Critter Corner - Eastern Hognose Snake
(Heterodon platirhinos)

DID YOU KNOW:

The hognose snake is a unique, harmless reptile with several colorful nicknames, including puff adder, hissing viper and spread head (see their defensive habits to discover why).  They are named hognose because of their shovel-like snout, which helps them seek out toads in soft, sandy soil.

EATING HABITS:

Hognose snakes stalk and quickly grab frogs and toads with their mouths.  They simply overpower their prey and swallow them alive.

THE YOUNG:

Hognose snakes mate in April or May and Mom lays 15 to 35 eggs in early summer in decaying woodpiles and rotting logs.  The warmth of the sun and the decomposing wood incubates the eggs.  In early fall, the baby snakes hatch and are entirely on their own.

HABITAT (HOME):

In the eastern half of the United States, including Missouri, these snakes can be found along creeks and streams or on woody hillsides, hiding under rocks and living in burrows dug by other animals.

DEFENSIVE HABITS:

If frightened, these shy reptiles will stay hidden or quickly crawl away.  If this doesn't work, they will puff up their bodies to look much larger, hiss loudly and strike out with closed mouths.  If this doesn't scare danger away they raise the front part of their bodies and spread out their necks like a cobra!  If still threatened, they may roll over on their backs, stick out their tongues, go to the bathroom and play dead.

UNUSUAL FACTS:

  • Toads can inflate their bodies with air as a defense against being eaten.  Hognose snakes have special elongated teeth in the backs of their mouths (not in the front, nor hollow like copperheads or rattlesnakes).  It is thought that these special teeth may pop the toad, allowing it to be swallowed.

  • Hognose snakes vary in color.  They may be black, brown, reddish or cream-colored.

(Photo credits: Hognose snake on gravel, Brookhaven National Lab; Close-up of head, Indiana Department of Natural Resources; Hognose playing dead, Brookhaven National Lab; Black hognose snake, US Fish and Wildlife)