkkk... Like Dave will tell you, I hate snakes!!! Very much, but I've to admit that your post is nice as well as the pictures.... And it looks like snakes do act very well, this one should have done some movie ;-)

Gaina said...

They are so cute! I should imagine their prey often dies laughing at the 'dead snake' routine - I know I nearly did! :P

BrandNewStudio said...

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Andy Wilson said...

That's quite the display.
Excellent photos as per usual!

dAwN said...

Super series on the Hognose..I love the photo of it playing dead :)