How to Care for Your Hognose Snake
Table of Contents
Western 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’ long, 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 18”H enclosure, but larger may be needed for particularly large 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.
Can hognose snakes be kept together?
Cohabitation (keeping multiple hognoses in one enclosure) is not recommended, as hognose snakes are not a social species, and keeping them together can cause stress. If you want multiple hognoses, it’s best to use multiple enclosures.
Can hognose snakes be kept in tubs?
You may have seen people on YouTube or Instagram who keep dozens of hognose snakes in plastic tubs on shelves. This may seem convenient, and even the pinnacle of keeping snakes as pets. After all, at first glance, the snakes seem happy and healthy enough. But the fact of the matter is that tubs do not have the features necessary to fulfill the minimum requirements for acceptable welfare, even for a fairly small hognose snake, as tubs are generally lacking in light, temperature gradient, and ventilation.
According to the Federation of British Herpetologists: “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 kept in tubs long-term are more likely to suffer from muscle weakness, obesity, and related health complaints.
Hognose snake quarantine procedure
Note that it’s best to quarantine your new pet first. Quarantine is the practice of keeping an animal isolated and under sterile conditions in order to reduce the potential spread of disease.
Even if you don’t have other reptiles that could potentially get infected by anything the snake might be carrying, maintaining quarantine conditions for the first 3 months will enable you to more easily monitor for concerning symptoms and more easily treat them as well. You can do this with the enclosure that you plan to keep the snake in long-term, or you can do this with a large tub. As long as it is set up appropriately, a tub can make appropriate short-term quarantine housing.
Some rules for successful hognose snake quarantine:
- 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 and/or test for symptoms of disease or illness.
A snake should be completely healthy before being transferred out of quarantine to its long-term setup.
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.
How to measure UVB for a hognose snake
UVB strength is measured by UV Index, or UVI. This is most accurately done with a device called a Solarmeter 6.5. When you hold the Solarmeter vertically on the basking area at the height of the snake’s back, the device should read between 2.0-3.0.
Factors such as the density of the mesh over your enclosure and the exact fixture you’re using can affect exactly what basking distance is needed to achieve the right UVI.
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.
Western 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 low-wattage 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.
Heat lamps vs heat mats
Heat mats have been historically the most popular method of providing warmth to snakes, and they can work as a primary heat source in undersized enclosures. However, the fact of the matter is that they often fail to warm the air in appropriately large and well-ventilated enclosures, increasing the risk of the snake getting burned by excessively prolonged basking. Heat lamps are far more effective at both warming the surfaces beneath them and increasing the air temperature of the enclosure.
This is particularly important to consider with day-active snakes, which are known to bask openly in patches of sunlight. Hognose snakes are also fossorial, which means that they burrow in the soil. This behavior is for hiding and cooling down — not warming up. Putting a heat mat under the substrate is therefore especially unnatural, emphasizing the necessity of using heat lamps over heat mats.
What humidity levels do hognose snakes need?
Western 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. This can be as simple as dampening the substrate under a cork flat, as snakes frequently hide under objects in the wild. 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:
- 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 every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to clean a hognose snake enclosure
When you replace your snake’s substrate, this is a good opportunity to completely clean out the entire enclosure:
- Remove the snake from its enclosure and place inside a temporary, escape-proof holding container. This container should offer a hide, small water bowl, and a layer of 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 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 decor. If your pet is easily stressed by change, put everything back where it was before.
- Reintroduce your snake to the clean setup.
F10SC, CleanBreak, and bleach solution (1:10 dilution) can be used for disinfecting porous materials. The same can be used for nonporous materials, although the concentration of bleach solution should be changed to 1:50.
Can hognose snakes have a bioactive setup?
Bioactive setups can work great with hognose snakes because the snake’s natural behavior helps aerate and maintain the soil, eliminates the need for routine total cleanouts, tends to have a fresh, earthy smell, and is generally very attractive to look at.
On the other hand, bioactive setups can be inconvenient because the vivarium needs at least one month to get established before adding the snake, hognoses are notorious for digging up their plants, and CUC critters may occasionally escape the enclosure. Setting up a bioactive enclosure is also usually more expensive than other options, and it’s best practice to partially replace the substrate on a regular basis to help reduce pathogen concentration and keep the soil healthy.
To create a bioactive setup for a western hognose snake, you will need all of the usual supplies mentioned in this article, as well as:
- bioactive-ready arid substrate mix
- clean leaf litter and sphagnum moss
- drought-tolerant plants with hardy roots
- 6500K LED or fluorescent grow lamp, spanning most of the enclosure’s length
- arid CUC (Clean Up Crew) organisms to maintain the soil
If it’s your first time setting up a bioactive vivarium, it’s best to use a commercial bioactive substrate mix, such as Bio Dude or Josh’s Frogs, rather than mixing your own, as this reduces your likelihood of error. Appropriate CUC for a hognose snake vivarium include dwarf white isopods, powder orange/blue isopods, giant canyon isopods, springtails, mealworms, and superworms.
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:
- sturdy branches
- cork flats/tubes
- live or artificial plants
What live plants can be used with hognose snakes?
Although hognose snakes are fairly small as far as snakes go, they can still be hard on the live plants in their enclosure. It’s important to choose plants that are large and sturdy enough to withstand occasional trampling. Here are a few options that work well in a brightly-lit, low-moisture environment:
- Christmas cactus
- Elephant feed
- Jade plant
- Mother of pearl plant
- Opuntia (spineless variety)
Note that larger plants are usually sturdier and more resilient. It may also be worthwhile to surround your plants’ roots with a rigid latticework pot like those used for aquatic plants to protect them.
Are hognose snakes good climbers?
Hognose snakes may be fossorial, but that doesn’t mean they can’t climb when they want to. They may not be hanging out in trees, but they’re certainly capable of navigating the rocks, logs, shrubs, and other obstacles in their habitat. The only reason why a pet hognose might seem bad at climbing is because it hasn’t had enough opportunity to practice. If you start your snake with plenty of appropriate climbing opportunities from a young age, it will learn to climb quite skillfully!
If you have an older hognose that doesn’t have a lot of experience with climbing, start with low, wide climbing objects that will help increase your pet’s muscle tone while decreasing the risk of falls.
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 — every 3-4 days
- Juveniles — every 4-5 days
- Adults — 1x/week
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.
Where do you buy prey for snakes?
Most pet stores sell frozen mice and rats in various sizes for feeding to snakes. However, you can access a greater variety of feeders by buying from reputable prey breeders online. You may also be able to get higher-quality (healthier and more nutritious) prey from these breeders compared to what you would get from the pet store.
What do you do if a hognose snake refuses to eat?
Hognose snakes are known for being a bit picky, especially when they’re young. This is because their natural diet is composed mainly of amphibians and smaller reptiles, which they instinctively seek out even in captivity. You can help convince your hognose to take rodent prey by scenting it with frog or lizard scenting liquid.
Do hognose snakes need dietary 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.
How to provide drinking water for your hognose snake
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!
Should you worry about hognose snake venom?
Yes and no. North American hognose snakes are rear-fanged and considered “non-medically significant,” which means that a bite from a hognose is not life-threatening. Still, they are venomous, and the venom can cause localized swelling and discomfort in humans.
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.
How to tame your hognose snake
Taming your hognose snake means teaching it to trust and feel comfortable around you. This requires consistent positive interactions to build the trust relationship. While a negative experience or two won’t ruin your taming efforts, it can slow them down, so it’s best to be consistent. It’s best to encourage the snake to come out of the enclosure and climb onto you on its own, rather than forcibly grabbing it. Avoid removing it from its hiding places, as hides are supposed to be safe, private places.
You can prevent accidental bites by training your snake to tell the difference between food time and handling time. An easy way to do this is by tapping on the front of the enclosure with your fingernails immediately before offering prey, but not when it’s handling time. If you’re still nervous about your pet confusing you for food, use a roll of paper towels to gently tap the snake on the head to distract it.
Target training and stationing training can help increase your snake’s confidence in its environment and trust in you. Snake trainer Lori Torrini’s YouTube channel is very helpful!
Enrichment ideas for hognose snakes
Enrichment is what good zoos use to keep their animals happy, active, and engaged. Some say that snakes are too stupid 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 ideas for enrichment activities that your pet is likely to enjoy:
- 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.
- 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!
Signs you need to take your hognose snake to the vet
Veterinary care is an important part of having any pet, including snakes. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet to get them checked out immediately.
- 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 do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species. Here are some other great sources to read:
- The ReptiFiles Hognose Snake Care Guide
- Western Hognose Care Sheet and Maintenance
- “Designer Morphs: Western Hognose Snakes” by John R. Berry