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August 2021’s Animal Of The Month – Western Hognose Snakes

By August 31, 2021 No Comments

And scene! Now that today is the last day of August, our Animal of the Month – the western hognose snake – is taking his final bow. We hope you enjoyed following us on Twitter @ExoticPetVets as we tweeted all month long about these dramatic reptiles. But here is a summary of our tweets in case you missed any – or want to have a reference available at any time! Did you know?:

  • The Western hognose snake (Heterodon nasiscus) is a small-to-medium-sized snake endemic to North America, ranging from southern Canada all the way to northern Mexico.
  • Despite the name, the western hognose snake is not found along North America’s west coast. This snake’s range actually cuts a swath right down the middle of the continent.
  • The western hognose snake is also commonly known as the plains hognose snake.
  • Depending on the source and locale, the conservation status of the wild western hognose snake population is either listed as stable or in trouble.
  • The IUCN Red List says because of its huge range, the western hognose snake population is presumed to be large and stable so it is listed as a species of “least concern.”
  • But the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) listed the western hognose snake as being a species of “special concern” in November 2019.
  • In Canada, western hognose snakes are found in southern Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta with what COSEWIC describes as “patchy distribution.”
  • COSEWIC says the number of mature wild western hognose snakes in Canada is unclear. But it is believed the population is under 10,000 – and dropping – due to habitat loss and deaths from motor vehicles.
  • According to COSEWIC, the western hognose snake population in the wild is headed toward “threatened” status and will reach that grim milestone if the population is not managed properly.
  • It’s visually obvious as to why they are called western hognose snakes. They have a hard nose (rostral) scale at the end of their upturned snouts, which gives them their hog-like appearance.
  • Western hognose snakes have stout compact bodies. Females are larger than their male counterparts, usually growing to just shy of 3 feet. Males are much smaller at between 1-2 feet.
  • Western hognose snakes have keeled scales, which means each scale has a ridge running lengthwise through its centre. This ridge makes snakes with keeled scales feel rougher to the touch.
  • Western hognose snakes are usually olive, tan or grey in colour with darker coloured blotches down the length of their bodies.
  • Selective breeding of captive western hognose snakes has created many different varieties of colour morphs.
  • Typical habitats for wild western hognose snakes include prairies, grasslands, scrublands and desert.
  • Western hognose snakes prefer to live in areas with sand or loose sand-like soil. They will dig in the soil to hunt for food and make burrows with their upturned snouts, which are like their own personal shovels.
  • Like all snakes, western hognose snakes are carnivores. In the wild, the vast majority of their diet consists of frogs and toads.
  • Toads and frogs will inflate their bodies in order to be too big to be eaten. Western hognose snakes have enlarged fangs towards the backs of their mouths, which is an adaptation that allows them to eat these amphibians.
  • When a frog or toad is captured by a western hognose snake and tries to inflate in his mouth, the western hognose will use his rear fangs to puncture the amphibian.
  • Another feeding adaptation that western hognose snakes have lies in their saliva, which can neutralize toxins found in the skin of frogs and toads.
  • In addition to frogs and toads, western hognose snakes will also eat small lizards and rodents, birds and the eggs of ground-nesting birds.
  • What do Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and western hognose snakes all have in common? They are all famous for their acting skills! But unlike Streep and Hanks, the western hognose uses his theatrics to defend himself.
  • To ward off predators, the western hognose snake will hiss loudly and flatten his neck, making him look larger and giving him a hooded cobra-like appearance.
  • If that doesn’t scare a predator away, western hognose snakes will also strike at their threat. But the western hognose strikes with a closed mouth and will only hit the threat with his snout. They won’t bite.
  • As a last resort, the western hognose snake will play dead in order to defend himself. He’ll thrash around and flip over on his back, mouth gaping open and tongue hanging out. He’ll also produce a foul odour suggesting decomposition.
  • Western hognose snakes also defend themselves by using Batesian mimicry, which is when a relatively harmless species evolves to resemble another species that is harmful – in this case, they resemble rattlesnakes.
  • Predators, which include coyotes, foxes, larger snakes and hawks, may leave a western hognose snake alone if they think he is a rattlesnake.
  • There seems to be some debate on whether or not western hognose snakes are venomous. The divide appears to center on defining “venomous” as “harmful to humans.”
  • Some sources declare that western hognose snakes are not venomous because while they do have saliva that is toxic to their prey, it’s only mildly irritating to humans with sensitivities.
  • Other sources suggest that even though western hognose snakes are not harmful to humans, they should be considered venomous because of the effect their toxic saliva has on their prey.
  • The western hognose snake’s rear-fangs and upturned snout are reflected in this species’ scientific name – Heterodon nasiscus.
  • “Heterodon” is Greek meaning “different tooth,” while “nasiscus” is from the Latin word “nasus” which means “nose.”
  • Western hognose snakes have an average lifespan of between 10 and 20 years. In the wild, they usually live closer to 10 years. But with proper care in captivity, they can live to about 20.

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