Thursday, April 26, 2007

Eastern Hognose

The Eastern Hognose (Heterodon platirhinos) in the image was crossing the driveway at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest. As our sign along the driveway states, "Please brake for turtles and snakes." From the Georgia Wildlife Web: Scientific name: The genus name is from the Greek words hetero (different) and odon (tooth), a reference to the different sized teeth in this genus. The species name is derived from the Greek words platys (broad or flat) and rhinos (snout or nose), which refers to the flattened scale at the tip of the snout.

Hognose snakes dine primarily on amphibians, especially toads. Obviously, toads would prefer that they not be eaten, so they will inhale air and puff up themselves. The Eastern Hognose will clamp down on the toad and use its rear teeth to deflate the toad and swallow it whole.

If the Eastern Hognose feels threatened, it will flip over with its mouth agape and play dead. Most animals in the wild will pass on a meal if it is already dead, since they lack a vulture's ability to eat rancid meat. If you were to flip over the 'possum-playing snake, it would flip itself back into the "dead" position.

These snakes have good reason to fear humans. Although they eat toads, they also imitate venomous snakes as part of their defensive acting repertoire prior to playing dead. By hissing and flattening out their head and neck, they pose as deadly snakes and have earned nicknames such as "puff adder", "hissing sand snake", "spreading adder", "false cobra", and "death adder". This is unfortunate, because it illicits a fatal response from many humans despite the fact that this species seldom if ever bites, even when handled.

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