Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jonah and the Hognose Snake

This story was just sent by Master Naturalist Caryn Fox.  The story in italics is in her own words and the pictures are from her Iphone.

Caryn:  "I'm involved with several rescue organizations for abandoned and stray pets.  Yesterday I had a rescue of a different sort to share on our blog. This time, I was hiking my trail with my trusty dogs when I came across a very small hognose snake in the middle of the path."

The Eastern hognosed snake is a beauty, and is harmless to larger mammals such as dogs and their bipedal masters.  They defend themselves by hissing loudly and spreading their necks out like a cobra.  They will strike, usually without biting, essentially head-butting the source of danger.  This cobra imitation is useful to fool those of us who have seen Indiana Jones or read Jungle Book, but presumably also has some survival benefit when faced by a curious dog or hungry fox.

Caryn: "My dogs, being very stealthy and all, were about to step on the poor snake, so I moved it out of the path. What happened next wouldn't be believable, except I saw it with my OWN eyes! The little snake flipped over to play dead, and promptly regurgitated its recent meal, a little frog."  

Up comes a frog
Now playing dead is nothing new for an Eastern hognosed snake- in fact they are rather famous for this trait.  Flipping on their backs they let loose a foul odor from their cloacas (a single opening for the urinary, genital and intestinal tract) and may let their tongues hang out of their mouths.

Amphibians make up a major part of the hognosed snake's diet.  They are immune to the toxins that toads produce.  They also have enlarged teeth in the rear of their mouths which will deflate a puffed up toad.  They actually will develop liver problems if they are fed only rodents.


Now here is where it gets a little weird.  The frog- let's just call him Jonah... well here is the rest of her story.
Frog on left- first breaths?

Caryn: "Upon closer inspection I noticed the frog was still breathing.  While the snake was still on its back the little frog revived and started to move."

A frog can stay under water for some time without suffocating.  As long as its skin remains moist it can extract oxygen from the water.  Presumably this frog hadn't been inside very long.  I put this question to Dr. Stan Trauth* who responded:
"The snake's stomach acids combined with the lack of oxygen would have killed the toad (or frog) rather quickly.  What she witnessed was pretty typical behavior for a hognose snake after it has been disturbed following a recent meal."
Amphibian- 1   Reptile- 0
Caryn:  "As the snake righted itself, the little frog hopped away (I helped it orient toward the woods so it wouldn't also get stepped on). Imagine the snake's surprise when it realized its meal was gone! Now that's a rescue of a different sort!" 

Actually I believe that should count as two rescues and one resuscitation. And the moral of the story for the frog?  Be careful where you hop or you may jump to your own conclusion.

Not a Hognose
Hognose- virginia.gov
 *  Dr. Stanley Trauth, Arkansas State University.  There are good pictures of the "cobra posture" at Herps of Arkansas.

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