You may be considering a Western hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus) for your next pet. You may be wondering how large these North American natives get.
How big do Western hognose Snakes get?
The Western hognose rarely top 2 feet. Females can reach 3 and males tend to stay under 2 feet.
Everything you need to know about caring for Western hognose snakes in captivity:
Read our Western Hognose Snake Care Sheet (Complete Guide)
There are three species of snakes in the Heterodon genus. These are the Eastern hognose, Southern hognose, and Western hognose.
Each of these snakes is found in North America. The Eastern hognose is found in the Eastern United States, the Southern hognose is found in the Southern United States and Mexico, and the Western Hognose is found east of the Rocky Moutains from Canada all the way down to Mexico.
The Eastern hognose is the largest with females reaching 4 feet and the Western is the smallest with females rarely exceeding 3 feet in length.
All hognoses have sexual dimorphism that results in the males being smaller. These animals all use the upturned scale that gives the animal its name to dig for prey animals.
In the wild, Western hognoses eat amphibians, lizards, rodents, and the eggs of ground-laying animals. The preferred prey is toads. Western hognoses are immune to toxins toads produce to prevent predation by most animals. This means hognoses are essential to prevent an overpopulation of toads.
These animals produce venom to help subdue their prey. This isn’t effective on humans. It is rare to see more than local swelling unless you happen to be allergic.
The Western hognose is the only one common in captivity at the time of writing. The Eastern is becoming more common, but most individuals would be wild-caught. Avoid buying any wild-caught animal so the animal does not become endangered in the wild.
The Size Difference
You may be wondering why there is such a huge difference in the sizes of Western hognoses. The answer is that the species is sexually dimorphic.
Females will grow to be almost a foot longer than a typical male. These snakes are easy to differentiate even at hatching thanks to different tail structures.
Males have narrow tails below the cloaca. Females have stumpy tails so it is easy to tell the sex of a snake within just a few sheds.
Generally, these animals stay small for a snake. This makes them easier to handle. Small size combined with a docile personality makes this snake a great choice for beginners. It also means that your snake requires much less space to be healthy and happy.
Why the Size Matters
Size is the single biggest point when it comes to housing your new snake. A snake needs an enclosure that allows it to stretch out fully.
This means the length of your enclosure needs to be at least the same length as your adult snake if not a bit bigger. A female Western hognose will require a larger enclosure than a typical male. If you are buying an adult enclosure for a snake that hasn’t finished growing you should opt for one that is a bit larger than your snake will likely end up.
You can always have a smaller juvenile enclosure for your snake until it reaches full size. This means you can wait until your snake is an adult before you invest in a permanent home.
Remember that you should upgrade a juvenile enclosure when the snake is reaching twice the length of the current one. Opt for the largest enclosure you can fit since these animals are very active. You will likely see your snake actively exploring its enclosure on a daily basis. This means you need more space to keep the snake healthy. Hognoses are also diurnal so your snake will be most active during the day.
How Fast Do Western Hognoses Grow?
Hognoses vary in growth rate depending on the species and the sex of the snake. For Western Hognoses, the growth rate is fastest as a hatchling and slows with age.
They typically reach a full size between 2 and 4 years of age. A hatchling will typically grow about 20mm a month for the first 9 months of life.
This will slow down to about 5mm a month as the snake reaches 4 years of age. As snakes are approaching sexual maturity, the animal will reach the full length it will be for the most part. It will be very thin and then rapidly bulk up as it prepares for sexual maturity.
This is typically achieved at 2.5 years of age, but it can vary depending on diet and how the snake was kept.
What Determines How Fast a Snake Grows?
The diet and conditions a snake are in determine how long it will take for the snake to grow. A snake that eats more often will shed more often.
This is because shedding is required for a snake to grow larger. A snake’s skin does not grow with it so it must be shed for the snake to reach a larger size. If you feed once a week, your snake will grow more slowly than a snake that is fed every 5 days.
Please note that quick growth isn’t necessarily good for the snake. This is a subject of debate within the reptile-keeping community.
While a snake will reach sexual maturity faster, it may cause a less healthy animal in the long term. Keep your snake on a reasonable feeding schedule that allows it to grow steadily at a slower pace.
If you are looking for a big snake, this is not the species for you most likely. These snakes are best for those looking for an active snake that doesn’t get too large.
Western hognoses are one of the smaller species of snake in the pet trade. If you are short on space, opt for a male. A male will likely need an enclosure that is a third smaller than a female.
Remember, males will only reach about 2 feet at maximum. A female can reach 3 feet. If you have kept or want to keep hognoses, please drop a comment below.