Nature – Hognose Defense Strategy

Hognose snakes are stout-bodied, sluggish, rear-fanged snakes. Their venom is mild and not dangerous to humans and their most distinguishing feature is their upturned snout for which they are named. This upturned snout aids them in digging in the loose sandy soil habitats in which they live. There are three species in North America: the Eastern Hognose, Western Hognose, and Southern Hognose. The Eastern Hognose is found in a wide range of habitats throughout the east, the Western Hognose occurs in deserts and plains of the west, and the small Southern Hognose is found in mature pine forests of the southeast. Hognose snakes are diurnal predators which prey on lizards, rodents, birds, amphibians, eggs, and insects. The Eastern Hognose preys mostly on toads which have very toxic poisons in their skin. To deal with this, the hognose has huge adrenal glands in its body that secrete antidotes that neutralize the poisons or the snake would die.

Coming in a wide range of colors and patterns, Eastern Hognose are often confused with poisonous snakes such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, and young cottonmouths. To further heighten the confusion is its strange defensive behavior. When first encountered by a potential predator, the hognose lies perfectly still, hoping that its coloration will make it inconspicuous. If that doesn’t work, it frantically tries to escape. If this fails it goes into a feigned aggression by rising up and flattening its head and neck like a cobra and making a loud hissing noise. This behavior has given it the nickname of spreading adder. At this time the mouth can be either open or closed. Often it will try to hide its head under the coils of its body and extend its tail up to distract from its vulnerable head. If this doesn’t work the snake will start aggressively striking out with its mouth closed, but it will not bite. Finally if the snake is attacked or touched, it will start writhing with its mouth open, discharging foul-smelling fecal material and strong scented musk from glands at the base of its tail. If it has eaten recently, it will also vomit. The writhing results in the snake covering its body in the foul smelling secretions. Sometimes the tissues in the open mouth will bleed copiously. While all this is going on the snake turns belly up.When the writhing finally ceases, with a twitch it goes limp and still, with tongue hanging out, feigning death. From this position of apparent death it waits for its would be predator to leave. During this time it can be picked up, all the while remaining limp and unmoving unless it is turned right side up, which will result in it rolling upside down again.

Like the hognose snakes we have an enemy, but he is too smart for us to defend ourselves without help. “Now is the time when we are to confess and forsake our sins, that they may go beforehand to judgment and be blotted out. Now is the time to ‘cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’ (II Corinthians 7:1). It is dangerous to delay this work. Satan is even now seeking by disasters upon sea and land to seal the fate of as many as possible. What is the defense of the people of God at this time? It is a living connection with heaven. If we would dwell in safety from the noisome pestilence, if we would be preserved from dangers seen and unseen, we must hide in God; we must secure the protecting care of Jesus and holy angels.” In Heavenly Places, 348.

David Arbour writes from his home in De Queen, Arkansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: