The Western Hognose Snake – Heterodon nasicus – is a very popular species of snake in captivity. Thanks to their unique snout, keeled scales and interesting behaviors, they have become one of the most common snakes to keep.
These snake are native to plains east of the Rocky Mountains and can be found in grasslands and dry rock lands from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They prefer areas with loose, sandy soil that is easy to burrow in.
This care sheet will teach you everything you need to keep a Western hognose happy in captivity.
- Enclosure Maintenance
- Feeding your Western Hognose Snake
- Common Issues
The first step to owning a snake is a secure enclosure that can meet all the needs of the animal.
The enclosure for any snake should be secure so the animal cannot escape. Snakes will not naturally return to you for care like a cat or dog would. Ideally, you should select a front opening model since it gives you easy access to the snake and will be less stressful. With burrowing species like the hognose, you will need one that can accommodate a deep substrate layer.
Enclosure for Juvenile Hognose Snakes
Hatchling and juvenile western hognose snakes can live in a smaller enclosure until your snake grows and reaches adult size. You should look for something that is front-opening, secure, can hold a few inches of substrate, and has plenty of ventilation.
Exo terra’s terrariumd feature a front-opening, the back has cable management, and the bottom is lifted for easy use of under-substrate heating. They are also deep enough for a good layer of substrate.
It is slightly too tall, but you can fill the space with decorations and plenty of hides. Remember, snakes want to feel secure. You can keep a young snake in an adult enclosure, but you do need to fill the space or your snake will be stressed out.
Signs of stress include lack of appetite and defensive behaviors.
Enclosure for Adult Hognose snakes
For an adult western hognose snake, you want an enclosure that will allow the snake to easily lay out its full length.
This means the ideal cage size for a fully grown snake is 1 full body length for the length, and half of its body length in width and height.
Since these are burrowing snakes you don’t need too much height, but some of you height will be lost to the several inches of substrate these snakes require.
Western hognose snakes have sexual dimorphism. This means that the females are much larger than a male. If you have a female snake, you will need an enclosure that is twice the size. Females can be almost 3 feet long, while males rarely top 2 feet.
You also can’t go wrong with a larger enclosure. Adult western Hognose snakes enjoy exploring the floor of the enclosure. Fill yours with hides and decorations to make your snake feel secure
For Western hognoses, you will want a substrate that allows burrowing. The only time this wouldn’t be true is if your snake may be ill or you have a new hatchling.
If you need to monitor for urine or fecal abnormalities, reptile carpet, or basic paper such as paper towel are good options. You can also buy unprinted newspaper to use for this purpose. Otherwise, bedding should allow for burrowing and be fairly dry.
Shredded paper can work, but shavings or special reptile soil can work.
Sand is only an option if it is mixed with soil. It is too dry and can cause skin problem and injury.
Aspen bedding is a very common option for snakes. Never use pine or cedar for bedding since it can cause illness. Pick something unscented for your snake.
As snakes are ectotherms, you need to provide your snake with the ability to regulate its body temperature. This means providing a temperature gradient through the enclosure.
Western hognose snakes thrive with a basking area in the 90s and the cooler area should be no lower than 70 degrees.
The best thing to do is have an under-tank heater that covers about a third of the tank. The rest is left unheated so that there is a choice for your snake.
You need a thermostat to make sure it stays at the right temperature and a temperature gun to verify the temperatures are correct.
Having a tank thermometer can also help you look at a glance, but the temperature gun will allow you to measure the floor where your snake will spend most of its time.
Heating bulbs are sometimes recommended, but you should only use them with snakes if you ate having trouble maintaining the right temperature.
This is because they dry out the enclosure and can cause shedding problems. Many burrowing snakes will not use damp hides, so you need to avoid drying out the snake too much.
Western hognose snakes are diurnal snakes but do not require special lighting to be healthy. You can use lighting for aesthetics, but keep them on a timer so your snake has a day/night cycle.
Just pick something that will not heat the enclosure, like led lights or a low power basking spot. And if it provides any UVA or UVB, make sure your snake has the option to avoid it by only placing it over half the enclosure.
All snakes require some form of shelter in order to feel secure. Smaller snakes like hognose snakes are common prey from everything from birds and mammals to other snakes.
They prefer having security and plenty of places to hide. Burrowing snakes need even more places to hide, but allowing them to burrow does help
You will want at least 2 hides in the enclosure. One should be on the warm side and the other on the cold side. It should be just large enough to fit the snake without leaving too much space. It should also be easy to sanitize.
This is a good option, be sure to pick one that is the right size for your snake.
All snakes require constant access to fresh water. This water needs to changed at every other day with regular sanitization to prevent bacteria buildup.
Your snake may want to soak close to shed, so make sure that the water dish is large enough to fit the whole snake.
You should also make sure to place the water dish in the snake’s enclosure firmly against the bottom of the tank, preferably on the cool side to avoid quick evaporation. If your snake burrows under the water dish, it could be hurt. Make sure your chosen water dish is also easy to clean.
This is a nice looking option. You should also use dechlorinated water. You can just leave water in an open container for a few hours to let the chlorine evaporate.
Western hognose snakes do best in lower humidity levels. You should keep it between 20-30 percent humidity. Invest in a good hygrometer to monitor this.
Terrarium Sphagnum Moss
- Long-Lasting: Long-Fiber and Leafy Green Sphagnum Moss
- High Absorbency: Controls Tropical & Wetland Humidity
- Sustainable: Ecologically Regulated Harvests
When it is time for your snake to shed, you can mist the enclosure to raise the humidity a bit or offer a damp hide filled with damp sphagnum moss to help make sure they shed well.
You need to keep the enclosure clean for your snake’s health. You should be checking for urine or feces and removing these immediately along with any soiled substrate.
Make sure you replace it as well. The water should be checked daily in case you snake fouled it and should be replaced every two days minimum. You should wash the water bowl with soap once a week.
Once a month you should clean and sanitize the whole enclosure.
The first step is to turn off the heating and any lighting. Next you need to move your snake.
This means putting your snake in a temporary home while you clean. You can use a plastic sweater box with paper towel on the bottom and holes drilled in for ventilation. Make sure you secure the lid well.
Remove all the decorations and leave any heavily soiled ones to soak. Next, remove all the substrate and trash it. You will want to scrub to make sure it is clean.
Do not spray any cold cleaning fluid on hot glass since it could break. Once it is clean and sprayed down with a reptile-safe sanitizer, dry it with paper towels before leaving it open to get rid of any remaining moisture.
Next, scrub and sanitize the water dish, hides, and all decorations. Diluted bleach can help, but be sure to rinse thoroughly. If your decorations can’t get wet, a low oven is an option, but look into what is safe.
Remember not to scrub anything so hard that you scratch it. If you scratch something, bacteria and grime can hide in the scratches.
Once everything is clean and dry you can add fresh substrate that is at least 3 inches deep. Turn on the heating and replace all the hides and decorations.
Next, place the water dish securely so your snake can’t burrow under it and add fresh, dechlorinated water. Now your snake can be put back and the enclosure locked to stop any escape attempts.
Feeding your Western Hognose Snake
Like all living things, you snake will need food. Western hognose snakes are obligate carnivores that prefer vertebrate prey. They typically eat toads, rodents, lizards, amphibians, and eggs from ground-nesting animals.
Western hognose snakes are a lot more popular in captivity compared to southern hognose snakes and eastern hognose snakes, because they will easily feed on mice and are good eaters, while the other species almost exclusively feed on amphibians and it is very difficult to get them to eat anything else.
Type and Size of Prey
In captivity, hognose snakes eat mice. This is partly because mice are cheap and readily available. You should select a size of mouse that is just about the size of the snake’s head.
Err on the side of smaller prey until you learn what your snake prefers. Once it eats the prey, you should see a lump in the body that is gone within 24 hours.
If you see no lump, you need a larger prey item. If it takes longer for the lump to disappear from sight, then you need to size down if your temperatures are at the right level.
Hatchlings , baby hognose snakes, small snakes and young snakes will eat pinky mice, but if they are under 7 grams you may need to offer only part of a pinky like the head. You can dip it in warm water to make your snake more willing to eat.
Some reluctant snakes will eat if you scent the mouse with a bit of water from tuna packed in water. Do not use tuna packed in oil or offer tuna. Your snake needs whole prey to be healthy.
Generally speaking you should feed your snake in another enclosure. This is to prevent them from ingesting any substrate and having an impaction.
Frozen vs Live
Frozen or live food is a major debate. Live does allow for natural behaviors at the risk of injury to your snake. Frozen is a bot easier to digest, but some snakes may be reluctant to take it. We will go over the pros and cons of each method.
- Allows for natural behaviors
- Slightly more nutrition
- Some snakes will not take pre-killed food
- Risk of injury or death to the snake
- Need to have supplies for the mouse
- Hard to keep food on hand
- Cannot buy online
- More expensive
- Cheap to buy in bulk
- Easy to keep food on hand
- No risk of injury to snake
- Kinder to the prey
- Can buy online
- Some snakes won’t eat it readily
- Have to defrost the mouse properly
- Slightly less nutrition
One thing to note is that in the wild hognose snakes consume prey live. They do not typically kill the prey before trying to swallow it. If you are feeding older mice, this means it can fight back.
Live food is not recommended at all for any snake that eats prey without killing it. Thankfully, these snakes have very strong feeding responses and rarely refuse any meal. They will try to eat nearly anything you offer when hungry.
As far as buying options, live mice cannot be shipped through the mail. You will need to find a local supplier of feeder mice in the right size for your snake. Pet stores or reptile shows can be a source.
You may also find breeders of feeder mice on Facebook or Craigslist, so check your local boards.
For frozen food you can order in bulk and have it shipped through the mail. My favorite supplier is Micedirect, some other good reptile supplies options are Layne Labs, Perfect Prey, Big Cheese Rodents, and Rodent Pro.
You can also buy frozen mice from local stores and reptile shows if you would like to see your mice before you buy them.
How Often to Feed
Hognose snakes eat more frequently than other species. For hatchlings, every 5 days works well. For adults, stick with around once a week. A breeding female needs to be fed smaller meals every 3 days so she has enough energy to have healthy babies.
hedding is very important for snakes. Unlike humans, snakes shed their skin all at once. They have to shed in order to have more room to grow. The shed skin should come off in one piece.
Any retained skin can cause infection or even amputation if the tail tip has stuck shed. This is because the skin will harden and tighten much like a rubber band.
This cuts of circulation and can cause the tail to fall off. When your snake is ready to shed you will notice that its color will dull and its eyes will become cloudy or blueish. This is called being in blue.
Your snake cannot see well during this time so do not attempt to handle it.
This is a good time to offer a damp hide filled with sphagnum moss. All you need is to fill a hide or a small plastic box with damp moss and cut a hole in the lid.
After a few days, the dull appearance and cloudy eyes will go away. Your snake will shed its skin within a few days. Make sure to check that the caps over the eyeball and the tail tip are intact.
If not, you need to offer a damp hide filled with sphagnum moss that you have misted or soak your snake in warm water for about half an hour. Then try to remove any stuck shed with tweezers. Do not force it. If it is still stuck repeat the soaking.
In the wild, snakes undergo a process known as brumation. This is much like hibernation in mammals. During cold weather snakes will stop eating and spend most of the time asleep.
They will only wake up to ingest water. It is not neccessary to induce brumation in your snake unless you intend to breed them. In warmer climates, hognose snakes just eat less during cooler months.
Handling your snake is important so you can easily move them for cleaning or feeding. Never approach a snake from above. This mimics how a predator would attack.
Always approach from the side and never from above.
Make sure your snake is awake and aware of you before you touch them. Then gently lift at the mid-body from below and support as much of the snake as you can. Your snake may jerk or wiggle if it is unused to handling.
Just gently hold it until it calms down. Once it is relaxed you can return it to its cage. Handle at least once a week, but up to 3 times a week is fine if your snake tolerates it.
Even captive bred Hognoses have very strong feeding responses, so be sure you are careful.
When they feel in danger, the snake rolls over to play dead, a behavior specific to hognose snakes and not often displayed in other species.
If you are bitten do not pull back or try to pull it off. This can break the snake’s teeth or jaw. Hognoses tend to chew so using a tiny bit of mint mouthwash can make them let go if they are reluctant. This will not hurt your snake.
The Western hognose snake’s bite is actually mildly venomous to humans, but their venom is not considered to be significant in medical terms. It can cause a little swelling and discomfort but nothing serious.
Here we will go over common snake problems and what to do about it.
My Western Hognose Snake isn’t Eating
Hognoses typically don’t lose their appetites for no reason. The most common reason is they are getting ready to brunate. If you are not trying to brumate your snake, be sure to check the temperature.
Illness and injury are other common reasons. Check for signs of infection in the mouth such as excess mucus or pus. You may also notice that your snake is having trouble breathing.
his includes wheezing or strange sounds and breathing with the mouth open. Infections can be treated by a reptile vet. Parasites also cause lack of appetite.
Check the faces and feel for a solid lumber around mid-body if the snake hasn’t eaten. This can be a parasite so take your snake to the vet immediately. If your snake isn’t hungry it will also refuse a meal. Try offering food in a few days.
If your snake has regurgitated a meal you need to be cautious. This can be caused by feeding it something too large or a parasite.
If it has only happened once wait two weeks and offer a smaller prey item. If it keeps happening go to a vet. Make sure you don’t disturb your snake for at least 36 hours after a meal since regurgitating food is a common defensive strategy for hognoses.
Respiratory infections are a problem all snakes face. High humidity can cause it in addition to poor hygiene. Look for signs like excess mucus or labored breathing.
If your snake is wheezing, clicking, or making other sounds take it to a reptile vet. Snakes that are struggling to breathe will also breathe through the mouth rather than the nostrils. Snake’s respiratory system infections are very treatable if you catch them early.
- Plains Hog-nosed Snake – Heterodon nasicus – Montana field guide
- Natural History of the Hognose Snakes Heterodon platyrhinos and Heterodon nasicus – DWIGHT R. PLATT
- Interactions of diet and behavior in a death-feigning snake (Heterodon nasicus) – Andrew Michael Durso
2000. “Western Hognose Snake” (On-line). Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Accessed November 27, 2004 at http://www.desertmuseum.org/books/hognose_snake.html.
Now you should know everything you need in regards to western hognose snake care to keep your new pet healthy and happy and become great reptile keepers.
If you have any questions or comments, leave them below. If you keep hognoses please share your experiences with them below.