Master Bluffer

Today on the way home from Wildwood Glen we encountered a snake on East Refuge Road in Crex Meadows Wildlife Area. I stopped next to it, thinking it had been hit by a car. It was lying on its back, but would twist and turn back to its “front”. I have seen Eastern Hognose Snakes many times in Crex and elsewhere in Burnett County, the first time when I was just a kid at the cabin, and the most recent time last fall when Addie and I were exploring the woods at Paint Mine. Here is a link to a video we recorded of that fairly docile snake.

The Eastern Hognose Snake grows to about 2 feet long, and feeds on small rodents, birds and amphibians, although the American Toad is it’s favorite meal. It lives in upland habitats in sandy soils.

The snake’s mouth is wide open here, and you can see the blotches of blood on the road above its head.

I have seen the Eastern Hognose Snake flatten its neck and rear its head, much like a cobra, hissing and even making striking bluffs before, which is creepy-cool enough, but this was the first time I encountered one in a full “playing dead” display. I was aware that one of its defenses is to roll over onto its back to play dead, but there was blood all over the road and on the snake, which is why I thought it had been hit. I took a few pictures and a short video. After moving the snake off the road with a stick, I left feeling bad thinking that the snake would likely die, although there was no part of it that appeared squished by a tire, and it slithered a short ways into the brush when I got it off the road.

Later, at home, I sent the video to a friend, and after a brief discussion, we came to the conclusion that the snake had not been hit, but had been in full bluffing mode to fend off attackers (me, or the giant truck I was in, anyway). According to various websites, it has capillaries in it’s mouth that can burst when it is doing its display, emitting blood, which is thought to aid in the snakes appearance of being sick or otherwise inedible. This would explain all the blood on the road and in its mouth. It curled up when on its stomach and appeared to bite itself a couple times. Theoretically, this strange display of rolling on its back is supposed to make potential predators think that the snake is dead and it would not make a good meal. However, it did not stay very still during this display, so I have doubts that it actually works! Here is the short video I took of it “playing dead”. Now I feel a lot better knowing that the blood is another defense mechanism, and the snake is probably sleeping well tonight and will live to hunt another day.

2 thoughts on “Master Bluffer

  1. Two or three years ago I was trout fishing on the Trade River near Evergreen Avenue. I was startled when I almost stepped on a Hognose snake! It did it’s “playing dead” act, but not before looking very fearsome, almost like a cobra in the way I recall it’s neck seeming to be flared out and it’s body reared up and ready to strike at me. As if that wasn’t upsetting enough, about ten minutes later, I almost stepped on a second Hognose snake that was just as fearsome acting and even bigger than the first! These two must have been mature adults, since they were certainly at least two feet long, and I would say probably even longer.
    Your info about them emitting blood when playing dead is new news to me. Wow!

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    1. Dan, the first time we saw one when I was a kid, a couple friends of mine and I were walking up to the cabin from the river and we crossed one’s path. It reared up at us, we thought it was a cobra! Luckily out next door neighbor was a retired forest ranger and he knew what it was and assured us it wad harmless.

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