Adults measure just under 3 feet (90 cm). The head is flattened and nose upturned. Dorsal coloration variable with most individuals brown, tan or yellowish brown with darker brown near-diamond-shaped saddles down the back. Sides of head often yellowish. Tail strongly banded. Scales keeled. Some individuals are completely black.
Lays about 24 eggs in early summer.
Sandy and wooded habitats are preferred.
Feeds primarily on toads. An enlarged set of teeth at the back of the snake’s jaw facilitates swallowing.
Occurs in almost every state east of the Great Plains. Distributed from central Texas east along the Gulf coast to the southern tip of Florida, north along the Atlantic coast to southern New Hampshire, west to Minnesota. Absent from most of New York, from the northern half of Pennsylvania, and from the central third of Ohio. In Connecticut it occurs in all counties, although more commonly at inland sites. Restricted by habitat loss, especially along the shore, it is not very common anywhere in the state.
Not federally protected. In Connecticut protected as a species of concern.
When threatened the hognose snake can “play dead” (see the
photograph below) by rolling over onto its back, often sticking out its
tongue and releasing a foul smell.
The species is very often confused with the Copperhead (owing to the yellow color sometimes present on the hognose snake’s head) and with the Timber Rattlesnake (the banded tail of the hognose snake can resemble a rattle to the novice, and nervous, eye). Although hognose snakes have enlarged teeth for killing toad prey, they are not vipers. While they do have glands that produce a secretion useful for slowing frog prey, they typically lack venom of medical significance and as such are considered harmless. However, it is noteworthy that some significant bites to humans have resulted in hospitalization. These bites, however, are very rare.
This snake, as with all others, prefers to go unnoticed. Leave the snake alone, and it will not bite you. No snake should be killed simply because of its species, let alone because it resembles another species.
Conant, R. and J.T. Collins. 1991. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern/Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 450 pp.
Klemens, M.W. 1993. Amphibians and Reptiles of Connecticut and Adjacent Regions. Hartford, CT: State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut Bulletin 112. 318 pp.
Text by Gregory J. Watkins-Colwell.
Photographs (top) © Twan Leenders. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Photograph (bottom) © Jim Demirjian. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Animals featured on this page are from New York.