The hognose snake is a type of colubrid snake characterized by an upturned snout. They are notorious for playing dead when threatened. The hognose snakes consist of three distantly related genera that are artificially grouped together by the "hognose" common name: Heterodon which are predominantly found in United States and northern Mexico. Leioheterodon the Madagascar hognose snakes, and Lystrophis the South American or tri-colored hognose snakes.
Hognose snakes are extremely variable in color and pattern. H. nasicus and H. kennerlyi tend to be sandy colored with black and white markings, while H. platirhinos varies from reds, greens, oranges, browns, to melanistic (i.e. black) depending on locality. They are sometimes blotched and sometimes solid-colored. L. geayi is a brown or tan colored snake with dark speckling on it. L. madagascariensis is typically green and yellow with a black checkerboard pattern along its back. L. modestus is normally a gold-brown color. The species in the genus Lystrophis are referred to as tri-color hognose snakes and sometimes as false coral snakes because they display alternating bands of red, white, and black.
Leioheterodon are the largest of the hognose snakes, capable of reaching lengths of 1.8 m. H. platirhynos gets slightly larger than other species of the genus, reaching lengths of 80 cm, where other species in the genus as well as Lystrophis species usually average around 65 cm at adult size.
Hognose snakes (Heterodon) are rear-fanged and technically venomous, but the venom they excrete is not considered to be dangerous to humans and they will never bite in defense (as the only way to get bitten by a hognose snake is to smell like their prey). There has been some debate whether or not hognose are venomous, but there is evidence that their saliva has some toxicity to smaller prey items, such as toads and frogs. The fangs have been referred to as just "enlarged teeth", but they are genuine fangs that are used for venom delivery and also prey restraint. Despite the common belief, there is no evidence to support the fangs being used for "toad popping". Under this belief, the toads inflate their lungs to make swallowing difficult, but the fangs would penetrate the lungs and deflate them. However, whole toads with intact lungs are commonly regurgitated by recently captured hognoses.
If this threat display does not work to deter a would-be predator, hognose snakes will often roll onto their back and play dead, going so far as to emit a foul musk and fecal matter from their cloaca and let their tongue hang out of their mouth, sometimes accompanied by small droplets of blood. If they are rolled upright while in this state, they will often roll back as if insisting they really are dead. It has been observed that the snake, while appearing to be dead, will still watch the animal that caused the death pose. The snake will 'resurrect' sooner if the threat is looking away from it than if the threat is looking at the snake.
For most hog nose snakes the bulk of their diet is made up by rodents, and lizards. H. platyrhinos is an exception, and specializes in feeding on toads although other food items such as eggs, insects and mice can make up as much as 50% of their diet.