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Western Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus) Zoology


Note: Make sure to read the General Zoology page before reading this section!

| Introduction & Description | Classification | Distribution | Natural Habitat | Natural Diet | Western Hognose Snake Byte | Books | Related Topics | References |
| Email This Page | Western Hognose Snake Care Sheet |

Western Hognose Snake Introductions & Description:

Western Hognose snakes (Heterodon nasicus) consists of three subspecies, namely the nominate form, H. n. nasicus or the Plains Hognose snake, H. n. glodi or the Dusty Hognose and H. n. kennerlyi or the Mexican Hognose. Although the colouration if these subspecies differ, they all have the same basic external appearance and have similar patterns.

Other members of the Heterodon genus includes the Eastern Hognose snakes (H. platirhinos), which is also a snake with an upturned snout. It is normally grey-brown or tan with distinct dark brown markings down its back. Some individuals lack most of the spots, except for large black spots behind the head. The belly is mottled with grey.

a b Western Hognose Snake Playing Dead Picture

Figure 1  a The face of a Western Hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus nasicus). Note the short rounded head with the upright snout; b A Western Hognose snake  "playing dead". They will do so by turning violently on their backs, then laying with their mouth agape and the tongue protruding. When touched it will usually jump up again.

Western Hognose snakes are known for their strange appearance and aggressive bluffing behaviour which includes aggressive gestures and playing dead. When playing dead one will lie on its back with its mouth open and its tongue protruded, which can look quite convincing, but when it is disturbed it will jump up again and continue with its bluffing act. The Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) native to South Africa and the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique and the Mozambique Spitting Cobra (Naja mossambica) native to parts in Southern Africa are also known for this "playing dead" behaviour.

Western Hognose snakes are all stout bodied snakes with heavily keeled scales. The feature which distinguishes them from other snakes is the upturned rostrum or snout (rostral nose scale) which is used like a shovel to burrow. The head is short and cannot be distinguished easily from the body.

The ground colour of these snakes varies from yellow/cream, brown to reddish which are covered with small dark, rectangular dorsal blotches and a few rows of roundish lateral ones. Males apparently have more spots than females. The belly or ventral side is darkly pigmented with dirty yellow stripes.

The Plains Hognose snake is pale brown or buff with highly contrasting saddles of dark brown, reddish brown or olive along its back and flanks, while the Dusty Hognose snake is brown with similar markings and the Mexican subspecies is greyish in colour with poorly defined markings.

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Western Hognose Snake Classification:


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Western Hognose Snake Distribution:

These snakes are roughly found in a north-south band through the Great Plains states of North America from southern Alberta and south-western Manitoba in Canada and Washington on the west to Michigan and New Mexico on the east and west respectively.

Western Hognose Snake Natural Habitat:

Western Hognose snakes prefer open grasslands or open sandy areas and loose prairie soils where they like to burrow.

Western Hognose Snake Natural Diet:

In nature these snakes eat toads, frogs, salamanders, lizards, lizard eggs, small snakes, birds, birds eggs, mice and shrews. They detect prey by sight and smell and will eat both live and dead and rotten materials.

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Western Hognose Snake Byte:

Hognoses will very rarely bite, but when they do they will often keep on biting and work their way deeper into the biting site. Some authors claim that this is only because of their aggressive feeding behaviour and the fact that they wrongfully confuse your hand with potential prey. These snakes have poorly developed teeth and are situated at the back of the mouth. Venom is not produced in the teeth, but is mixed with the saliva and is produced by specialised glands called the Davernoy’s glands. Some authors claim that these snakes do not produce their own venom and that it is rather derived from the poisons of toads they consume in nature. Reports show that when a Hognose snakes gets in a proper bite, (i.e. they get to break the skin surface) the saliva mixed with toxin have a cell killing (cytotoxic) effect and the area will be in pain and swell up profusely for a few days, after which the swelling will subside. When a finger is bitten the whole hand will swell up and when the hand is bitten often a large part of the arm will also swell up. References confirmed this with snakes kept in captivity.

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Western Hognose Snake Books:

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"If you did not understand something or thought that I left a few things out, read the General Zoology page. If you think I should add more information to this section or think that something is incorrect, contact me and let me know. I would love to hear your ideas or methods you might use that is different than ours."

Last updated 24 May 2008 by Renier Delport

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Related Topics:

General Zoology
General Snake Care Sheet
Western Hognose Snake Care Sheet
Feeding Problems

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References & Further Reading:

Bartlett, Patricia P. & Griswold, Billy, 2001 Reptiles, Amphibians & Invertebrates - An Identification & Care Guide. Barron's Educational Series U.S.

Marais, Johan, 1999 Snakes & Snake Bite in Southern Africa. Struik Publishers.

Mattison, Chris, 1998 Keeping & Breeding Snakes, Second Edition. Blandford.

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| Introduction & Description | Classification | Distribution | Natural Habitat | Natural Diet | Western Hognose Snake Byte | Books | Related Topics | References |
| Email This Page | Western Hognose Snake Care Sheet |





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