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.
Length: 20 to 33 inches.
Habitat and Conservation
This species is active by day, from mid-April to October. There is no definite home range. Individuals burrow into loose soil or sand or enter the borrows of small mammals. Sometimes they hide under objects such as rocks or boards. A variety of habitats are used, but the preferred habitats have sandy or loose soils, including sandy river floodplains, old fields, open woods, and rocky wooded hillsides. They overwinter in abandoned small mammal burrows.
Eastern hog-nosed snakes feed chiefly on toads but are also known to eat frogs and salamanders. Apparently, a pair of large teeth on the upper jaw, in the back of the mouth, assist in swallowing large prey.
Mating occurs in April and May. The female lays 4-61 eggs, usually in a shallow burrow in sand or loose soil. Hatching occurs in August or September. The young are brightly colored and about 9 inches long when they hatch.
Colorful local names have been applied to this harmless snake, including "spreadhead," "puff adder," and "hissing viper." Animals with remarkable characteristics, and capable of inspiring strong emotions, hold psychological and symbolic significance for humans, as seen in cultures worldwide.
Although we quickly, and rightly, think of snakes as predators, this snake is also a prey species. Its elaborate defense tactics, ranging from a fierce (though harmless) attack display to a truly convincing death act, remind us that many predatory mammals and birds relish the meat of this reptile.