Hognose Snakes,Masters of Mimicry


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Hognose snakes, masters of mimicry by Andy Huff

In nature, life can be a poker game. In a kill or be killed world, you have to know how to play.  You have to know how to win…..every time. It is said that perception is 99% reality. Here in the wilderness of Tennessee, there lives a snake that is the master of mimicry. Known locally as the “spreading adder”, the eastern hognose snake is one of the most peculiar snakes on the planet. At about 24 inches in length, this snake can make itself larger than life in both sight and sound. In late June, TON writer and photographer Kathleen Chute and her husband David were traveling the logging roads of Stewart State Forest when they noticed a black snake off to the side of the road edge. At first glance they thought they had found a rat snake or black racer. Much to their surprise, it was neither. The short but thick bodied snake proceeded to flatten its head and neck like a cobra and hiss loudly much like a pine or bull snake. This and the upturned snout revealed this snake to be an eastern hognose snake. To its enemies, this snake would appear venomous and would most likely be avoided. Most predators would rather eat fresh kill than something that has already died. If this doesn’t work, this feisty little creature has another trick that it plays. It does what a possum does. It fakes its own death. It actually rolls over and opens his mouth and lets his tongue hang out. It will regurgitate anything it has eaten and will excrete waste. Yuck! Who wants to eat that! This particular snake had one eye that was blood red. Was this an injury or was this another trick? While talking with APSU herpetologist Dr. Floyd Scott, he says he witnessed one that actually bled out of its mouth to make itself believable. Was the blood colored eye just another bluff? No one really knows. It feeds almost exclusively on toads. Even those familiar with this snake may be surprised to know that this is a rear fanged snake that has a mild venom that’s harmless to people but may have an effect on the toads it dines on. Although this snake is not known for biting, like most all snakes it may bite to defend itself if picked up. Hognose snakes come in both black and a light brown patterned phase. In areas around lower LBL and the Kentucky Lake shorelines, this snake can be easily confused with the western pygmy rattlesnake in both size and blotched pattern. Anyone finding what they think could be a pygmy ratter is urged to call me at 931-378-1068 so that it can be photographed and catalogued. Please DO NOT attempt to capture one! They are venomous and are protected by state and federal law. The hognose snake is protected by state law and both are prized by pet traders. Some pet stores sell captive bred hognose snakes and are not local species. Snake enthusiasts are encouraged to observe them in the wild. They need to be left alone. Like all wildlife, land development and habitat destruction as well as the illegal pet trade are there biggest enemies. Last but not least, toads are encouraged to avoid this snake at all costs.