Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Deadly Southern Plains Cobra

Fearsome-looking beast, isn't he? Actually, it's a young eastern hognose snake trying desperately to intimidate the camera. He wandered up to the house in search of toads and got caught. Bad for him, as I like my toads, but lucky for him I like hognose snakes as well, so I played with him for a little while and sent him on his way.

The flattening out is a defensive posture. Hognoses are also known for "playing dead" by rolling over and not moving. Pretty little fart, isn't he? We usually see only the western hognoses around here, although we live in an area in which the two overlap. This is the first eastern I've stumbled across.

I am, I have to admit, something of a herpy. Not Herpes, (at least not that I know of...) but herpy, as in herpetology. I've been fascinated with lizards, snakes, turtles, frogs, toads, salamanders and other assorted reptiles and amphibians for as long as I can remember.

That fascination stems, I believe, from the fact that I belonged to perhaps the last generation of children (I was a Seventies kid) that spent the vast majority of its time outside, either playing with other kids or roaming the fields and woods. I never was much for sports and groups, so naturally I was a roamer. And boy, did I roam...

I roamed so much that, in addition to my budding hunting and fishing obsession, I had a veritable zoo in my backyard and bedroom. Tank after tank filled with fence lizards, collared lizards (or "Mountain Boomers" as we used to call them), racerunners, skinks, horned lizards (the ubiquitous "horny toad" of course, back before those little guys fell on hard times), tiger salamanders, leopard frogs, tree frogs, green frogs, bullfrogs, numerous species of toads, as well as turtles of all persuasions: three-toed and ornate box turtles, common snappers, softshells, red-ears, mud turtles, map turtles, I caught 'em all. And the snakes, man did I have the snakes. Speckled and prairie king snakes, bull snakes, black and great plains rat snakes, glossy snakes, scarlet snakes, several species of water snakes, rough green snakes, ribbon snakes, various flavors of garter snake, and - although my parents never knew of it because I knew better than to bring them home - the venomous snakes to be found around central Oklahoma, which consisted mainly of copperheads (an extremely beautiful and surprisingly easy snake to catch) and the ill-tempered little western pygmy rattlesnake.

Oh, I caught other stuff, too; baby cottontails, a menagerie of rodents from deer and white-footed mice (Hantavirus? What Hantavirus? Ignorance is bliss...) to moles and gophers, and I once brought home a great-horned owl that I kept in my bedroom for a week or so (but that's another story...) but it was the reptiles and amphibians that I really liked.

I never kept any of them for long, aside from one favorite bull snake that a fellow herpy caught on a collecting expedition to south Texas and brought back to me because his markings were a little different from the bullsnakes around here. I got that snake in high school, kept him all through college and my post-college years and he finally died soon after our first son was born.

But other than that, I was never into the keeping. I'd catch them, admire them for a few days and then let them go on their way. Fair's fair, right? It's a habit I've never fully grown out of, and even now I can't pass by a old log, a flat rock or a piece of old barn tin without stopping to see what's under it. I like to think it helps me stay young in spirit, if not flesh, and as a result I'm always bringing critters home for the boys to see.

Sometimes, however, the critters decide to come to you...


  1. We call them spreddenheaders in Arkansas, but what would you expect right! Nice collection of stuff you had.

  2. Did the New England version.

    Used to love the hognose and hate feeding it toads. If they ate mice I'd probably still have them.