The hognose snake is a snake with an upturned, pig-like snout. Hognose snakes use these snouts to root out their primary prey, the toad. Several different species of hognose snake live in the United States, Mexico, South America, and Madagascar. In the U.S., common hognose snakes include the eastern, southern, and western hognose.
Adult hognose snakes range in size from 14 inches (35 cm) to 40 inches (89 cm). Female hognoses are generally larger than males, and juveniles look like miniature adults. Hognose snakes come in a wide variety of colors. Their scaly skin can be solid or patterned with stripes and spots.
The hognose snake eats toads primarily, but its diet also includes small mammals like rats, lizards, reptile eggs, and carrion. Though the hognose snake is not venomous, it does have two rear fangs that some scientists say produce a substance harmful to its small prey but not to humans. Some hognose experts say these rear fangs puncture toads puffing up to escape capture, but others point to regurgitated intact toads to disprove this theory.
Hognose snakes are sometimes confused with the coral snake and the copperhead because of their size and coloration. Several behavioral differences can help to distinguish between these venomous snakes and the relatively harmless hognose. While copperheads and coral snakes are nocturnal, hunting at night, the hognose snake is most active during the day. Copperheads and corals typically freeze or slip away when confronted, but hognose snakes usually employ a variety of scare tactics to ward off potential predators.
When disturbed, a hognose snake usually takes on a cobra-like appearance with a flat, widened head and neck. It often rears up and acts aggressive, hissing and feigning a close-mouthed strike. If this behavior is unsuccessful, the hognose snake typically falls down, rolls onto its back, and plays dead with its tongue lolling from its mouth. Some observers say the hognose snake will persist in lying on its back even if a handler rolls it onto its stomach. Once a predator has moved away, the hognose snake will usually right itself and slither to safety.
Hognose snakes live underground in sandy soil or leaf debris. They often take over abandoned animal dens. They hunt during the day and keep clear of humans and other predators. Natural enemies of the hognose snake generally include hawks and large snakes.
Because hognose snakes are relatively safe snakes, they are often kept as pets, especially the western variety. Hognose snakes rarely, if ever, bite humans. Their diet does present some challenges, especially for the type of hognose snake that feeds almost exclusively on toads. Prone to easily escape, the hognose snake usually needs a well-ventilated, dry cage with a lot of space and a tight-fitting lid.