Hog-Nose Snakes–The Toad-eaters

My research on toads led me to the fascinating Heterodon genus of snakes. They specialize in preying upon toads, creatures most other predators avoid eating because the poison glands on their skin make them distasteful and even toxic. The Heterodon genus includes 3 species of hog nose snake–eastern southern, and western. They are easy to distinguish from other snakes because their nose resembles a pig’s snout. The eastern hog nose snake (Heterodon platyrhinus) occupies the largest range which partially overlaps with that of the western hog nose snake (H. nasicus) and fully overlaps the more limited range of the southern hog nose snake (H. simus).

Eastern Hog-nose snake. I’ve seen this species with this color variation in my neighborhood.
Southern hog-nose snake. They are smaller and less widespread than Eastern hog-nose snakes.
Hog-nose snake playing dead.

The eastern hog nose snake varies greatly in color. I looked for photos of this species on google images and found at least 18 different color variations. The variation of this snake in my neighborhood most closely resembles the top photo above. This species grows to almost 4 feet long and inhabits sandy soils in open woodlands. In some regions frogs and toads make up 100% of their diet, but in other regions they also prey on mice, birds, lizards, and other snakes. When threatened they feign aggression. If this doesn’t deter a predator, they play dead. Fossil evidence of this species dating to the Pleistocene and/or Pliocene have been found at Ladds in Georgia, as well as sites in Kansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, and West Virginia. The Heterodon genus is at least 5 million years old.

The southern hog nose snake grows smaller than the eastern, reaching lengths of less than 2 feet. Biologists believe the population of this species is in decline, while those of the eastern are stable. Southern hog nose snakes also prefer sandy soils in open woodlands. They too feign aggression and play dead, but these actions are less pronounced than those of the eastern. Fossil specimens of this species have been found at 2 sites in Florida.

Hog nose snakes rarely bite people. An exception occurred when a man who had just handled toads picked up an hog nose snake. The snake likely scented the toad and got confused. They do have venom injected by rear fangs, but it is dangerous for amphibians, not people. Frogs and toads swell up to prevent snakes from swallowing them, however, the rear fangs of a hog nose snake puncture the frog, deflating it, and the venom stops the frog from struggling–another example of evolutionary measure and countermeasure between predator and prey.

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