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Reptiles and Amphibians of North Dakota

Western Hognose Snake (Heterdon nasicus)

species distribution map JPG -- Species Photo

Western hognose snakes are medium-sized and can reach a length of 39 inches. The key characteristic of these snakes are their uptumed snouts, which act like a shovel to burrow into loose soil. They are primarily active during the early morning and evening hours. During the day they escape the heat by burrowing into the ground. The coloration of their backs is tan, brown, or yellowish-gray with dark blotches and 2-3 rows of spots on their sides. Another characteristic is the pattern of large black blotches on their bellies extending all the way to the tail.

The females mate in March through May, laying a clutch of 4-23 eggs in soft or sandy soil.

These snakes prefer sandy, graveled areas that occur in grassland, prairie and mixed forest habitats. Although hognose snakes are not poisonous to humans, they do have a venom that is released through hollow back teeth into their prey. These snakes will eat almost anything they can swallow, including toads, lizards, snakes, reptile eggs, small birds, and rodents.

When hognose snakes are disturbed or cornered they put on an amazing display. They will inflate their bodies, hiss loudly, open their mouths wide and attempt to strike. It is a pretty good show for a nonpoisonous snake. If this display fails to deter a predator, they will roll over and play dead. It is a very convincing act, with their mouths open and tongues hanging out. These snakes will remain limp and motionless if handled. They lose their credibility when placed right side up, for they are convinced they should be dead, and immediately roll over exposing their bellies. Hognose snakes have many different names, such as puff adders, hissing adders, and sand adders to name a few. These names carry with them the element of fear. Many of these snakes are killed needlessly. Hognose snakes are easily handled and prized as pets.

Hognose snakes have been collected throughout the state. Most of the specimens have been found in north central, southwest, and southeast North Dakota.

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