Eastern hognosed snake

Heterodon platirhinos

SUBFAMILY

Xenodontinae

TAXONOMY

Heterodon platirhinos Latreille, 1801, vicinity of Philadelphia. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Hissing adder, puff adder, spreading adder; French: Heterodon commun; German: Gewöhnliche hakennatter.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

This is a stout-bodied snake, usually about 30 in (75 cm) in length, with a broad head and a distinctive, upturned snout. The keeled dorsal scales are arranged in oblique rows. The coloration is highly variable, often yellow, orange, or olive green, with dark brown dorsal and lateral blotches. Some individuals become melanistic (entirely black), especially in the southeastern United States.

DISTRIBUTION

Widely distributed across eastern and central North America, including southern Ontario, Canada.

HABITAT

This species occurs in a range of environments, including drier forests, but it prefers open habitats, generally with well-drained, sandy soils.

BEHAVIOR

The Eastern hog-nosed snake has a diverse repertoire of defensive behaviors, some of which have given rise to colorful common names. When first approached by a predator, this species flattens its head and spreads the ribs of its neck to form a broad hood, while hissing loudly. The snake may raise its head and even strike, although the species almost never bites. If that display of bravado fails and the predator persists, the snake rolls on its back, usually with its mouth agape and its tongue hanging out, apparently feigning death. If turned right side up, the snake immediately rolls over on its back again, remaining in that position until the threat has passed.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Most populations of these snakes feed overwhelmingly on toads (Bufo), although other frogs may also be eaten, as well as occasional salamanders and even mammals. The snakes have been reported to use the upturned snout to excavate toads from sandy soils. The maxillary bone is highly mobile and has a pair of greatly enlarged rear teeth that apparently help to deflate toads that have puffed themselves up with air to resist being swallowed.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

This snake is oviparous, laying relatively large clutches of eggs (generally about 20, although much larger clutches have been reported).

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not listed by the IUCN, although loss of habitat, declines in amphibian populations, and the threatening defensive behavior of this species (its stout body form also resembles that of pitvipers) probably make its populations vulnerable to human impact.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS None known. ♦

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