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How to Care for Your Hognose Snake

How to Care for Your Hognose Snake

Hognose snakes (Heterodon nasicus) are small, fossorial, diurnal snakes native to North America, from southern Canada, through the central United States, to northern Mexico. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats, particularly prairie and rocklands.

Hognose snakes generally grow up to 3’ low, with males being significantly smaller than females. They have a blunt triangular head, rounded “cheeks,” an upturned snout, and keeled scales. Wild-type coloring is generally beige or tan with neatly organized, dark brown spots down the length of the body. They are frequently mistaken for rattlesnakes.

Hognose snakes can make great pets, but it’s important to note that they are rear-fanged venomous. Their venom is not considered medically significant to humans, but it can cause an allergic reaction resulting in localized swelling and discomfort.

With good care, a pet hognose snake can be expected to live 10-15 years.

Although hognose snakes are native to the US, it’s not a good idea to capture one from the wild if you want one as a pet. Wild-caught snakes are often more stressed in captivity and often carry heavy parasite loads. 

How much space do hognose snakes need?

The average hognose snake should do well in a 36”L x 18”W x 16”H enclosure, but larger is preferred, especially for females. The enclosure should be front-opening for secure access, but make sure there is a substrate guard at least 4” tall.

Cohabitation (keeping multiple hognose snakes in one enclosure) is not recommended.

Do hognose snakes need UVB?

They can survive without it, but it’s still best practice to provide UVB lighting for optimal health and wellbeing. Hognose snakes are diurnal after all, so it’s likely that they are routinely exposed to sunlight in the wild. UVB gives snakes all of the vitamin D that their bodies need, stimulates better appetite and activity, and generally allows them to be healthier than they would be without.

Here are the best UVB bulbs for hognose snakes:

  • Arcadia T5 HO Forest 6%
  • Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0

The UVB bulb should be housed in a reflective fixture (Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics) and placed on the same side as the heat lamp, half the length of the enclosure. Place the basking surface 11-13” below the bulb with mesh obstruction. UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so you can’t give your snake UVB by placing its terrarium in front of an open window. Replace the bulb every 12 months to maintain optimal performance.

Lights should be on for 14 hours/day during summer and 10 hours/day during winter. This replicates seasonal light cycles, encouraging healthier hormonal rhythms and possibly better long-term health.

What basking temperatures do hognose snakes need?

Like other reptiles, hognose snakes are ectotherms, which means that they need a temperature gradient in their enclosure to help them regulate their metabolism and stay healthy.

Hognose snakes should have a basking temperature between 90-95°F directly under a heat lamp placed to the extreme right or left of the enclosure. On the other side of the enclosure, the temperature should be between 70-75°F. Measure temperatures with a digital probe thermometer placed on each side.

Provide heat for your hognose snake by imitating the sun with a cluster of at least two halogen heat bulbs placed on one side of the enclosure, positioned over a large, flat stone placed on top of the substrate. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), heat mats, red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. If the bulbs are too cool, you need a higher wattage. If they’re slightly too warm, use a lamp dimmer.

Heating should be turned off at night.

What humidity levels do hognose snakes need?

Hognose snakes prefer environments with low to moderate humidity. Average air humidity in your snake’s enclosure should be between 30-50% on average, higher at night and lower during the day. This should be measured by a digital probe hygrometer placed in the middle of the enclosure.

Although the enclosure can be kept fairly dry, it’s a good idea to offer a humid hide lined with moistened substrate for the snake to use as desired. Alternatively, you can wet down the substrate on the cool side of the enclosure so it is slightly damp. This is especially helpful during shedding.

What substrate is good for hognose snakes?

Substrate (also known as bedding) is essential to hognose snakes because they’re a fossorial (burrowing) species. Having plenty of loose substrate to dig in is essential to their mental wellbeing. We recommend the following substrates for hognose snakes:

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

What décor can you use in a hognose snake terrarium?

Hognose snakes may be fossorial, but that doesn’t mean they don’t spend time above the substrate. It’s terribly boring for a snake to be stuck in an enclosure with nothing in it except substrate and a water bowl.

Here are some ways to spice up your snake’s enclosure to make it both more attractive and more functional:

What do hognose snakes eat?

Like other snakes, hognose snakes are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the nutrition that they need. Here is a basic feeding schedule:

  • Babies and juveniles — every 3-4 days
  • Adults — every 4-5 days

Prey items should be the same width as the snake’s widest point or slightly larger. Although live prey can be used, it’s safest and most humane to use frozen instead. Prey should be fully thawed before offering.

Remember, the key 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.

Supplements

Hognose snakes can survive without vitamin or mineral supplements, but occasionally using them can help prevent nutritional deficiencies and optimize your snake’s health. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD.

Water

Your snake should have access to clean, fresh water at all times. Provide a heavy water bowl large enough for the snake to soak its entire body as desired. Keep the water clean and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly.

Do hognose snakes like to be handled?

Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, but hognose snakes often tolerate handling well. Be gentle, and pick up the snake from below rather than from above. Support as much of its body as possible, but don’t try to restrain it; let it explore. More frequent handling is likely to result in a more tame snake, although handling should not take place more than once a day. NEVER pick up a snake by its tail! 

Because hognose snakes are technically venomous, special care should be taken when handling them. 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.


*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species. Here are some other great sources to read:

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