The North Carolina State Parks and Recreation have posted some pictures on their Facebook page showing a common snake with quite the uncommon behavior. When threatened, it pretends to be dead, flipping on its back and hanging its tongue out. It properly puts on a show. It even emits a foul musk just to drive the point home. I am dead. Please move along.
The species is known as Heterodon platirhinos, or more commonly the eastern hog-nose snake. The harmless creature is found throughout North America, and since the North Carolina State Parks are celebrating the Year of the Snake, they did a little quiz online to see if people could guess the species.
“Instead of watching clouds to see if we can keep weekend weather on track, let's play a game! Who is this 'famous' NC snake? A cobra? A zombie snake? It’s a harmless one. Learn more in our "Year of the Snake" program!” the Facebook post said.
The cobra name-dropping is due to another characteristic defensive behavior. The eastern hog-nose doesn’t just fake its own death, it can flatten its neck and raise its head off the ground (a bit like a cobra) too. They also hiss, mimicking more dangerous snakes, as well as strike. However, the strike is not for biting – you can think of this “attack” as a high-speed head-butt.
The species is technically classified as non-venomous, but only because they are harmless to humans. A few rare cases have shown some swelling after a bite but nothing serious. Instead, the toxins secreted by their back teeth have evolved to primarily affect amphibians, specifically their favorite food of toads.
Initiatives like the North Carolina State Parks and Recreation's Year of the Snake help teach people about snakes and clear up misconceptions. For example, 31 out of 37 species of snakes in the state are non-venomous. And even the six venomous species pose little threat to humans.