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.
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.
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.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.