Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


Aug 2011 cover image State parks

Wild Thing: Hiss, Hiss!

Harmless eastern hognose snakes act as if they're deadly in order to scare us.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Neighbors sometimes bring us spiders, caterpillars and other critters to identify. When a coiled snake arrived in a bucket, I scratched my head. Not for long, though. Minutes later, the snake flared its neck like a cobra and hissed.

That’s what hognose snakes want you to believe — that they’re deadly and venomous (which they’re not). The snake may even lunge as if to bite but with its mouth closed. Next, a hognose will roll over, convulse a few times and loll its tongue out as if it’s dead. It may even defecate and smell bad. Once the coast is clear, the hognose turns back over and slithers away.

Eastern hognose snakes — also called hissing or puff adders — occur across the eastern half of Texas. Most measure 20 to 33 inches, are blotched and vary in color. An upturned, shovel-like nose best distinguishes the species. So does its broad head and neck that flattens and spreads when threatened.

Hognose snakes prefer habitats with loose, sandy soil not far from water. Using its snout, a hognose burrows and hunts for meals in the dirt. Toads most often fall prey, along with frogs and salamanders. The snake’s backward-pointing teeth prevent victims from escaping. Enlarged adrenal glands enable the species to survive the otherwise lethal skin secretions of toads.

The species become sexually mature at nearly two years of age. Mating occurs from early spring into summer. Females deposit an average of 22 eggs in loose soil, under rocks or rotting logs. According to Texas Snakes: Identification, Distribution and Natural History, even newly hatched hognose snakes can flare and hiss like cobras!

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