Table of Contents
The western hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus) is a 2-3’ long, fossorial, diurnal snake native to southern Canada, northern Mexico, and the central United States. They generally prefer arid habitats with sandy, loose soil, such as shortgrass prairie and dry rockland.
Western hognose snakes have a robust body, triangular head, large eyes, round pupils, an upturned snout, and keeled scales. Coloring is generally cream to tan with an array of large, dark brown spots. Due to their pattern and scale texture, they are sometimes mistaken for rattlesnakes.
Hognose snakes can make great pets, but it’s important to note that they are mildly venomous. This venom is not considered medically significant, but it can potentially cause an allergic reaction in the event of a bite. When cared for well, a captive-bred hognose snake may have a lifespan of 15 or more years.
Note: Hognose snakes are illegal to keep in some states.
Minimum terrarium size for hognose snakes
The minimum terrarium size for one hognose snake is 36”L x 18”W x 18”H, although larger is recommended, particularly for larger individuals. The more room your snake has, the more opportunities it has for thermoregulation, exercise, and exploration!
Can hognose snakes be kept together?
Cohabitation (keeping multiple hognose snakes in one enclosure) is not recommended, as hognose snakes are not a social species, and keeping them together can cause unnecessary stress. It can also cause accidents at feeding time.
Are tubs good enclosures for hognose snakes?
You’ve probably seen videos on YouTube and posts on platforms like Instagram of people who keep their snakes in plastic tubs arranged on shelves. At first glance, this seems like an ideal arrangement: a way to keep more snakes in less space! The snakes seem happy and healthy enough in these posts, which further suggests tubs and racks as the ideal for snake housing. However, this is not the case.
However, plastic tubs are simply not enough to fulfill an adult hognose snake’s husbandry requirements per animal welfare guidelines. Although height isn’t the most important consideration for hognoses, tubs generally fail to provide sufficient space, light, thermal gradient, or ventilation without significant modification. The Federation of British Herpetologists states: “Outside of these specific uses the FBH does not support the long-term use of rack systems for snakes where the physical movement of the animals is severely restricted.” Hognose snakes that are housed in tubs over the long-term are more likely to suffer from health problems such as muscle weakness, obesity, etc.
How to quarantine a hognose snake
When you bring home a new pet reptile, it’s best practice to quarantine it first, especially if you own other reptiles. It is especially important if you plan on housing your hognose snake in a bioactive vivarium. Quarantine is the practice of isolating animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease.
Even if you don’t have other reptiles, quarantine is still important because it allows you to closely monitor your snake for signs of illness and administer treatment. Hognose snakes must be quarantined for a period of 3 months. You can use your snake’s long-term enclosure for quarantine, or you can use a large plastic tub. Although not ideal long-term housing, tubs are inexpensive, easy to clean, and make an excellent short-term option for quarantine purposes.
Here are some rules for quarantining your hognose snake:
- Keep the snake in a separate room from other reptiles.
- Do not use the same equipment for the new snake as for your other reptiles.
- Fully disinfect the enclosure weekly.
- Get the snake checked by an experienced reptile veterinarian and treated for parasites if needed.
- Observe for symptoms of disease or illness.
After the quarantine period is over, if your hognose snake is completely healthy, you can transfer it to its long-term enclosure.
Do hognose snakes need UVB?
Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting to hognose snakes. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits.
These are the best UVB bulbs for hognose snakes:
- Arcadia T5 HO Forest 6%
- Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture such as Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp, 11-13” above the basking surface. And don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!
UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect.
Lights should be on for 14 hours/day during summer and 10 hours/day during winter. For best results, transitions in day length should be accomplished gradually.
How to measure UVI
The strength of a lamp’s UVB output is measured in UV Index, or UVI. Coincidentally, this is the same measurement that the World Health Organization uses to measure risk of skin damage from exposure to solar radiation. The best way to measure UVI in your hognose snake’s enclosure is with a Solarmeter 6.5.
To use the Solarmeter, hold the device vertically at the height of the basking surface, with the lens pointing directly up at the lamp. Hognose snakes should have a basking UVI between 2.0-3.0, with UVI everywhere else in the enclosure being lower. Although there is a basking distance recommended in the previous section, note that factors such as the density of your terrarium mesh as well as the exact hood you’re using for your UVB lamp will affect the exact distance needed.
Other lighting requirements
As a diurnal species, hognose snakes need more illumination than what they get from just a UVB lamp. Bright light helps increase activity and appetite. To better simulate the brightness of sunlight, it’s best practice to also install a ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent lamp to span most of the enclosure’s length.
Best temperature for hognose snakes
Like other reptiles, hognose snakes are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively.
Hognose snakes should have a basking temperature of between 90-95°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be around 70-75°F. Heating should be turned off at night so the enclosure can cool down. Make sure to measure the temperatures in your enclosure with at least two digital probe thermometers.
Provide heat for your snake with at least one halogen flood heat bulb, placed over the basking area (ex: a piece of flagstone or stone paver). Using multiple heat bulbs allows for more even heating of the snake’s body. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
Are heat mats better than heat lamps?
Heat mats have been used for years for heating snakes, but as our understanding of snake housing has evolved, so has our understanding of snake heating. While heat mats can be sufficient in a small tank or tub, they are not enough to create both appropriate basking and air temperatures in a larger enclosure, particularly not for diurnal, fossorial species. Given that hognose snakes burrow to cool down and hide from predators, using a heat mat under the substrate is contrary to their instincts.
Heat lamps produce a higher-intensity form of infrared that allows reptiles to bask more efficiently. Plus, they are able to heat the surfaces beneath them (creating “belly heat”) while also warming the air inside the enclosure. And finally, heat mats can’t be used to create elevated (arboreal) basking sites.
Of course, because they produce light, heat lamps are not suitable for use at night. If you are having trouble maintaining appropriate nighttime temperatures for your snake, it’s best to use a ceramic heat emitter or radiant heat panel to warm the enclosure.
Best humidity levels for hognose snakes
Hognose snakes don’t need much in the way of humidity as long as there is a humid retreat available. Humidity should average between 30-50%, measured via digital probe hygrometer. The easiest way to create a humid retreat for your snake to use is to lay down a piece of cork bark and keep the substrate underneath moist.
Increase and maintain humidity inside your hognose’s terrarium with a pressure sprayer. Spray the enclosure first thing in the morning to simulate morning dew in the wild. You can mist daily if the enclosure is well-ventilated and dries out quickly — otherwise, just mist every 2-3 days.
Best substrate for hognose snakes
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will provide a burrowing medium, maintain correct humidity levels, and also help make your enclosure more attractive!
We recommend the following substrates for hognose snakes:
- Zoo Med ReptiSand
- Exo Terra Desert Sand
- Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding
- Exo Terra Snake Bedding
- Zoo Med Repti Chips
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced monthly. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
What to know about cleaning a hognose snake enclosure
Replacing your pet’s substrate is a good time to give the entire enclosure a good cleanout. Here are some general steps to follow:
- Remove your snake from the enclosure and put it inside a temporary, escape-proof holding container. This container should offer a small water bowl and a layer of old substrate from the enclosure for the snake’s comfort.
- Remove all substrate and décor.
- Vacuum and wipe down the enclosure to remove leftover particles.
- Apply a reptile-safe disinfectant to the floor and walls of the enclosure and let sit for the disinfectant’s recommended contact time.
- Meanwhile, soak branches, rocks, hides, and other decor in a disinfectant rated for porous materials for the recommended contact time.
- If required, rinse the enclosure and the accessories with clean water to remove disinfectant residue. Allow everything to dry.
- Pour new substrate into the enclosure. Mix in water until uniformly moistened but not wet.
- Arrange décor. If your pet is easily stressed by change, put everything back where it was before.
- Reintroduce your snake to the clean setup.
Some veterinary-grade disinfectant options that work for both porous and nonporous materials are F10SC, CleanBreak, and bleach solution. However, for porous materials, bleach solution should be in a 1:10 dilution, while you should use 1:50 for nonporous.
Can bioactive work for hognose snakes?
Absolutely. Bioactive vivariums can be a good choice of housing for hognose snakes because the snake’s burrowing habits help maintain the setup. Bioactive vivariums have the additional benefit of eliminating the need for total cleanouts, and a healthy vivarium always has a fresh, earthy aroma.
Some downsides of bioactive are that they require at least one month to get established before the snake is introduced, the plants may get repeatedly dug up, and bioactive is usually more expensive to set up in the short-term. CUC (Clean Up Crew) organisms may occasionally escape, and maintenance in the form of plant care and occasional partial soil replacements are still necessary.
If you want to put together a bioactive setup for your hognose snake, you will need all of the supplies recommended in this article, plus a few more things:
- bioactive-ready arid substrate mix
- clean leaf litter
- sturdy drought-resistant plants
- 6500K LED or fluorescent grow lamp, spanning most of the enclosure’s length
- arid CUC organisms to maintain the soil
While it’s possible to mix your own temperate bioactive substrate, if this is your first attempt at bioactive, you’re most likely to have success if you use a pre-mixed bioactive substrate available commercially, such as through Bio Dude or Josh’s Frogs.
Good options for CUC for a bioactive hognose snake vivarium include: dwarf white isopods, powder orange/blue isopods, giant canyon isopods, springtails, mealworms, and superworms.
How to decorate a hognose snake terrarium
An empty terrarium makes for a bored snake, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Here are some ideas for items to add to your hognose snake’s new home:
Live plant options for hognose snakes
Hognose snakes may not be large or heavy, but they are still capable of trampling/digging up their live plants if you don’t take the right precautions. This means that you need to be careful in selecting plants that are the most likely to resist normal hognose behavior. Here are some plants that are robust and do well in a low-moisture, brightly lit environment:
- Carex grass
- Elephant feed
- Festuca grass
- Jade plant
- Mexican feather grass
Larger, older plants are more expensive to buy, but they are also sturdier and more likely to survive your snake.
Are hognose snakes good climbers?
There is a myth that hognose snakes shouldn’t have things to climb on in their enclosure (or much in the way of décor at all) because they’re fossorial, which means that they spend all of their time underground. The fact of the matter is that hognose snakes are capable climbers, and known to routinely climb in captivity. If your hognose seems bad at climbing, it’s because it hasn’t had enough opportunity to practice.
Hognose snakes are far from arboreal, but if you start your pet with appropriate climbing opportunities from a young age, it will learn to climb quite skillfully! For best results, use low, wide climbing objects that will help increase your snake’s muscle tone while decreasing the risk of falls.
What to feed to a hognose snake
Hognose snakes are carnivorous, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the right nutrition. Here is a basic feeding schedule:
- Babies — every 3-4 days
- Juveniles — every 4-5 days
- Adults — 1x/week
Prey items should be around 1-1.5x the snake’s width at its widest point. Frozen prey should be thawed in a BPA-free plastic bag in warm water until fully thawed and at least room-temperature. Then use a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers to offer it to your snake. To reduce the chances of substrate ingestion, you can use a paper plate.
One of the keys to great nutrition is variety! Although hognose snakes are amphibian specialists in the wild, you can try offering hairless mice, hairless rats, quail eggs, green anoles, and frog meat.
Where to get feeders for your snake
Most pet stores sell frozen mice and rats in various sizes for feeding to snakes. This is convenient because you can buy prey one at a time. However, the variety is most likely to be highly limited, and quality is questionable since there are no controls for how the feeders are raised or how healthy they are at the time of euthanasia.
Alternatively, you can buy feeders from a breeder online. The internet makes it easier to get a variety of prey for feeding your pet, and it gives you more control over the quality of prey and the way they were raised. However, you often have to buy in bulk, and shipping costs are relatively high due to the need to ship perishable goods quickly.
Are hognose snakes good eaters?
Hognose snakes are generally a bit overenthusiastic about food as adults, but they can be finicky when they’re young. This is likely due to the fact that hognose snakes are naturally amphibian specialists, and it can take some time to accustom them to rodents. Using frog or lizard scenting liquid on prey before offering can help increase the likelihood of acceptance.
Do hognose snakes need vitamin supplements?
Hognose snakes can survive without supplementation, but using them every once in a while can help prevent your snake from developing a nutritional deficiency, helping it live healthier. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on the prey item before offering.
Providing drinking water for hognose snakes
How to handle your hognose snake
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Some hognose snakes don’t mind handling, while others are best left alone. Get to know your individual snake and act accordingly.
When picking up your snake, be gentle and try to pick it up from the side or below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, but don’t squeeze it or restrain it too much - let it move and explore, which helps it stay calm. NEVER pick it up by its tail, as this can damage its spine!
Is hognose snake venom dangerous?
Although North American hognose snakes are rear-fanged venomous, they are classified as “non-medically significant,” which means that their venom is not life-threatening to humans. However, keep in mind that hognoses are still venomous, and getting envenomated by one may cause localized swelling and discomfort.
Special care should be taken when handling hognoses and other rear-fanged venomous snakes. If they bite, do not let them chew on you, as that injects more venom, increasing the likelihood of effects. If you are worried about getting bitten, wear thick leather gloves during handling. The easiest way to avoid bites is to use tongs at feeding time, not your hands.
Taming tips for hognose snakes
Hognose snakes have a reputation for being slow and fairly easy to tame, but it still takes some work on your part. If you don’t gain their trust, they can become defensive and reclusive, so most of the work on your end will be establishing clear communication and creating a positive association with yourself in their mind. It’s best to encourage the snake to come out of the enclosure and climb onto you on their own, rather than simply grabbing them whenever you’re in the mood for handling. Never grab your pet out from its hiding place, as this is a very effective way to make it feel unsafe.
Additional training is very worthwhile for building up a trust relationship with your pet. You can get expert tips from professional snake trainers like Lori Torrini on YouTube.
How to provide enrichment for a hognose snake
Enrichment is the practice of strategically providing items and activities to encourage a captive animal to exercise natural behaviors. This also helps increase activity, reduce stress, and generally increase the animal’s welfare.
Some argue that snakes are “too dumb” to benefit from enrichment, but this is false. Snakes, including hognose snakes, can absolutely benefit from enrichment when it is provided in snake-appropriate ways. Here are some ways to provide enrichment for your pet:
- Rearrange the enclosure. If total overhauls are too stressful, move one thing every so often at your snake’s pace. For some individuals, that may be once a month, for others they might like once a week.
- Puzzle feeders. This can be as simple as placing the snake’s prey in an open box or plastic cup.
- Supervised explore time outside of the enclosure. Make sure to keep them away from situations that you can’t get the snake out of.
- “Box of things”. Introduce your snake to a box or bin full of different items of different sizes and textures: branches, pipes, easily-washable plushies, etc.!
- Dig box. Introduce your snake to a box or bin full of a novel burrowing medium, such as fine mulch, fine quartz sand, leaf litter, packing peanuts, etc. Your imagination is the limit!
When should you take a hognose snake to the vet?
Dogs and cats aren’t the only pets who need veterinary care — snakes get sick and need professional help the same as any other pet. If you notice that your snake has any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet right away:
- Noisy breathing
- Mucus discharge from the mouth/nose
- Unexplained weight loss
- Large patches of missing scales
- Discolored belly scales
- Swelling or bumps anywhere on the body
- Sudden, unusually aggressive behavior
This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet! Here are some great sources we recommend checking out:
- The ReptiFiles Hognose Snake Care Guide
- Western Hognose Care Sheet and Maintenance
- “Designer Morphs: Western Hognose Snakes” by John R. Berry