Can you tell me what kind of snake this is. It flattens it’s head out.

Asked June 11, 2019, 1:44 PM EDT

Can you tell me what kind of snake this is. It flattens it’s head out.

Luzerne County Pennsylvania

1 Response

Thank you for your question. The snake in your photograph is the eastern hognose snake, scientific name (Heterodon platirhinos).

Hognose snakes get their common name from their upturned snout. They use their snout to burrow into the ground in search of their primary food – toads. Toads will often inflate their bodies to make it harder for snakes to swallow them. The hognose utilizes enlarged teeth in the rear of its mouth to deflate the toad. Toxins in the toad’s skin are neutralized by the hognose’s digestive system.

Hognose snakes are famous for their defensive displays. When threatened they start out by flattening their neck, much like cobras, and hissing loudly in an attempt to intimidate whatever is threatening them. However, if this display fails, it will act as if it is suffering from convulsions, opening its mouth and finally rolling over on its back. To further sell its death, the tongue will often hang out of the mouth and capillaries in the mouth will also rupture causing blood to drip out of the mouth. If you roll the snake back over on its stomach, however, it will quickly roll over on its back and continue the charade.

The saliva of the hognose is mildly toxic. The hognose snake will not intentionally bite people, but some people have been bitten in the past when they stuck their finger in the mouth of a snake that is pretending to be dead and caught their finger on one of the enlarged teeth in the rear of the mouth. These bites have generally resulted in mild reactions by the people affected. Needless to say, it’s not a good idea to stick your finger in the open mouth of a snake.

For additional information on this species, check out the PA Herps website at:

Here is an excellent field guide that provides information on snake species found in Pennsylvania:

Gibbons, W. (2017). Snakes of the Eastern United States. Athens: The University of Georgia Press.

I hope this answers your question, and thank you for contacting Ask an Expert.