Saturday, September 18, 2010

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake

Today was one of those glorious fall days: azure cloudless skies, a tinge of color blushing the foliage, and crisp early morning temps. The signs of fall and the collapse of the growing season are everywhere.

I was deep in the boondocks of Pike County to meet Dave Minney, land steward for the Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Dave was good enough to take me, along with John Howard and Daniel Boone, into the Strait Creek Prairie preserve. This is a spectacular place, and our primary mission was to find and document one of Ohio's more beautiful - and perplexing - plants. We did, and more on that later.

But as on all forays, many noteworthy plants and animals were catalogued. This little charmer is Bluehearts, Buchnera americana, a rare member of the Figwort Family (Scrophulariaceae).

Juvenile milkweed bug peeks from behind the pod of a Butterfly-weed, Asclepias tuberosa. A much younger animal is in the foreground.

A wooded slope yielded a large stand of Green Violet, Hybanthus concolor, one of our stranger plants. They often flummox newcomers in regards to their ID. The fruit are quite artistic, resembling three tiny dugout canoes fused together. The seeds look like little pearls.

Signs of the impending winter are becoming ever more obvious. Most species of butterflies are really showing wear, and this female Great Spangled Fritillary was badly beaten and faded.

But, above all else I was thrilled to find this Eastern Hog-nosed Snake. They aren't particularly rare in southern Ohio, but one doesn't often find them out and about. Some years I see none; I think my best year I found two.

This is probably my favorite snake, for a variety of reasons. Everything about them is cool: good looks, interesting feeding behavior, and an incredible bluffing game.

Our hognose was just a youth, perhaps a foot ot so in length. As they do when confronted by a possible threat, he froze in place as we came along, but your narrator saw him nonetheless. I quickly dropped to his level to make photos, and again witness the best performance in snakedom. Here, he uses his forked tongue to gauge the invaders. Note its incredibly flattened neck.

Note the hognose's upturned piglike snout - the origin of their name. The snake uses it to dig for prey. And what prey. This is one of few animals that seeks out and dines on toads. Most predators avoid these warty hoppers; the large parotid glands on their back ooze with nasty chemicals that are quite distasteful.

When found, hognoses put on an amazing show. The snake flattens its neck to paper-thin dimensions, raises up and looks all the world like a cobra. It further bolsters its act by hissing, rattling its tail in the vegetation, and launching brutal-looking strikes towards the offending party.

But it is all a bluff. The snake's mouth is normally shut during these scary-looking strikes, and it always - at least in my experience - falls short of its target. But if you didn't know what was what with this reptilian master of deceit, you'd probably get the heck away and fast.

If ACT I fails, and the intruder is not put off by the cobra/rattlesnake charade, the hognose tries a different tack. It rolls over and plays dead. No kidding. The snake twists onto its back, gapes its mouth, lets its tongue hang out, and does its best imitation of roadkill. One can even turn it back upright, and the hognose will promptly roll back over.

Amazing what can be found when out-of-doors.


rebecca said...

We have two captive hognoses at the environmental ed center where I work, and I'm still nervous about picking the larger one up for exactly the reasons you describe here. Even though I know she's harmless, the way she coils and threatens to strike when you reach for her is very intimidating. (The smaller one, on the other hand, is only about six inches long and too cute for words.)

Randy said...

Another great article! Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Love these photos. Something else I've never seen in Ohio. Sigh.

Jared said...

Nice! I've found a few this year but need to get back out there for better photographs. It's hard not to love the antics of Hognose Snakes!

mark said...

i found a hognose today first time i have ever seen one around where i live got some good pic is there any way i can put them on here to share

mark said...

My 8yr old son found one today while mushroom hunting i have never seen one like that around where i live they are very pretty snake i got some good pic of it is there anyway i can share them on here