Friday, May 15, 2009
A snake that plays dead
These are pictures of a snake that explored my backyard for a good while this afternoon. As you can see, the Mocking Bird wasn't too happy. When the bird tried to frighten the snake off, the snake flattened his head and neck. I did some research, and concluded that this is a Western Hognose snake. Hognose snakes eat mostly toads and frogs, but will eat some birds and other small mammals. This snake is easily identifiable by its upturned snout, stout body, and ability to flatten its neck and head, much like a cobra. It is non-venomous, however, and if its flattening and hissing doesn't frighten you away,it will roll over and play dead. If you try to turn it upright, it will roll back over and attempt to fool you again -- ridiculous and endearing, if you ask me. Here is a video of one playing dead.
Pardon the quality of the pics with the bird -- I took them in a hurry through the screen.
[update: I have been informed by Jon Downes, director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, that this snake isn't entirely harmless. Here is what he says: "Members of this genus have enlarged maxillary teeth and possess a slightly toxic saliva. In a few cases involving bites from this species, the symptoms reported have ranged from none at all to mild tingling, swelling and numbness. Nevertheless, they are generally considered to be harmless."]