Spring on the farm brings thoughts of lambs, chicks, piglets and calves, but how about a hatchling hognosed snake? In early May, eight week old Amélie joined our farm family. Two of our wonderful wildlife care volunteers, Veronica Galban and Natalia Piwko, went to a reptile show and fell for this beautiful 6” captive bred snake.
“Why a western hognose snake?” you might ask. Well, they are very closely related to one of our most fascinating local reptiles, the eastern hognosed snake, and they share many of the same adaptations. The upturned snout, which gives them their common name, is used for digging in sandy soils. Although they will eat salamanders, frogs, insects and small rodents, one food that tops their list is toads. They are immune to the toxic liquid that flows from a captured toad’s parotid glands, and they have specially adapted rear teeth which help them to hold onto the toads and to deliver their own toxic saliva that subdues their prey (FYI this has not been found harmful to humans). These teeth account for their latin name Heterodon (“different tooth”) nasicus.
In the wild, if a hognosed snake is approached by a predator, it can flatten its head and neck into a “hood” like a cobra, draw in a huge breath of air, and let out an explosive “hisssssss”, which is usually enough to startle its foe, giving it time to slither away. If this doesn’t work, it will strike repeatedly, but usually with a closed mouth. If this is not enough to insure its safety, the hognose will roll over on its back, often doing a bit of writhing at first, as though it is in pain, and then play dead. I have watched individuals do this and sometimes they even stick a limp tongue out of their open mouth for greater affect. The very interesting thing about this behavior is that it is an adaptation in the making….it has not been perfected yet. If you roll the hognose over on its belly in the middle of its performance, it will roll right back over, to assure you it really is dead!
Amélie is still getting to know us. We are introducing ourselves slowly with the hopes she will become a valued part of our educational programs, and will NOT be stressed into any of these behaviors, but will allow students an opportunity to meet an intriguing and gentle reptile, like her eastern hognose cousins that live throughout Fairfield County and need to be protected. At the moment, Amélie will sit on our hands, but if we move too quickly, she flattens out her hood and lets out a “Hissss” so we have a ways to go before earning her trust. Hopefully you will meet her soon. Our thanks to Natalia and Veronica for adding such an intriguing and beautiful snake to our family!