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The Herps of La Crosse

Living With Herps

Easy Herp Monitoring

Herps as Pets

General Herp Info

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Eastern Hognose Snake

(Heterodon platirhinos)

Pictured above:  Hognose Snakes get their name because of the upturned scale at the tip of their noses (top right).  Juveniles are typically more colorful than adults (bottom left).  When threatened, hognose snakes will "play dead" (bottom).

        Description:  Adult Hognose Snakes are thick bodied and normally 20 to 33 inches.  They are generally olive or brown with elongated black spots on either side of the neck (pictured above, top left).  Their bellies are usually white or cream.  Juveniles have a distinct pattern that tends to fade in adults.  These snakes can always be recognized by the upturned scale at the tip of their snout, which makes them appear to have a “hognose”.  Hognose Snakes are members of the family Xenodontidae, which also includes ring-necked snakes (snakes that exist in Wisconsin, but perhaps not in the La Crosse area).  The word Heterodon (which is the genus of Hognose Snakes), in Latin, literally means "different tooth".  This is in reference to the rear teeth of these snakes, which are longer than their front teeth.  It is said that these teeth are helpful in swallowing their preferred food item: toads.

        Habitat/Ecology: These snakes are said to be found in river floodplain areas, open woodlands, or grasslands with sandy soil.  I have also found them in very dry areas along bluff sides in nearby Crawford County.  They seem to spend most of their time below ground-cover or debris.  They tend to over-winter in rock fissures or abandoned mammal burrows that go below the frost line. 

Mating in these snakes generally occurs in the spring after emergence from hibernation.  Vogt (1981) tells of a reported mating pair found in September, which I would assume is not a common occurrence.  Females are said to deposit anywhere from less than ten to greater than twenty eggs in sandy humus.  These eggs then hatch in approximately 60 days.

The primary source of food for Hognose snakes are toads.  It is said that their elongated rear fangs may help puncture and deflate toads during the swallowing process (toads tend to inflate themselves to avoid being swallowed by predators).  These snakes also have a saliva that is mildly toxic, and perhaps beneficial in subduing prey.  However, they have a very inefficient delivery system (because their elongated teeth are in the back of their mouths, a prey item must be partially swallowed before it can be "envenomated").  Therefore, these snakes are not considered dangerous.

        Remarks:  Hognose Snakes will usually attempt to escape if threatened.  However, when cornered, these snakes perform an elaborate display that includes fanning out their necks, puffing up their bodies, and hissing.  Occasionally, they will strike but rarely with an open mouth. 

        If they are not left alone, these snakes will roll over and “play dead” (pictured above).  This display is often accompanied by vomiting and defecation, which causes them to smell, and look, like a dead animal.  For this reason (and their preferred diet of toads) these snakes do not make good pets.  The Hognose Snake has several names by which it goes, including; Puff Adder, Blow Adder, and Blower Snake.  Unfortunately, all of these names give the impression of something that is dangerous.  On the contrary, Hognose snakes are quite harmless and should never be killed for any reason. 

        I have found Hognose Snakes in nearby Crawford County (Wisconsin) and would expect them to be present around La Crosse.  These are one of my personal favorite snakes in the state and if anyone knows of areas where they exist nearby, I would love to hear about it.


There can be quite a bit of variation in the color of hognose snakes.  Most of them look like the ones pictured at the top of this page, but a few can be heavily patterned, like this.  Check out the individual on the right.  See how cloudy his eyes are?  That means he's getting ready to shed his skin.

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