Beware of seemingly dead snakes in North Carolina.
There are six venomous species to fear in the state, but it’s one of the nonvenomous “harmless” categories that is unpredictable enough to count as a “zombie snake,” according to a June 6 post by the N.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.
The eastern hognose snake, which grows up to 4 feet, is “famous” for playing dead when the mood strikes it, the parks department said. They are nonvenomous and rarely bite, but could be brutal for the faint of heart when miraculously springing back to life.
The state’s post featured multiple photos of the snake flipped over on its back, looking perfectly dead. However, the snakes were very much alive.
“The hognose snake will feign death by opening its mouth, rolling over on its back, and writhing around. If turned over onto its belly, it will immediately roll again onto its back,” according to Herpsofnc.org.
Worse still, hognose snakes are also known for flaring their neck like a cobra when threatened, says the site.
The cobra-like look has given rise to countless myths, reports the Florida Museum, including folklore that a “hognose snake can mix venom with its breath and is thus able to kill a person from a distance of twenty-five feet.”
“In truth, its breath is harmless,” says the museum.
Another oddity of the species: It has large fangs at the back of its mouth that pop its prey “like a balloon,” according to the Florida Museum. Those fangs also inject a mild venom that is potent for small animal prey, but harmless to humans, according to The Venom Interviews.
“Hognoses are considered rear fanged and their venom is not considered medically significant,” Dustin Smith with the North Carolina Zoo told the Charlotte Observer. “There have been a few cases of severe swelling in humans but it’s rare.”
Many of those who responded to the state park system’s Facebook post counted themselves among the snake’s fans, calling its “over dramatic” antics entertaining. One commenter referred to it as the “snake that plays ‘possum.”
“Hognose are so much fun,” posted Nick Aughtry.
“They also pretend to be rattle snakes by buzzing their tails...then they hiss loudly...finally they play dead,” posted Albert Pope on the park system’s Facebook page.