The eastern hog-nosed snake is medium-sized, with a heavy body and an upturned snout. The color is highly variable. Ground color is normally gray-brown or tan, but it is not uncommon for individuals to be yellow or orange. Sometimes there is a series of brown blotches on the back. Sometimes the snake is dull-colored and lacks markings. Some are jet black, brown, or olive. The belly is gray, yellow, or pink, mottled with gray or greenish gray. The underside of the tail is normally lighter than the belly. There is always a pair of large, dark brown or black blotches behind the head. Hatchlings are more colorful than adults, with numerous brown, black, tan, yellow, or orange blotches that may form bands toward the tail.
When approached, this harmless snake can hiss loudly and spread its head and neck like a cobra. Remember that this is a nonvenomous snake. If these defenses fail to ward off an enemy, the snake may thrash around, open its mouth, roll over, and play dead.
Similar species: The plains hog-nosed snake (H. nasicus) and dusty hog-nosed snake (H. gloydi) — virtually indistinguishable from each other — both have a sharply upturned snout and black pigment on the underside of the tail. Both are very rare in our state. The plains hog-nosed snake was once known only from loess hill prairies in extreme northwestern Missouri and is probably extirpated. The dusty hog-nosed snake is restricted to sand prairie and savanna areas of southeastern Missouri.