Snake surprises resident

Thomas Garcia

A non-lethal reptilian predator surprised and shocked a local resident with its natural behavior and origins.

Jan Fort has seen her share of snakes living in eastern New Mexico but on July 12 she thought she had come face-to-face with one out of the story books.

“I could have sworn it was a cobra,” Fort said. “It coiled up, puffed out its neck and swayed back and forth.”

Fort was fooled like many others by the defensive posture of the eastern hognose snake, according to a study on local snakes done by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

According to the study when confronted, the hognose snake will suck in air, spread the skin around its head and neck like a cobra, hiss, and lunge as if to strike.

Despite this rather convincing show, hognose snakes almost never bite.

“It was behind the truck and our dog, Captain, walked right over it,” Fort said. “When I saw it, I yelled at Captain and he jumped realizing the snake was there and that is when the snake coiled and puffed up.”

Fort said her husband Ralph Fort shot the snake and she placed it in a bag to have it inspected by Quay County Extension Service Agent Tom Dominguez.

“After observing the snake I contacted a herpetologist who helped me to confirm the snake was an eastern hognose snake,” Dominguez said.

Fort said she was surprised to learn the snake’s normal range and habitat is not New Mexico.

Normally, it is found in the eastern U.S. from Florida north to Minnesota, southern Ontario and Quebec and southern New Hampshire, according the Florida Museum of Natural History website.

Its normal habitats include sandhills, scrub, high pine and turkey oak woodlands, hardwood hammocks, meadows, and cultivated fields.

“I thought maybe someone had a pet cobra and had decided to let it run loose,” Jan Fort said.

Fort was a little uneasy to learn of another defensive tactic used by the snake.

If further harassed, the snake will flip on its back and play dead.

It may play dead for several minutes before cautiously turning over, looking around to see if it is safe before crawling away.

“It is bad enough to see a snake alive or dead,” Fort said. “To know one is playing possum does not make it any better.”