This absolutely gorgeous snake is a young male TRICOLOUR HOGNOSE SNAKE (Xenodon pulcher) from the rainforests of South America, but which was bred in captivity here in the UK and hatched on April 1st 2021. Its distribution in the wild includes parts of southwestern Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and northern Argentina. This is a very small snake species which rarely exceeds 60cm in length, but at less than 25cm this one still has plenty of growing to do!
In the Autumn of 2021, shortly after I acquired this wonderful little snake, I ran a competition to find a name for him via my website and social media pages. I was inundated with suggestions but the one that stood out to me was Santa, as his pattern has the same three colours as Santa Claus’ famous outfit! Congratulations to Jenny Butler from Oxford for being the first person to suggest this name – I think it really suits him!
Although not directly related to the milk snakes or tricolour king snakes, the tricolour hognose snake is another mimic of the highly venomous coral snakes which also live in the South American rainforests. Whilst tricolour hognose snakes don’t reach the same size or have the same overall body shape as the coral snakes or these other mimics, there is no doubt that their bold colouration will still be a deterrent to potential predators. Santa is an especially beautiful example of the species with nice bold white bands – these can be greatly reduced in some individuals of this species so I honestly think Santa might be the best one I have ever seen!
One of the most distinctive features of hognose snakes, including those of the genus Heterodon from North America which are much more commonly seen in captive snake collections, is their upturned snout (which gives them their common name) as seen in these images below! This is used for burrowing and this species is certainly a very keen and able burrower.
Another fascinating feature of hognose snakes is their defensive behaviour. If they feel threatened they breathe in sharply which causes the area around their head and neck to become enlarged (like a tiny cobra)! This is often followed by loud hissing and bluff striking, where they strike but with their mouth usually closed. A hognose snake even has the ability to play dead by rolling onto its back and opening its mouth with its tongue hanging out! Santa, however, is so used to being handled and is so calm that he hasn’t ever demonstrated any of these abilities!
When any snake is preparing to shed its skin, its colour fades and the skin often takes on a very dull appearance compared to its normal colouration. Also, the eyes cloud over and often look bluish-grey when snakes are preparing to shed their skin. The bluish tinge and cloudiness of the eyes are caused by the secretion of a fluid between the old outer skin and the new inner skin. This fluid helps the snake to shed its skin when the time is right, by allowing it to slide off more easily. The pictures above and below show Santa as he appears pre-skin shedding, much duller than his usual vibrant reds and deep blacks!