Eastern Hog-Nosed Snake -- Cypress, Texas
(Heterodon platirhinos) Harmless, Inoffensive, Beneficial
Photos courtesy of R. Holley
The eastern hog-nosed snake is fairly large, as Texas snakes go, and comes in a wide variety of colors, and a range of markings. It has a stout body, and some assume that means it is poisonous. Rattlers, copperheads, and cottonmouths are stout snakes, true, but many of our harmless Texas snakes are also thick-girthed. Streamlined bodies are needed for speed and agility, and this snake needs neither, as its favorite prey is the toad. Even a slow mover like the eastern hog-nosed snake can keep up with, grasp, and make a meal of a toad without having to chase it very far. Because of its diet, the eastern hog-nosed snake needs massive, efficient adrenal glands that protect it from the toad's powerful digitaloid toxins. Ordinary snakes, with ordinary adrenals would die, from the venom secreted by the toad's poison glands, soon after eating one.
Certain facets of the eastern hog-nosed snake's shape and behavior are unique and easily recognizable. When I get calls or emails asking for help identifying a Texas snake that behaves like a cobra, with a hood that surrounds the head and throat, I know it is an eastern hog-nosed snake, as this is the only snake native to Texas that can be described that way.
The body of Mr. Holley's snake, shown below, is not relaxed as it would be in a non-threatening environment. The head, under normal conditions, is hardly wider than the neck, yet in the photo the head seems to dominate the snake's anatomy because the snake has spread the head laterally in hopes of frightening an aggressor away. The tactic tends to be successful, and most aggressors never get to find out that this otherwise mild-mannered, even cowardly (it plays dead if the spread hood fails to run an attacker off) ophidian is a true pussycat when dealing with humans, dogs, and other large animals.
This specimen, by the way, is a female. In the male, the tail tapers gently from the vent to its tip, but in this snake the tail constricts abruptly at the vent and tapers rapidly from there. In this species, the female's tail is often curled into a pigtail curlicue, as with this one.
To get an idea of how small this snake's head really is, see if you can discern its eyes. If you cannot pick them out, here's a hint: go to the tip of the nose, at the far left, and work back to the right until you reach the two dark tear-drop-shaped marks--the leading edge of each eye is at the pointed end of each tear-drop (you may be able to see the round pupil, surrounded by a golden iris, in the snake's right eye and, once you see that, the structure of the left eye becomes discernible as well). All the skin from the eye out to the edge of the face, laterally, is "puff" that disappears when the snake relaxes.
I prefer not to add annotations or text to an image unless absolutely necessary, as such things clutter and make the image less useful. I didn't violate that rule here, though it was tempting. Instead I took the above image, cropped it down to the right eye alone (along with the tear-drop marking on the nose), and enlarged it. The pupil of the eye is the dark elliptical shape in the upper right midsection of the enlarged image; the iris surrounds the pupil. Hopefully, you can see it better now. Once you do, look back at the image above, and note where the eye is in the snake's head. Then notice how much face extends from the eye outward. That is how much this snake has puffed up its jaws to "scare" its imagined attacker.
The eyes are even easier to see in the photo below, especially after noting where the eye is in the two images above.
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