Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)
This species is unquestionably one of the most variably colored and patterned snakes found in Arkansas. The predominant coloration can be black, brown, dark olive, yellow, or red. Some individuals will have a bold blotched patterning while others will be almost completely solid. Solid individuals are typically dark: brown or olive. Patterned individuals typically have a background coloration of yellow or light tan, though some are more rust-colored.
Distinguishing features include a strongly upturned snout and two large black blotches that make for very primitive-looking "eyespots" on the neck. The defensive behavior of this species is exaggerated and usually makes for easy identification (explained in the Temperament and Defense section).
Juveniles of the species are typically two-toned, having a lighter background coloration and darker blotches. The general coloration may vary from light tan to red to brown. Some amount of darkening and color changing will occur as individuals age. Juveniles may not perform the same exaggerated defensive display as the adults.
This species goes by numerous common names. Some of these include Blowing Adder, Death Adder, False Cobra, Hissing Adder, Opossum Snake, Puff Adder, Sand Viper, Spreadhead, Spreading Adder, or some variation thereof.
This species can be found in a variety of habitats, especially where there is an abundant population of frogs and toads. Although several references I've read seem to indicate a preference for areas with sandy soils, I have not necessarily found this to be the case. In fact, typical woodland habitat seems to be perfectly suitable (but especially areas with lots of pines or cedars). I have also encountered them at cedar glade areas and similar habitats, where they may be found basking.
This species appears to follow a pattern typical for many species in the state: hibernate through the winter, breed in the spring, and lay eggs in the summer. The large bodies of the females allows for her to have many eggs relative to her size. It is not uncommon to find the hatchlings moving about in the fall; when they are perhaps looking for food or a den site.
This species specializes in a diet of toads. Some field guides indicate that this species also eats other kinds of frogs and that the young sometimes take small insects. In captivity, they are reluctant to accept anything other than toads (otherwise, they generally make good captives).
Several adaptations of this species "fit" with the diet of toads. The upturned snout is perfectly suited for digging up a buried toad. The large mouth allows room for a fat meal, such as a toad puffed-up with air or one that is swallowed sideways. Once a ballooned toad is far enough down the hatch, two larger teeth in the back of the mouth will "pop it". It is also interesting to note that many other animals find toads to be an unpalatable prey item due to the poisonous secretions in their skin. Hog-nosed Snakes, however, have evolved to chemically tolerate such a diet; allowing them access to a relatively abundant food source.
This species has one of the most bizarre and exaggerated defensive displays in all of the animal kingdom! When first approached or threatened, a Hog-nosed Snake will begin to hiss very loudly. It will begin to flatten out its neck, revealing two large black spots on the neck. Although "primitive", these black spots likely act as eye spots (a common defensive patterning found in a variety of organisms--ex. large spots on the wings of butterflies). As the defensive display continues, it may eventually flatten out almost its entire body. If touched, it will "false strike" with its mouth closed. Some specimens, however, will gape their mouths open and their strikes seem more intent on actually biting. If harassment continues, a Hog-nosed Snake will deflatten, stop hissing, defecate, and writhe about for a couple of seconds. This maneuver acts to smear a foul-smelling musk over its entire body before the final ploy: playing dead! This species will roll over, flop its mouth open, stick out its tongue, and lie motionless! If it is prodded or turned upright, it will repeat the thrashing step and roll back over. After a few minutes of being left alone, it will lift its head and look for the "all clear". If it feels safe, it will turn back over and go on its way.
It has always seemed hard to believe that some predator could be fooled into leaving a Hog-nosed snake alone after it started to play dead. The obvious question is "Doesn't this predator REMEMBER that 30 seconds ago this snake was alive?" Apparently it does work otherwise a Hog-nosed Snake wouldn't do it.
It takes very little time being handled or being in captivity before a Hog-nosed snake will no longer put on its defensive display.
This species seems to be fairly common and abundant. However, there are a number of reasons why this species does not fare too well when encountered by humans: it is large-bodied like many venomous snakes, it is variably colored (making it difficult for some people to readily identify), it is not as apt as some snakes to simply crawl away, it hisses very loudly, and it spreads its neck "like a cobra".