Thursday, March 31, 2011

What kind of snake is that? A snake ID contest

I hope everyone learned something from the last post about snakes. Unfortunately, the information in that piece won't likely help you here. However, if you use some of the links, you may be able to find your way to some useful online resources.

The purpose of this post is to illustrate something I mentioned previously about there always being an exception to the rules when it comes to identifying snakes. As is the case with many other wild animals, snakes don't always look like they're supposed to. Just like a piebald deer or an albino alligator, snakes with aberrant coloration or pattern are occasionally found in the wild.

What the heck is that? It sure don't look like no picture in the field guide.

While this little guy doesn't display any form of albinism, his pattern is wildly different from the norms for the species. When you rely entirely on pattern and coloration to identify snakes you may be left in the dark when something like this turns up. It was especially confusing for the museum biologist who tried to identify the snake for someone describing it to him over the phone. He finally decided he would just have to go see it for himself, because the description the caller gave him just didn't make sense. When he arrived on the scene he was delighted to see that the snake was just an unusual specimen, and the caller actually wasn't that bad at giving a description.

Here's the deal. The first person to submit the correct identification of this snake in a comment below, wins a prize. Please be as specific as possible with your guesses. A scientific name would be nice, but an accurate common name is perfectly acceptable.

I have a few extra copies of a very good snake guide to Florida which will be your prize if you have any interest in southeastern snakes. If you live somewhere else in the country, I may have a snake book for you too. If you're not so much interested in snakes (but have an insatiable desire to win or prove your snake ID prowess), I can probably come up with an alternative prize... but it may turn out to be a surprise. Don't worry, I won't mail you any live snakes. Remember, I'm not in the business of trying to promote snake fears.

I'll give a few hints...
  1. This snake was found in the wild, in central Mississippi, and it is a species native to that area.
  2. It is not a captive bred color morph, hybrid, or "designer" pet trade variety. In other words- it's not a fancy escaped pet. It was found in the wild as a product of mother nature.
  3. The snake's morphology will help you identify it. If you don't know what morphology means, look it up.
I think that's enough hints for now. If I don't get a winner in a few days, I'll give another one.

May the guessing begin!

Oh, by the way... Kelly, you're not allowed to play.


    1. Alright, I'll give it a shot. My guess is hognose snake. Pretty cool contest Jay.

    2. Ty, you're on the right track, but I need you to be a bit more specific.

    3. I feel like I am piggy-backing on Ty's comment. Give Ty the assist here if I am correct.

      Southern Hognose Snake or Heterodon simus

    4. With the morphology clue, I'll go with striped hognose....

    5. I'm going to stick in Ty's neighborhood with a guess but go with Heterodon platirhinos. I say that because the nose isn't as turned up. but what do I know?

    6. I am going to say the blonde hognose snake

    7. I will also say eastern hognose. I have seen snakes with the same shaped head (although not that coloration) here in the pine barrens on Long Island, NY. Is this snake found in dry wooded areas and known to "play dead"?

    8. I used to to be bouncer and have seen my share of fake IDs. That snake can head for the bar.


      Thank you for all of your comments and participation.

      The winner is D. Nash of the blog "My Leaky Waders." His submission of Heterodon platirhinos was the first 100% correct answer. The snake is indeed an Eastern Hognose (H. platirhinos).

      Ty got us started on the right track, but because there are three species of hognose snake in the U.S.- I was looking for a more specific answer.
      Ivan was close with Southern Hognose (H. simus), but they're actually quite rare these days- especially in MS.

      David, send me an e-mail at with your mailing address, and let me know which prize you would like to claim.

      Thanks again to all who participated in my first ever blog contest.

    10. Wow! Thanks! I'll send an email straight away. I definately owe a thanks to all the others who pointed me down the right snake hole/den/dark place where they hang out :)