the snake that plays “possum”

While looking for Sandhill Cranes and warblers out at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge the other day, we ran into a field biologist from the Department of Natural Resources who was releasing an Eastern Hognose snake.

The snake had just been implanted with a location transmitter that will allow DNR biologists to track this animal and find out more about its home range and preferred habitat.

This snake had just been implanted with a very small location transmitter that will allow DNR biologists to track this animal and find out more about its home range and preferred habitat.  This is apparently a large size for a hognose snake.

Their heads might look small, but Hognose snakes can engulf a large leopard frog or a mouse without the use of poison fangs or constriction. A set of fangs at the rear of their mouth may help them hang on to their prey as they swallow. Eastern Hognose snakes prefer toads to frogs, though.

Hognose snakes are name for the peculiar scales that give the tip of their snout a shovel appearance.

Hognose snakes are named for the peculiar scales that give the tip of their snout a shovel-like appearance.  They use their shovel-snout to dig into sandy soil and loose litter, either looking for prey or trying to escape predators.

Even though they possess fangs, they are not aggressive and rarely bite when provoked. Instead, they try to bluff their way out of confrontations with potential predators. The first line of defense is to mimic the behavior of a puff adder by coiling up, inflating and flattening their neck, raising their head like a cobra and hissing as violently as a small snake can manage.

If that doesn’t scare off the would-be predator, the snake immediately tries to play dead by rolling on its back, emitting foul odors from its scent glands, excreting feces, opening its mouth widely in a death pose, and even spurting out a few drops of blood. Some predators won’t try to eat dead prey, so they might give up on the snake as a meal.

This Hognose snake tried to be more convincing by regurgitating its last meal -- a frog.

This Hognose snake tried to be more convincing by regurgitating its last meal — a frog.  Photo by Benny Mazur from Toledo, OH. [(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

They will remain in this “death pose” for 10-15 minutes, watching the predator with their unblinking eyes.  If righted, they will immediately roll over again, “playing possum”, just like the mammal for whom the term was coined.

playing-possum-Wikipedia

An Opposum “playing possum” . From Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opossum

3 thoughts on “the snake that plays “possum”

    • Indeed it is. And the adaptations that go along with that will to live is pretty much what has kept me interested in science for 60+ years.

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