eastern hog-nosed snake

(Heterodon platirhinos)


This is a stout, medium-sized snake that grows to lengths of 20-33 in. (51-84 cm). The upturned nose is characteristic. This docile snake is also identifiable by its tendency to inflate its head and neck, coil, hiss and strike when initially disturbed. It does not bite, however, and if this display does not scare away the predator, the snake will writhe and feign death. It is quite variable in color, but usually tan to dark brown, and sometimes yellowish. The back has darker brown to tan blotches, which fade with age so that some older snakes are all brown. The belly is cream to yellow with light brown blotches. There is also an all black phase of this species, in which individuals are uniformly black on the back with little or no pattern, and the belly may be cream with black flecks or all dark gray. Some individuals may be dark gray on the back with a slightly darker pattern. The juvenile is similar to the adult in pattern and coloration. This species is not usually confused with any other snake because of its behavior when found in the field. No other Virginia species possesses the upturned nose. This snake emerges from hibernation in late March or early April and mates shortly thereafter. The eggs, numbering 4-60, are laid in June or July and hatch in late July to early September. This snake is completely terrestrial but will enter water to migrate between areas. It is also active during daylight hours, is seldom found under surface objects, and may burrow into sandy soil at night and during winter hibernation.


This species is found statewide in Virginia. The eastern hognosed snake avoids wet areas and prefers open, sandy habitats. It is found in fields, open grassy areas adjacent woods, and open pine, mixed pine-hardwood, and hardwood forests. It is seldom found in dense wooded tracts, but is often found in the edge areas.


This species will burrow to capture buried prey. Hognosed snakes are almost exclusively predators of toads, although other prey are occasionally taken, including frogs, newts, salamanders, and even small rodents. Toads inflate themselves as a defensive measure, but hognose snakes have a pair of enlarged teeth on the maxillary bones that are used to deflate them, thus aiding in swallowing. The toxins found in the skin glands of toads are neutralized by enzymes in the snake’s digestive tract.