A master of deceit, the completely harmless hognose can put on an act that will frighten the bravest of people. When first alarmed, this bluffer coils, flattens its head and neck to form a cobra-like hood, inflates its body, hisses fiercely, and strikes violently. The strike--usually made with the mouth closed--almost always falls short of the target. This act is so convincing that it often leads to the snake's being killed by its would-be victim. These antics have earned the hognose such names as puff adder, blow snake, and hissing viper. If this first phase of the act fails to frighten off the intruder, the hognose resorts to "playing possum." When struck or handled, the hognose jerks convulsively, twists over on its back, and remains motionless. The open mouth, the tongue hanging out, and the apparent lack of breathing make a convincing picture--convincing, that is, until the snake is placed upright. Whereupon it promptly rolls over on its back again. It just can't be convinced that a dead snake shouldn't be on its back. After danger passes, it will raise its head, look around, turn upright, and go on its way.
The coloration of this essentially spotted snake is extremely variable, with color phases ranging from yellow and brown to black and gray. The most reliable field mark is the turned-up, hoglike snout, which is used for digging out the toads that are its primary food. The eastern hognose ranges over all of Virginia. Dry, sandy areas are preferred.