Hognose Snake Care Sheet

Hognose Snake Care Sheet



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, an upturned snout, and keeled scales. Coloring for wildtype is generally cream to tan with an array of large, dark brown spots. There are many morphs available in the captive market now. 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 considered 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 recommended terrarium size for hognose snakes

The minimum recommended terrarium size for one hognose snake is 36”L x 18”W x 18”H, although larger is recommended if you can, particularly for larger individuals or females. 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. This species has a high risk of cannibalism.

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. 

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 crucial because it allows you to closely monitor your snake for signs of illness and administer treatment. You can use your hognose snake’s long-term enclosure for quarantine or a large plastic tub. Tubs are inexpensive and easy to clean, making them the go-to option for quarantine. 

Here are some general rules for quarantining your hognose snake:

  • Keep the snake in a different room from other reptiles, if possible.
  • We suggest using different equipment for your new hognose snake and washing your hands thoroughly between handling other animals.
  • Thoroughly disinfect the enclosure often; we suggest doing this about one time per week.
  • If needed, get the hognose snake checked by an experienced reptile veterinarian and treated for parasites if needed.
  • Monitor your new pet closely and watch for any symptoms of illness or disease.
  • Check your snake and its water bowl closely for mites, especially if the snake is soaking. If you do find mites, treat them accordingly.


Do hognose snakes need UVB/lights?

While hognose snakes do not necessarily require UVB or light for survival, we encourage using it—appropriate lighting in their enclosure can promote their physical and mental well-being. To create an environment that mimics natural sunlight conditions, installing a ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent lamp that spans most of the enclosure's length, along with a separate UVB fixture, is recommended. While bright lighting can enhance the hognose snake's activity levels and appetite, UVB lighting is crucial to their overall health and well-being. UVB light is essential for synthesizing vitamin D in the body, which is necessary for proper bone development and overall health. Therefore, we suggest providing both types of lighting to hognose snakes to ensure they thrive in their enclosure.

These are the recommended UVB bulbs for hognose snakes:

The bulb you buy should be approximately half the length of the enclosure. For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a fixture with a reflector. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp, about 11-13” above the basking area if over the mesh and 14-16” above the basking area if not. 

UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!

We suggest leaving lights on for about 8-12 hours daily to follow a natural day-to-night cycle. You can also adjust the lighting based on seasonal changes if you’d like, running it for more extended periods during the summer and shorter periods during the winter. All lights should be off at night. 

How to measure UVI

The strength of a lamp’s UVB output is measured in UV Index or UVI. UVI is the exact measurement the World Health Organization uses to estimate the risk of skin damage from exposure to solar radiation. The best way to measure UVI in your hognose’s enclosure is with a Solarmeter 6.5 or 6.5R

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 a basking distance is recommended in the previous section, note that factors such as the density of your terrarium mesh and the hood you’re using for your UVB lamp will affect the exact distance needed.


The best temperature for hognose snakes

Like other reptiles, hognose snakes are cold-blooded, which means they rely on external temperatures to manage their body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively. To ensure that your hognose snake is healthy and comfortable, provide them with a habitat that offers a range of temperatures for effective thermoregulation. 

Hognoses should generally have a basking/hot spot temperature of 88-92°F, an average ambient temperature of 78-82°F, and a cool side temperature between 70-75°F.  Each reptile may have different preferences and needs, so you may need to adjust these ranges up or down slightly to accommodate your pet better. It is good practice to monitor your animal and make adjustments as needed. We suggest placing hides on both sides of the enclosure. We recommend basking spots and surface temperatures to be measured with a temperature gun and ambient temperatures to be measured with digital probe thermometers.

Overhead heating methods, such as halogen bulbs, are recommended to achieve and maintain these temperatures. However, some may opt for alternative methods like radiant heat panels. We do not recommend under tank heaters (UTH), ceramic heat emitters (CHE), or red or colored lighting as these are not as effective.

It is essential to regulate and monitor the temperature of the heating method chosen. To do this, we suggest using a thermostat, dimmer switch, or rheostat to control the heat output.


Best humidity levels for hognose snakes

Hognose snakes don’t need much in the way of humidity as long as a humid retreat is available. Most people find their houses' ambient humidity adequate for hognose snakes. If you live in a drier region, humidity can average between 30-50%, measured via a digital hygrometer. The easiest way to create a humid retreat for your snake is to lay down a piece of cork bark and moisten the substrate underneath or provide it with a humid hide. You should also keep a water bowl filled with clean water large enough for your snake to soak in comfortably. 


Naturalistic Options

Choosing a suitable substrate is essential when creating a comfortable and healthy habitat for your hognose. A great option is to provide a thick layer of natural substrate (bedding), which enhances this species natural burrowing behavior while enhancing the enclosure's overall appearance.

Substrate mixes are also a great option. You can mix several commercial substrates or create a mixture using a combination of organic topsoil and play sand. Other self-made mixture options are possible, and you should research the subject and ratios thoroughly before starting your custom mix.

Ideally, the substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with any contaminated substrate.

What to know about cleaning a hognose snake enclosure

Replacing your hognose’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 hide, a small water bowl, and a thin layer of the old substrate from the enclosure for the snake’s comfort.
  • Remove all substrate and decor.
  • 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 it sit for the disinfectant’s recommended contact time.
  • Meanwhile, soak branches, rocks, hides, and other decor items 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 hognose is easily stressed by change, put everything back where it was before.
  • Reintroduce your snake to the clean setup.

Several veterinary-grade disinfectant options are available that are effective for both porous and nonporous materials, such as Chlorhexidine, F10SC, and CleanBreak. It is essential to carefully follow the instructions on the packaging to ensure safe and proper use. Alternatively, you can disinfect enclosures by using a diluted bleach solution. For porous materials, a 1:10 dilution is recommended, while for nonporous materials, a 1:50 dilution should be used.

Can bioactive work for hognose snakes?

Absolutely. Bioactive vivariums can be a good housing choice for hognose snakes because the snake’s burrowing instincts 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. Some maintenance, such as plant care and 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, and mealworms.


How to decorate a hognose snake terrarium

We have found that providing environmental enrichment for your hognose snake can significantly improve its quality of life by keeping it stimulated and engaged. Many hognose keepers have found that they will gladly use branches to climb on, and adding other items, such as fake plants or cork bark, will help your snake feel more secure. Be sure to avoid items with sharp edges.

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 can still trample/dig up their live plants if you don’t take the proper precautions. This means that you must be careful in selecting plants most likely to resist normal hognose behavior. Here are some plants that are robust and do well in a low-moisture, brightly lit environment:

  • Aloe
  • Carex grass
  • Echeveria
  • Elephant feed
  • Festuca grass
  • Gasteria
  • Haworthia
  • Jade plant
  • Mexican feather grass
  • Sansevieria
  • Sempervivum

Larger, older plants are more expensive to buy but sturdier and more likely to survive your snake.


What to feed to a hognose snake

Hognose snakes are carnivorous, meaning they must eat whole animal prey for proper nutrition. Young hognoses may be fussy eaters, which could pose a challenge. This is attributed to their natural diet in the wild, where they primarily consume amphibians. If you have a picky snake, applying frog or lizard-scenting liquid to the prey may be helpful before offering it. Once they become accustomed to their diet, hognose snakes can become very enthusiastic eaters.

Here is a basic feeding schedule:

  • Babies (0-5 months) — every 4-5 days
  • Juveniles (6-11 months) — every 6-7 days
  • Adults (11+ months) — every 1-2 weeks

Prey items should be no more than 1-1.5x the width of the snake at their widest point. Hognose snakes typically will require smaller prey items than other species of snake. You can choose to feed live or frozen prey. We recommend using frozen/thawed rodents when possible, as they are easier to find and store while eliminating the risk of the prey injuring your snake. If you choose to feed live prey, we strongly recommend monitoring your snake during feeding so that you can quickly remove the rodent if needed. Frozen prey should be thawed in a BPA-free plastic bag in warm water until it reaches ~100°F. Use a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers to offer it to your snake.

One of the keys to great nutrition is variety, so aside from offering mice and rats, quail, chicks, and quail eggs can also add diversity to your snake’s diet.


Providing drinking water for hognose snakes

Of course, don’t forget a water bowl for your snake to drink from and soak in! Keep the water clean and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly.


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 snake and act accordingly. 

It's worth noting that hognose snakes can be a little sassy, so it's essential to remain calm and composed if your snake hisses or acts aggressively. Mishandling the snake could lead to severe injury or worse, so handling them with care is essential.

If your snake seems stressed or uncomfortable, it's best to place them back in its enclosure and try handling them again after a couple days. 

When picking up your snake, be gentle. Pick it up from the side or below it versus 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,” meaning their venom is not life-threatening to humans. However, remember 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, not your hands, at feeding time.

Taming tips for hognose snakes

Hognose snakes are known to be slow and relatively easy to tame, but it still takes some work. If you don’t gain their trust, they can become defensive and withdrawn, 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 independently rather than simply grabbing them whenever you’re in the mood for handling. We do not suggest directly grabbing your pet from its hiding place, which may make it feel unsafe.

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 increase the animal’s welfare. 

Here are some ways to provide enrichment for your pet:

  • Rearrange the enclosure. If total overhauls are too stressful, move one thing occasionally at your snake’s pace. For some individuals, that may be once a month. For others, they might enjoy once a week.
  • Puzzle feeders. This can be as simple as placing the snake’s prey in an open box or plastic cup.
  • Supervised exploration 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 like 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


Hognose snakes have risen in popularity over recent years, and for a good reason. These snakes are unique in appearance, each with a distinct quirky personality. This makes them a rewarding species to keep for both beginner and experienced keepers alike!


*This care sheet contains only 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!


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