Appearance This snake uses its sharply upturned snout for digging. It has a stout body, from 15 to 25 inches long, with dark oval blotches along its sides and head. Its belly and underside of the tail are primarily black, sometimes mixed with yellow or orange. This species closely resembles the eastern hognose snake (H. platirhinos), which has a less upturned snout and a tail that is light colored underneath.
Range and Habitat The western hognose snake's range runs from southern Canada through the central United States into northern Mexico. It prefers open, sparsely vegetated habitats on well-drained soils, such as dry prairie or oak savanna. It frequently uses pocket gopher burrows.
Life History The western hognose snake overwinters below the frost line in a mammal tunnel or self-dug burrow and emerges from hibernation early in the spring. Breeding usually takes place in mid-April through May. The female lays two to 24 eggs in late May to early July, and the young emerge after 50 to 65 days.
Food This snake eats a variety of prey, including toads, frogs, salamanders, lizards, small snakes, and small rodents.
Defenses Foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and hawks are predators of this species. This generally docile snake has three main anti-predation defenses. Its first line of defense is to attempt to escape down a hole or bury itself in the dirt. The second is to make itself look bigger by flattening its neck and head. It also might raise its head, hiss loudly, and strike with a closed mouth. If all this does not deter the harasser, the snake might feign death by writhing around, rolling onto its back, and remaining motionless with its mouth open and tongue hanging out. It also might throw up a recent meal or let feces ooze from its vent. The snake occasionally lifts its head to see if the threat has passed. Once the threat is gone, the snake rights itself and slithers away.
Status and Threats The western hognose snake is currently classified as a species of special concern in Minnesota. The major threat to this species is habitat loss, caused primarily by agriculture and urban sprawl. Local populations are threatened when roads and other developments fragment their open grassland habitat. Additionally, people who encounter a hognose snake may be frightened by its defense posture and kill it.
Liz Harper, central region nongame wildlife specialist
DNR Nongame Wildlife Program
The western hognose snake lives in the Anoka Sand Plain ecological subsection highlighted in Tomorrow's Habitat for the Wild and Rare: An Action Plan for Minnesota Wildlife. This vast area sits atop the sandy bed of a former glacial lake and was predominantly oak savanna, upland prairie, and wetlands in the 1890s. Today it is home to the second fastest-growing human population in Minnesota. Development poses risks to habitat for the hognose snake, badger, eastern meadowlark, and 94 other species in greatest conservation need. To learn more, visit www.mndnr.gov/cwcs/subsection_profiles.html.