Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)
The UTRCA wants to hear about sightings of the Threatened Eastern Hog-nosed Snake in the Upper Thames River watershed. Please contact Scott Gillingwater, Species at Risk Biologist, to report a sighting.
One of Ontario’s most unique snake species, the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake can be found in sandy areas, ranging from open fields to dunes and thickets to mixed forests. This harmless snake is named for its upturned snout, which it uses to prod for toads, to bury itself in sand, or to excavate a nest. (See more photos on Flickr)
The Hog-nosed is a heavy-bodied snake that can reach lengths of 50 to 115 cm as an adult. The colour and pattern are highly variable. In juveniles and some adults there are large, dark blotches along the back, alternating with smaller blotches along the sides. The background colour can be grey, green, yellow, orange or brown. Some adults have a solid dorsal colour of brown, olive, grey or black (melanistic). The belly can be cream or yellow with grey mottling. The underside of the tail is generally lighter than the rest of the belly.
Females lay an average of 10 to 20 eggs in early summer, and young emerge in August or September. A prey specialist, the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake’s diet is primarily comprised of toads.
When a Hog-nosed Snake is disturbed, it will usually lie motionless at first, relying on its camouflage pattern to protect it. When threatened, it will try a number of tactics to escape harm. A master of fakery, this harmless snake will spread its neck like a cobra, vibrate the tip of its tail, release a foul smelling liquid, assume a coiled defensive position, gape its mouth, hiss loudly and pretend to strike with a closed mouth. If none of these defences work, the snake will roll over and play dead, mouth open and tongue dangling to the side!
No other snake in Ontario has an upturned snout. The Massasauga rattlesnake is also a large, heavy-bodied snake, but it has vertical pupils, a rounded snout and usually a rattle at the end of its tail. In addition, the Massasauga rattlesnake does not occur in the UTRCA watershed.
The fact is there are no snake species in the Upper Thames River watershed that can harm people, although a few do look and act similar to venomous species from around the world. The Milksnake and Northern Watersnake are both non-venomous species that have blotched body patterns, similar to a rattlesnake, and will rapidly vibrate their tails to sound like a rattlesnake. The Eastern Hog-nosed Snake garners the most attention, though, for its ability to mimic a cobra.
Due to its large body size, slight resemblance to venomous species and elaborate defence displays, the harmless Hog-nosed Snake is often killed when encountered. This persecution, along with road mortality and loss of habitat, has resulted in population declines across the species’ range. The Hog-nosed Snake is listed as “Threatened” and is protected both provincially and federally.