This clip of a hognose snake's dedicated death fakeout, posted by YouTube user cbackie, did the rounds a few years ago.

Of course, these snakes (Heterodon nasicus) have a range of impressive defensive strategies beyond just "playing possum", from puffing themselves up and hissing loudly to regurgitating their last meal. But few other species are as skilled or dedicated when it comes to faking death.

"Basically the snake [in the video] believes its life is in danger. It perceives whoever is messing with it as a predator and it's trying to convince them that it's not worth eating," explains snake biologist Dr David Steen.

And while the snake might not appreciate being disturbed in this way, Steen doesn't think the unexpected inspection would have done too much harm. "It is surely stressful to the snake although I doubt there would be long-term health consequences for the animal if it is harassed once. It is a neat behaviour and I could see the educational benefits in showing others how fascinating snakes can be, but I hope that folks aren’t making a habit out of it. I find it more interesting to watch snakes do their own thing without messing with them," he says.

The western hognose snake is a relatively small species endemic to North America, and while it might resemble the rattlesnake at first glance, bites are extremely rare and not dangerous to humans. 

Top header image: Natalie McNear/Flickr