If you’re afraid of snakes, please pretend this is a big “S” or close your eyes while you read.
I’m inspired to write about eastern hognose snakes today because summer is prime time for reptiles in Pennsylvania and a remark made in the PA-Herps Facebook group has stuck with me since last winter: “The only way to get bitten by a hognose snake is to smell like its prey.”
The eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) is native from Minnesota to southern New Hampshire, from Florida to eastern Texas. It is more than two feet long and comes in so many colors and patterns that it defies an easy description.
I imagine that during summer’s heat I might see a hognose snake but the chance is slim. I don’t look for snakes because I can’t identify most of them and some are poisonous. My caution prevents discovery.
However, this snake is safe. Very safe. He won’t bite but he may scare you. Wikipedia describes his defensive behavior:
When threatened, the neck is flattened and the head is raised off the ground, not unlike a cobra. [Cobra!!] They also hiss and will strike, but they do not attempt to bite. The result can be likened to a high speed head-butt. If this threat display does not work to deter a would-be predator, a hognose snake will often roll onto its back and play dead, going so far as to emit a foul musk from its cloaca and let its tongue hang out of its mouth.
If I managed to get close to a calm hognose I’d see why he has this name — an upturned nose like a hog.
But I’m not eager to get so close. If I scared him, the “cobra act” would frighten me. The “high speed head-butt” would give me a heart attack. Both the snake and I would be lolling on the ground with our tongues hanging out.
S is for Sometimes Scary.
(photo of an eastern hognose snake from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license. I have vertically flipped the original image to make an S. Click on the image to see the original at Wikimedia)
p.s. Despite the tone of this article, I am not afraid of snakes.