Hognose Snake General Reptile Care Guide Courtesy of ReptiFiles
|(Heterodon spp.) Difficulty: Intermediate
North American hognose snakes are a non-medically significant venomous genus of fossorial colubrid snakes native to southern Canada, northern Mexico, and most of the United States. There are actually 3 recognized genera of “hognose” snakes:
- Heterodon (North America)
- Lystrophis (South America)
- Leioheterodon (Madagascar)
Although unrelated, these snakes look like they could be cousins. That is due to a phenomenon called convergent evolution — when unrelated species evolve similar traits as a result of adapting to similar habitats/ecological niches.
This hognose snake care guide discusses the three recognized species of Heterodon, North American hognose snakes:
- Eastern hognose (Heterodon platirhinos)
- Western hognose (Heterodon nasicus)
- Southern hognose (Heterodon simus)
Hognose snakes are characterized by short faces with upturned, pig-like snouts used for digging in sandy soil and unearthing buried toads. They have keeled, matte scales along the length of their body, although coloring and pattern vary based on species. They also have round pupils, indicating that they are active during the day (diurnal), although they are most active during the morning and late afternoon hours.
Depending on the gender and species, hognoses can be anywhere between 14”-46” (36-117cm) long, with females tending to be much larger than the males. Hognose snakes live between 10-15 years in captivity, although there is at least one known case of an 18-year-old hognose.
- 48”x24”x16” Meridian PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure or 4'x2'x2' Meridian Wood Panel Reptile Enclosure
- dome heat lamp
- halogen flood heat bulb (white)
- plug-in lamp dimmer
- infrared thermometer
- digital thermometer/hygrometer with a probe
- 22-24” UVB bulb and fixture
- LED plant grow light(s)
- plug-in outlet timer
- calcium powder without D3
- soft-tipped feeding tweezers
- Zen Cave or Zen Corner Cave
Conventional knowledge dictates that hognose snakes need minimum 1 sq ft per 1 ft of snake length. I prefer this set of guidelines for terrestrial snakes:
- enclosure length = snake length
- enclosure width = 1/2 snake length
- enclosure height = 1/2 snake length
Key word here is minimum. As long as a snake has sufficient cover and the right temperature gradient, even a hatchling can be comfortable in something larger than a Kritter Keeper.
- Hatchlings under 6″ (16 cm) long can be housed in a 5 gallon (16″x8″x10″ or 40x20x25 cm).
- Juveniles can be housed in a 10 gallon (20″x10″x12″ or 50x28x33 cm) until they are 1 year old.
- Adult males can be housed in a minimum 20 gallon (30″x13″x13″ or 76x33x33 cm) enclosure.
For Easterns and adult female Westerns, 40 gallons (36″x18″16″ or 90x45x40 cm) is a more appropriate minimum.
Note that the above specifications are minimums only — BIGGER IS ALWAYS BETTER! In fact, as long as they have sufficient places to hide and feel secure, a young hognose snake can be perfectly fine housed in an adult-sized enclosure.
The enclosure must be large enough to allow its occupant enough space to stretch out and exercise, as hognose snakes are very active when given the opportunity. But it also needs to be large enough to create an appropriate temperature gradient for the snake to thermoregulate with. Without a good temperature gradient, a hognose can’t regulate its body temperature and can get sick.
Can multiple hognose snakes be housed together in the same enclosure?
While hognoses are not considered a particularly territorial species, they do live solitary lives in the wild, only coming in contact with other members of its species during mating season. Outside of this time, hognoses do not seek each other out for company, and they are rarely found sharing the same burrow.
In other words, cohabiting two or more hognoses is not recommended or necessary, and will most likely end up unnecessarily stressing the snakes involved if attempted.
Lighting, Temperatures & Humidity
Unlike many snakes in the pet trade, hognose snakes are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day, rather than at night. Because hognose snakes are diurnal, providing a source of light in the enclosure during the day is good for their mental health. For best results, use a timer to automatically turn them on and off. Provide around 12 hours of light per day.
UVB lighting can be tricky because, to get the right strength of UVB (UV Index, or UVI), distance and potential mesh obstruction must be considered. To provide appropriate UVB for a hognose snake, you will need a T5 5.0 or 6% bulb, long enough to span half of the enclosure and placed on the warm side of the enclosure, preferably not obstructed by mesh.
The basking branch or platform should be placed according to the following, with the distance being measured between the UVB lamp and the height of the snake when on the basking surface.
With mesh obstruction: 6-9”
Without mesh obstruction: 10-15”
Bright light with a color temperature of 6000-7000K is suggested by experts to be particularly important to diurnal reptiles’ mental health. Hognose snakes with additional “daylight” lighting in their enclosure are likely to be more alert and active than those without, as well as demonstrating better appetite. Full-spectrum lighting is not the same as reptile UVB lighting, so you will need two separate lamps.
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Hognose snakes, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures to regulate their body temperature. Hognose snakes typically warm up by sleeping in warm patches of sunlight or warm burrows. In captivity, using a halogen flood heat bulb is the best way to replicate the type of warmth provided by sunlight.
Basking surface: 90-95°F (32-35°C)
Cool side: 70-75°F (21-24°C)
Specific optimal basking temperatures may vary by which subspecies you’re keeping. Heat sources should be turned off at night.
Generally speaking, 50-75w halogen flood bulbs should be plenty to achieve your target basking surface temperature. The basking rock should be placed on top of the black plastic hide box, which will act as your warm hide. If you notice that they’re getting too hot, dial it down with a plug-in lamp dimmer. If your basking surface is too cool, you need higher wattage bulbs.
You will need multiple heat bulbs to create a large enough basking area to evenly heat your hognose snake’s coiled body. Two bulbs should be enough for an average kingsnake. Create a warm hiding place for the snake using a Zen Cave or Zen Corner Cave.
To measure the basking surface temperature, use an infrared thermometer (a.k.a. temperature gun). To measure the temperature of the warm hide, use a digital probe thermometer. The Etekcity 774 is a good infrared thermometer, and most reptile-brand digital probe thermometers function well.
Western hognoses prefer an average humidity of 30-50% in their enclosure, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe place in the middle of the enclosure. Humidity levels that are consistently higher or lower than this range can make your pet unwell, although it is normal for humidity to be higher on the cool end and lower on the warm end, as well as higher at night.
To raise humidity in your snake’s enclosure, you can use a pressure sprayer to mist the habitat as needed. Placing a layer of leaf litter on top of the substrate helps maintain humidity and also provides a source of enrichment.
As a fossorial species, hognose snakes are very dependent on the substrate element of their terrarium. They need to be housed on a substrate (a.k.a. “bedding”) that imitates the conditions of their natural habitat, holds tunnels, and facilitates moderate humidity levels.
Soil-like commercial substrates hold moisture well. In a pinch, you can use hemp bedding or shredded aspen. Alternatively, you can use a DIY mix of 80% organic, additive-free topsoil + 20% play sand.
Provide a substrate layer that is at least 4” deep, but if you can provide more, deeper is great for this species. Provide a generous layer of clean leaf litter on top to give your snake something to explore.
Feces and urates should be removed daily, and contaminated substrate should be scooped out and replaced. Substrate should be completely replaced once every 3-4 months.
Decorating the Terrarium
Decorations play an important role in your hognose snake’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your snake’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nice!
Cork rounds, cork flats, grape wood, ghost wood, magnetic ledges, and live or artificial plants work well as décor in a hognose snake terrarium. The more hiding places your snake has access to, the more likely it will be comfortable hanging out in the open where you can see it. Hides should be small enough to provide a tight fit for the snake when coiled.
Feeding Your Hognose Snake
Hognose snakes are carnivores, which means that they need a diet of whole animal prey to get the nutrition that their bodies need.
At each feeding, provide a prey item(s) which is approximately the same diameter as your snake’s head. As the snake grows, gradually increase the size of the prey. If it is too large, your snake may regurgitate, which is extremely stressful for the snake and can be dangerous to their health.
Although mice are the most commonly available feeders, hognose snakes need to eat more than just rats and mice to truly thrive. In fact, in the wild they’re toad specialists, and hognose snakes are known to have some trouble digesting prey with too much fur. Providing a variety of different prey keeps mealtime interesting and balances your snake’s nutrition. Here are some alternative ideas:
- Young mice
- Young rats
- Quail eggs
- Green anoles
- Captive-bred frogs and toads
How often hognose snakes need to eat depends on age:
- Hatchlings — every 3-4 days
- Adults — every 4-5 days
It’s best to offer frozen-thawed prey rather than live to your pet snake. This is safer for the snake and generally considered to be more humane as well. Use soft-tipped feeding tweezers to reduce the risk of getting accidentally bitten when the snake strikes. If the snake refuses, try squirting some frog or lizard scenting liquid on the prey item.
Although as obligate carnivores hognose snakes *should* get all of the nutrition they need from the animals they eat, the nutrition provided by captive-bred feeder animals can be inferior to the nutrition provided by prey that hognose snakes would consume in the wild. Some studies suggest that commercially bred feeder rodents are deficient in crucial nutrients like vitamin D, which in turn negatively affects the health of the snakes that eat them.
There is a risk of developing nutrient deficiency over time even when you buy your prey items from seemingly high-quality breeders. So, it helps to lightly dust prey items every once in a while, with calcium + vitamin supplement to help fill in the gaps in your snake’s diet.
Hognose snakes very rarely bite out of defense/aggression, preferring to bluff their way out of a threatening situation. But they’re not the brightest bulbs in the box, and sometimes they will bite their keepers if they mistake a human hand for prey.
For a snake of this size, the bite itself is far from severe. However, it’s important to note that hognose snakes are rear-fanged venomous, and although their venom is not considered medically significant to humans, it can cause localized swelling and significant discomfort. For this reason, it is best to wear leather gloves or similar for handling your hognose snake.
Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.
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