Hognose Snakes: Are they Poisonous Or Dangerous?

For many of us, snakes are scary enough just on their own. A snake could be lying there basking in the sun, and if someone who is frightened of them were to see it, they’d probably run in the opposite direction.

hognose snakes
hognose snakes

But things can get a whole lot worse when you’re dealing with a snake that acts aggressively, or uses a genuinely intimidating threat display.

Not all snakes that do this are truly dangerous, but who is going to stick around and find out?! How about the hognose snake? Is the hognose snake venomous, and is it dangerous?

No, hognose snakes aren’t truly venomous, and are not considered to be dangerous to people. However, they do possess mildly toxic saliva which can be irritating, and do have a powerful bite.

Hognose snakes are impressively stout, and often look very similar to rattlesnakes.

Their size combined with a genuinely frightening threat display means that a close encounter with one could be a moment that will live in your nightmares ever after, even though you won’t be in true danger!

Anyway, hognose snakes do play an important role in the ecosystems where they’re found, so you shouldn’t kill one without just cause if you can avoid it.

Read on, and I will tell you a lot more about these impressive reptiles.

What Does the Hognose Snake Look Like?

All hognose snakes, no matter the species, have a few physical characteristics in common. These snakes have a stocky and muscular build, almost pudgy looking, though they typically do not grow very long.

Most adults get no longer than about 3 ½ feet, with some truly extraordinary specimens reaching 4 feet long.

The head of the snake is shovel-shaped, they have medium-sized round eyes and round pupils, and all species have a distinctive and easily noticeable nose that protrudes upward. This is the part that has given these snakes their common name.

But, from here, things get tricky. There are many species of hognose snake to be found around the globe, and even right here in the US there are many subspecies.

This complicates things because the coloration and pattern of their scales are incredibly varied! In the United States alone, you can find hognose snakes that are every shade of brown, gray, green, and even a vibrant orange color.

The bellies of these snakes, while less variable, can still come in many colors; most are typically ivory, light gray, or yellow but others are possible.

All that, and there are many combinations found in various patterns depending on regional variations, and even the patterns themselves can vary, from striped to diamond and others besides.

Lacking a good look at the physical characteristics of the snake can make identifying them at a distance difficult or impossible!

Where are Hognose Snakes Found?

In the United States, you can find hognose subspecies around the country, but they’re most common west of the Mississippi River.

Anywhere you have loose, easily dug soil, pine forests, dense fields and similar biomes where the snakes can dig, then and hibernate you will find hognose snakes if you look hard enough.

Are Hognose Snakes Venomous?

This is a subject that usually causes some consternation among snake enthusiasts, but I will do my best to explain it.

Technically, the hognose isn’t venomous. It doesn’t have venom glands, and does not inject venom when it bites.

However, it does secrete and use special poisonous saliva to help it bring down its prey.

To the uninitiated, this might sound like “six of one and half a dozen of the other” but scientifically the hognose’s saliva is not venom. So, it isn’t a venomous snake.

Practically speaking, this toxic saliva is hardly a threat to people, and rarely inflicts anything worse than some mild burning and irritation or, as some victims have reported, a cold tingling sensation.

Do you want to get bitten by a hognose snake? Of course not. Is it a medically significant event? Probably not.

Can the Hognose Snake Kill Pets or Livestock?

Generally not, though these snakes have been known to kill rodents, birds, and very small mammals.

This means that if you have chickens or ducks, small puppies or kittens, or any other tiny creatures around could be at risk from a hognose.

Concerning larger animals, including cows and horses but also dogs, goats, and sheep you don’t have much to worry about from hognoses because they aren’t truly venomous as detailed above.

That being said, these snakes are thick, and pretty noticeable, so if they startle larger livestock accidents or even a stampede could be possible.

Will Hognose Snakes Attack Humans?

Hognoses are not generally aggressive, but they are a species of snake that is known to “defend” itself vigorously after it has been pestered to a certain point or cornered.

Let it be known that these snakes engage in impressive and even theatrical defensive displays!

Hognoses are known to assume a striking position when threats come too close, and they will even flatten out their neck much like the cobras of Asia, hissing loudly the entire time!

This is usually incentive enough for people and animals alike to go the other direction (and quickly), especially since they are commonly confused by rattlesnakes.

But, here is where things take a turn for the hilarious, and the reason for the quotes I put around defend up above…

When they are threatened by a much larger animal if the defensive display does not work they usually play dead! And I mean really play dead: go belly up, tongue lolling out of their mouth, the whole thing.

Hognoses are surprisingly sophisticated with this behavior, too, and they will keep up the charade until they perceive you have moved away or just aren’t watching them anymore, at which point they will flip over and head for cover ASAP.

Will a Hognose Snake Bite Hurt You?

As I said above, hognoses try not to bite, but they can and will under certain conditions. These are beefy snakes and their teeth are very sharp, being designed to help them hang on to their usual prey before swallowing them.

These sharp teeth will easily inflict lacerations on you, which is bad enough, and then you’ll have to put up with the toxic saliva which can cause some substantial irritation (though again, it is not thought to be truly dangerous).

Also, the bite from a hognose will probably get infected without medical attention, and that can be far worse than that mild saliva they have!

I shouldn’t have to say it, but I’m going to just in case: if you are bitten by any wild snake, even one you think you’ve positively identified as a hognose, seek medical attention for the bite!

Is it Best to Kill Hognose Snakes When You Can?

No! Hognose snakes are especially important predators in any ecosystem that they are found in.

They are especially important for controlling certain amphibian and rodent populations, and you shouldn’t kill them if they are encountered.

This might be easier said than done if you are frightened by their all-bark-and-no-bite defensive display, or if you encounter them in an area where rattlesnakes are common, but if you will keep your distance from the snake it isn’t going to bother you.

If you have a hognose on your property (or suspected hognose) call a reptile rescue institution, and they will probably be glad to relocate the snake for you.


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