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Zoology/Snake Identification

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Snake
Snake  
Chris,

The kid who cuts my grass killed this snake in my backyard in Houston, Tx. He thought it was a copperhead, and later found another, much smaller one, in some roofing materials I have stacked against the fence. The side of the yard that he found this snake on is bordered by a creek with lots of vegetation around. I'm hoping you can help me identify the type of snake here. With kids, it would be helpful if you could give information on the best ways to guard against too many encounters with snakes. I know we'll have them, but the fewer, the better, in my opinion.

Thanks,

RND

Answer
I cringe at the sight of this...it almost brings me to tears...you couldn't have shown me a dead snake in the entire world that I would find sadder.  

The (dead) snake in your photo is 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!)
 
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 injected into toads and lizards by small fangs in the back of the mouth (they are classified in a group called rear-fanged snakes).  In 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 damage).  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…)

If you don’t want snakes around your property, the best thing you can do is clean it up so that there are not any good hiding places for snakes or their prey items (lizards, toads, etc.)  Roofing materials, boards, etc. are ideal habitat for snakes and their prey.  Snakes are quiet and shy animals that just want to keep out of harm’s way, hide, stay somewhat warm, occasionally sunning themselves, and hunt their prey.  If appropriate habitat is not present, they may pass through an area, but they won’t stick around.

Whereas this snake is a Harmless species, that doesn’t mean there aren’t venomous copperheads or cottonmouths in your area; as copperheads and cottonmouths can be quite common throughout different parts of Texas…in fact, in the woods at the edge on my own neighborhood in Denton, TX, I have seen many copperheads, but no hognose snakes.  :-(  

Please feel free to write again with any questions you may have.  Thanks.

-Chris  

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Chris

Expertise

I can answer a wide variety of questions about general evolution or ecology. I can identify wild reptiles and amphibians based on moderate to high quality descriptions or photos, and I can provide information about species' habitats, behaviors, ranges, etc.

Experience

I am an academic, and have published on paleontology, evolution and ecology; and have professionally studied nearly all major vertebrate groups; sharks and other fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. I have conducted professional field research on reptiles and amphibians, as well as many other animals. "Herping" and nature photography have always been some of my favorite hobbies.

Education/Credentials
B.S. General Biology, William Paterson University. Currently working towards a Ph.D. at University of North Texas.

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