Saturday, December 5, 2009

Western Hognose Snake

The western hognose snake is found in a vertical band of the midwestern United States, Canada and Mexico with three subspecies: the plains hognose (from southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, down through eastern Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico, on the western edge); the dusty hognose (parts of Texas and Oklahoma), and the Mexican hognose (southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico and parts of Texas and fairyly deep into Mexico). I have not seen one in the wild, but had one as a pet for a number of years. The distinctions are not great enough for me to be able to tell, from pictures, which subspecies we had.

It is heavy-bodied and somewhat awkward, compared to other snakes. The really distinctive feature is the upturned snout which gives it its name. The snout is used for burrowing and, in the wild, its favorite food is toads, but it will also eat frogs, salamanders, lizards, turtles and reptile eggs.

Unlike many of our western snakes, it is not a constrictor. It has rear fangs that allow it to grab onto pray and gradually swallow it. In captivity, they will eat mice, which is what I fed our hognose. Rather than kill a mouse by constriction before eating it, the hognose just grabs it and starts to eat it while alive. Therefore, they need to be fed small mice that can't bite, or dead mice. Below is the hognose swallowing a small mouse, the tail still hanging out. It provides a good sideways view of the upturned snout.

They have a mild disposition and our hognose never attempted to bite.

In the wild, when encountering danger, they will spread their head and neck and hiss, which earns them the nickname "puff adder" or "blow snake." I don't recall seeing that behavior in our snake. If that doesn't work, they "play possum" or "play dead." They roll over on their backs, writhe around briefly, then lie still with mouth wide open, tongue sticking out and vent opened and discharged. I only saw this behavior once. We had a number of visitors and I brought the hognose out and put it on the carpet.

Note that the belly appears like it is being sucked in. It was really bizarre.

I turned the snake back over, see below,

but then it flopped back over on its back.

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