Zoology/NEED TO IDENTIFY THIS SPECIES
Please, need help identifying this species of snake I have come across in Southern part of Rhode Island on old nuclear site. Have provided a close up of original picture. The snake was about 12-14 inches long, appeared to be something on the tail, leading me to suspect a timber rattlesnake but, again not sure! please help!
This snake may have curled its tail when approached, which is a common behavior for this species, but it is certainly no rattlesnake. The snake in your photo is actually one of my favorite snakes, an Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos).
Eastern Hognose Snakes are 'supposed' to be fairly common in somewhat Sandy areas throughout the Eastern United States, but really their populations tend to be quite small and localized. They have a tendency to pop up in strange places...window wells, etc. That being said, I have never seen one in the wild (although I have looked…I am really hoping to find one already!)
The Eastern Hognose Snake attains an adult length of 18 to 36 inches, with females generally being larger than males. Females lay anywhere from 10 to 40 eggs per clutch during the summer, and have been known to lay 2 clutches during a single year in warmer parts of the range. The babies hatch at about 6 to 8 inches in length during the late summer and early fall. This one is probably one of last year’s babies.
Eastern Hognose Snakes are diurnally active and feed mainly on toads. They are well noted for gaping the mouth, puffing up, flattening their necks, and hissing loudly when disturbed...and then if you continue to 'harass' them, then they will roll over and play dead!
Many people mistake them for venomous species, but they are not vipers, by any means. Technically, they have a Very Mild Venom, used for subduing their Toad prey and injected in by small fangs in the back of the mouth (hognose snakes are classified in a group called rear-fanged snakes). In the case of a bite to a human, this venom can cause some localized swelling and discomfort more than expected from a non-venomous snake (but No permanent or serious damage has been reported). However, hognose snakes Very Rarely (almost never) try to bite, and are generally considered HARMLESS and QUITE SAFE TO HANDLE. (Gaping the mouth in a defensive display is quite different from striking or biting…and doesn’t mean they will bite, by any means…)
As a note, whereas some resources may say that there are No wild venomous snakes naturally occurring in Rhode Island today, but Timber Rattlers and Copperheads occur in surrounding states (e.g. http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/fishwild/pdf/risnakes.pdf
), in actuality, there still remains a small population of Timber Rattlers in Rhode Island, and finding one would not be that far-fetched. But, what you found here is a friendly little Eastern Hognose Snake.
Hope this helps. Please feel free to write again with any questions you may have. Thanks.