Eastern Hog-nosed snake: Probably Nature’s best actor.

Have you ever tried to bluff and pretend your way through a difficult situation? Like acting tough in front of bullies to avoid being hit? Or acted like you were ill at the polyclinic in front of the doctors to avoid a tough day at school or army? If your answer is yes, you’re not the only budding actor/actress around.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Let me introduce you to Nature’s equivalent of Zoe Tay or Fann Wong – the Eastern Hog-nosed snake (Heterodon platyrhinos). 

The Eastern Hog-nosed, which distinguishing feature is its upturned snout, adoptes two kind of deceptive behvaiour as its defensive behaviour when it deems it is being threatened.

Act 1 – Acting tough

When threatened, the Eastern Hog-nosed snake will raise its head and flatten its neck into a Cobra-like hood.  This is an attempt to scare predators as it makes them appear bigger and makes the large neck blotches on the neck look like huge eyes. (Klowden, 2010) However, this is also one of the main reasons why many people confuse the Eastern Hog-nosed snake with the Cobra. In reality, the Eastern Hog-nosed snake is far less harmful than the Cobra because the venom in their fangs is not considered to be harmful to humans and they rarely bite. Instead, they try to chase predators away by hissing and striking without biting, something more like a quick head butt at its threat.

When this does not work out, the Hog-nosed snack will transit into its second act.

Act 2 – “Gei Si” (Feign death)

Yes, the Eastern Hog-nosed snake knows how to literally “Gei Si” (Feign death in Hokkien). It’s probably its way of getting an “MC” out of tough situations. If the threat or predator do not back down after Act 1, the Eastern Hog-nosed snake will start its dramatic Act 2,death feigning act, by convulsing. During convulsion, the Eastern Hog-nosed snake will also emit a foul smell from their cloaca and sometimes use their tail to spread feces on itself to make itself smell dead and unappetizing.(Klowden, 2010) The ones that are really committed to their act might even throw up their last meal. After convulsing for a short period of time, they will slow down their convulsions, flip on their backs with their mouth gapping wide and their tongue hanging out. (Tarta) By now, they look and smell absolutely disgusting and unappetizing, deterring predators. If they are turned upright, they will instantaneously turn upside down again as if to insist they are really dead.

Here’s an idea of what this snake’s defensive behaviour looks like

Hognose snake (hisses and then plays dead)

Interestingly, Eastern Hog-nosed snakes share the stage with other species of snakes and animal when it comes to feigning death. Just to name a few, West African Tree Frogs, Possums Grass Snakes, (Gregory; Issac; Griffiths, 2007) are also animals that adopt death feigning as their defensive behaviour. However, none of their acts are as elaborate as the Eastern Hog-nosed snakes of course.

So the next time you are the polyclinic feigning illness to get an MC to slack off or what the Hokkiens call “Jia Zhua  (literally translated into: “Eat snake” – pun intended), just remember your defensive strategy against your “life threatening situation” (i.e your 8am lesson) isn’t all that different from the Eastern Hog-nosed snake’s. Just that, compared to yours, its motivations are probably more justified.



1. Nelson, Bryan, 2003. Snake, Rattle and Roll Over. Newsday (Melville, N.Y.), N18.

2. Gregory, Patrick T.; Isaac, Leigh Anne; Griffiths, Richard A., 2007 ,Death Feigning by Grass Snakes (Natrix natrix) in Response to Handling by Human “Predators”, Journal of Comparative Psychology, Issue: Volume 121(2), May 2007, p 123–129

3. “Eastern Hognose Snake, Puff Adder, Hissing Adder, Spreading Adder, Blow Viper, Hissing Sand Snake” by Gregg S. Klowden Online Guide to the Snakes of Florida, February 2010
URL: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology. (Accessed on 25 March 2013)

4. “Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)” by A. Tarta, University of Georgia.
URL: http://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/hetpla.htm (accessed on 25 March 2013)

Video and Image:

1. “Eastern Hognose Snake” by Patrick Coin.

URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Heterodon_platirhinosPCCA20060423-3588B.jpg (accessed on 25 March 2013)

2. “Hognose snake (hisses and then plays dead)”by Eddie Carter

URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhMqMRUZYIQ (accessed on 25 March 2013)