The tricolor hognose snake (Xenodon pulcher) are 2’ long, fossorial snakes native to parts of Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. They generally prefer drier habitats with sandy soil, such as grassland, savannah, shrubland, and occasionally woodland.
Tricolor hognose snakes have a cylindrical body, triangular head, small dark eyes, an upturned snout, and smooth scales. Coloring is primarily vivid red, interrupted with broad black bands enclosing white stripes. The head is black with thin white striping, and the belly is pale. Due to their resemblance to North American hognose snakes, sometimes this species is mistaken for a unique morph of Heterodon nasicus.
Tricolor hognose snakes can make good 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. It should also be noted that these snakes should not be fed primarily on rodents, which can make feeding them relatively inconvenient.
Minimum terrarium size for tricolor hognose snakes
The minimum terrarium size for one tricolor hognose snake is 30”L x 12”W x 12”H, although larger is strongly recommended. The more room your snake has, the more opportunities it has for thermoregulation, exercise, and exploration!
Cohabitation (keeping multiple tricolor hognose snakes in one enclosure) is not recommended.
Do tricolor 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 tricolor hognose snakes:
- Arcadia ShadeDweller kit — 6-8” (mesh), 8-10” (no mesh)
- Arcadia T5 HO Forest 6% — 9-11” (mesh), 12”-14” (no mesh)
- Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0 — 9-11” (mesh), 12”-14” (no mesh)
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, and position the basking surface/branch so the snake’s back is an appropriate distance from the lamp depending on the bulb you’re using and whether there is mesh obstruction. 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.
Best temperature for tricolor hognose snakes
Like other reptiles, tricolor 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.
Tricolor hognose snakes should have a basking surface temperature of between 90-95°F. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be between 72-82°F. Heating should be turned off at night so the enclosure can cool down. Make sure to measure and keep track of the temperatures in your enclosure with an infrared thermometer.
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.
Best humidity levels for tricolor hognose snakes
Tricolor hognose snakes don’t need much in the way of humidity as long as there is a humid retreat available, lined with moistened substrate or sphagnum moss. Humidity should average between 30-50%, measured via digital probe hygrometer.
Best substrate for tricolor hognose snakes
Hognose snakes are fossorial, which means that they spend a significant portion of their lives underground. 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 tricolor hognose snakes:
- Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding
- Exo Terra Snake Bedding
- Zoo Med Eco Earth
- Exo Terra Plantation Soil
- Zoo Med Reptisoil
Substrate should be at least 3” deep and completely replaced monthly. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a tricolor 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:
- leaf litter
- climbing branches
- cork tubes/flats
- artificial plants
- live, drought-tolerant plants
What to feed to a tricolor hognose snake
Tricolor hognose snakes are carnivorous, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the right nutrition. Their wild diet is made up of primarily amphibians, lizards, and reptile eggs, so their captive diet should be similar. Here is a basic feeding schedule:
- Babies and juveniles — every 5-7 days
- Adults — every 10-14 days
Prey items should be roughly the same as 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 accidental substrate ingestion, you can use a paper plate.
One of the keys to great nutrition is variety! Try offering frog and anole Reptilinks, button quail chicks, and quail eggs. Pinky mice can be occasionally offered as a rare treat, but rodents should not be a frequent part of the diet.
Tricolor 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.
Of course, don’t forget a water bowl for your snake to drink from and soak in! Keep the water clean at all times and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly.
How to handle your tricolor hognose snake
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Some snakes don’t mind handling, while others are best left alone. Get to know your pet as an individual 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!
Although bites from tricolor hognose snakes usually only happen as a result of confusion during feeding time, if you are nervous about getting bitten by your snake, wear a pair of thick leather gloves during handling.
*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!
“Photo 122112562” by jakescott is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0