Saturday, May 11, 2013

A toad's worst nightmare

An American Toad belts out his drawn-out sonorous aria. Everyone love toads, and for their part, toads are indifferent to all. They haven't much to fear. Their warts, which add to their considerable charm, are full of caustic secretions, as are the large paratoid glands behind their eyes. Try and eat one and you'll regret it, as more than a few dogs have learned the hard way. Thanks to their chemical defense system, toads have few enemies.

With one notable exception...

This fearsome sight is the last thing that a toad wants to see. If it does, this snake will probably be the last thing it sees.

I found myself in Adams County, Ohio yesterday, along with some friends. More posts on that mission will probably follow at some point, as we were up to some fairly interesting things. Anyway, we stopped in to the Eulett Center to meet up with some people, and our arrival coincided with that of Eric Davenport, who serves as Chief Naturalist for the Edge of Appalachia Preserve. Eric had a bag dangling in his hand, and within was this gorgeous Eastern Hog-nosed Snake, Heterodon platirhinos.

Needless to say, out came the cameras. Hognoses come in various color forms, ranging from nearly black to this stunning black and yellow form. This is not a particularly common or widespread reptile in Ohio, and most are found in the Oak Openings of northwestern Ohio, and in southernmost Ohio, where Eric found this specimen. Hog-nosed Snakes favor sandy substrates, where these accomplished diggers can ferret out a favored prey, the aforementioned toads.

The uninitated, especially ohidiophobes, would likely have their socks scared off by one of these snakes. It's not so much their size - hognoses only reach about three feet in length - but their excellent acting ability that'll startle a person. When first approached, the snake will flatten its neck to paper-thin dimensions, rear up, hiss, and look all the world like a ferocious cobra. If you continue your approach, it will lunge wild strikes in your general direction, but have no fear - it's all bluff. Even if the snake does make contact, it'll just harmlessly head butt you, not bite.

By now, most people will be headed the other way, but if you persist the snake begins Act II. It'll roll over on its back, dangle its head loosely, and loll its tongue from its mouth. This is an excellent imitation of playing dead. If you attempt to right the reptile, it'll often just promptly roll back over and continue feigning dead. As good as this performance is, it all too often works against the snake when humans are involved. Ignoramuses sometimes kill them, thinking the hognose to be dangerous.

As Eric noted, Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes seem to have exceptionally long tongues, which they use to sense their environment. Note the snake's flattened shovel-like snout.

Hognoses are accomplished diggers, using their snout like a spade. When the keen sensors within their tongue detect toady prey, the snake sweeps its snout from side to side through the sand to uncover the victim.

The Eastern Hog-nosed Snake is yet another facet of Ohio's declining natural heritage. At one time, this species occurred in at least 30 of Ohio's 88 counties. Today, it still persists in perhaps nine of those counties. These charismatic and fascinating animals should be protected at all costs.


Auralee said...

Aaaaaarg. My worst nightmare. You forgot to announce in the title that there are snakes in your article.

I hate snakes.

Anonymous said...

I was out with Greg Lipps once and we were discussing the ability of these snakes to curl their tails like you have shown in your excellent photographs. At the time, Greg remarked how the hognose snake may have possibly been the model for the serpent mound. Speculation, yes, but intriguing none the less.


Anonymous said...

Ignoramuses sometimes comment on your blog too. I felt your title announced that it was about Hognose Snakes quite clearly...

Anonymous said...

" I felt your title announced that it was about Hognose Snakes quite clearly..."

"A Toad's Worst Nightmare" - yes, that's clearly going to be about hognosed snakes. Please pardon those of us who didn't pick right up on it.

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks as always for your comment, Auralee. If I were not into snakes I'd not have known that this was about one from the title, either. I don't know what compels people to make snarky comments like that, although I notice they are invariably made under the cloak of anonymity.