2015 Year in Review: Amanda Nicholson, Director of Outreach

It’s time to look back on 2015! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2015 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

My love and fascination with Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes began in May 2011 when one was admitted to the Wildlife Center as a patient. I had seen one or two prior to that (they are found throughout Virginia), but I had been reading a bit more about hog-nosed snakes and was aware of their dramatic defensive displays, which includes feigning death in the most believable way. I just hadn’t seen it in real life.

As the vet staff examined the snake, which had been hit by a vehicle, the snake went through all the motions of “dying”. It was believable and realistic; half of the people examining the snake truly believed this poor snake was on its last breath. I remember digging out the Reptiles of Virginia, and reading out loud to them, "... the snake will lie on its back and become completely limp, as if dead. It will remain limp if it is picked up, but will roll over on its back if placed on its venter, as though all good dead snakes have to lie on their backs." Sure enough, the snake was just faking and later went on to make a full recovery. I was charmed and fascinated and began hoping that maybe someday, the outreach department would have an education Eastern Hog-nosed Snake.

I always feel a little guilty wishing for particular non-releasable animals, because we’d all much rather have wild animals make a full recovery and return to their lives in the wild. But I also see the importance and impact of our education ambassadors every day. People connect with them. The ambassadors help us share stories, deliver lessons, and they can help influence and change people’s behaviors. The animals become our co-workers and our family. Snakes in general often get a bad rap – so wouldn’t a species with so many interesting qualities help to break down some myths and stereotypes?

When another dramatic hog-nosed snake was admitted as a patient in 2012, my colleague summed it up best when he said, “In the course of four minutes, multiple people go from completely mystified to heads-over-heels enamored. It’s a hog-nosed love fest.” Well, that did it … now I REALLY wanted an education hog-nosed snake. Clearly, to know them is to love them.

Raina, one of our outreach coordinators, shared a similar outlook and hope for a hog-nosed snake, and from time to time she trolls some online forums to look for unwanted pet snakes. That’s how we’ve obtained some of our other education snakes, and we’ve always held out hope that one day we’d find our perfect little hog-nosed snake.

In early September 2015, Raina found him!

Someone in Richmond was getting rid of their pet hog-nosed snake. We could barely believe it was true, but wasted no time harassing our co-worker Kristen (and her dear husband) to help us get this snake from Richmond as soon as humanly possible. I’m not quite sure what Kristen’s husband thought of all of this [“Can you meet a guy and his snake in a parking lot and get the snake for us? Tonight? Today? Right now?”], but he agreed, and the very next morning, Oscar was waiting for us at the Wildlife Center.

It was love at first sight.

One thing I find charming about hog-nosed snakes is that, while they do sometimes strike at people when threatened, they don’t open their mouths to bite. Hog-nosed snake bites are extremely rare – it’s more likely that they will just bonk you on the hand. Actually, this comic by Ethan Kocak sums up all of the interesting and delightful things about hog-nosed snakes:

With that in mind, I didn’t waste time picking up Oscar on that first morning. He flattened his head and hissed. It was adorable.

Probably because Oscar was a pet, we haven’t ever seen him play dead. When he gets a little irritated, or startled, he just does the first couple of steps of a “hog-nosed hissyfit”, but otherwise, he’s a pretty easy-going snake and is very easy to handle. He has beautiful coloration and the most adorable little upturned nose.

So, four-and-a-half-years after I fell in love with the species, the outreach department finally has our own perfect little Oscar, the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake. I look forward to working with him, introducing him to people, and sharing his story and fascinating natural history. I hope that people who are uncomfortable with snakes will be more willing to listen and learn – and I’m glad Oscar will be a part of that.


Join the Oscar love-fest by adopting him through the Center's Caring for Critters program!

Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!