by Stephanie Smith
April 07, 2017
Three Eastern hognose snakes exhibit mating behavior at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, on April 2, 2017. Native throughout most of the Chesapeake Bay region, the varied coloring of the Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platirhinos) can make it difficult to identify, but the characteristic upturned scale at the tip of the snake’s nose is a foolproof indicator.
Despite their tendency to be confused for the venomous cottonmouth, Eastern hognose snakes almost never bite and are quite docile. In fact, only a few bites from the species have ever been documented, with many of them accidental: in one case, a snake’s tooth caught the victim’s arm while the snake was playing dead.
That type of bluffing behavior is another distinctive way to identify the Eastern hognose. Also called the “puff adder,” the snakes have a unique way of confronting predators. When approached, an Eastern hognose will suck in air and spread the skin around its head and neck to mimic a cobra’s hood. If that doesn’t work, the snake will play dead by rolling onto its back and opening its mouth, remaining limp for several minutes. If left undisturbed, it will eventually glance around for the predator, and if the coast is clear, turn right-side-up and wriggle away.
Although secretive and seldom seen, the number of Eastern hognose snakes is fairly stable; however, certain populations have shown declines in areas of high development. Places like Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary and other protected lands can serve as a haven for these and other species. Jug Bay in particular is home to a multitude of species, including rare and uncommon species like bald eagles and least bitterns. Work by Chesapeake Bay Program partners to conserve undeveloped land—particularly the woodlands and coastal areas preferred by the Eastern hognose—can help protect not only these snakes, but countless other wildlife species.