Are Opossums the Only Animals That Play Dead?

The hognose snake is known for its over-the-top efforts to "play dead" when threatened by a predator.
The hognose snake is known for its over-the-top efforts to "play dead" when threatened by a predator.

Biologists refer to the process of playing dead as thanatosis. It’s a defense strategy used by a variety of animals, including frogs and opossums, which has given rise to the phrase “playing possum.” To avoid getting eaten by a predator, some animals go to great lengths to convince attackers that they’re dead. Since most hungry predators prefer live prey, they tend to move on.

The hognose snake is one creature that probably deserves an Oscar for its portrayal of death. If hissing and fake strikes don’t make the enemy move on, the hognose rolls onto its back and writhes around, emitting a foul musk scent and fecal matter. The snake even lets its tongue hang out of its mouth, often releasing small droplets of blood. And if turned over onto its stomach, it will immediately flop back to the "dead" position.

All about the hognose snake:

  • Hognose snakes come by their names honestly. These snakes have upturned snouts, resembling a hog. Their snouts help them burrow, using a sweeping side-to-side motion.

  • Belonging to the genus Heterodon, these timid snakes rarely bite. They flatten their heads like cobras, and hiss threateningly when approached. Some call them puff adders, or hissing adders.

  • Hognoses make good pets, and usually prosper in a a 20-gallon terrarium. Despite being mildly venomous, they rarely bite the hand that feeds them. A “hoggie” bite, when fingers smell like food, may lead to blisters, swelling, and other symptoms.

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    • The hognose snake is known for its over-the-top efforts to "play dead" when threatened by a predator.
      The hognose snake is known for its over-the-top efforts to "play dead" when threatened by a predator.