Hognose Snake Care Sheet provided by ReptiFiles
North American Hognose Snake (Heterodon spp.)
Skill Level: Easy – Intermediate
North American hognose snakes are fossorial (burrowing) colubrid snakes native to southern Canada, northern Mexico, and most of the United States. They are best known for their hog-like noses, which are an evolutionary adaptation that helps them dig tunnels and unearth prey.
Hognose snakes are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. In the wild, they mostly eat toads and other amphibians, but they are also known to eat small mammals and reptile eggs.
Depending on gender and species, hognose snakes can grow between 14-46” long, with females generally much larger than males. They generally live about 10-15 years in captivity.
There are four species in the Heterodon genus:
- kennerlyi (Mexican hognose)
- nasicus (Western hognose)
- platirhinos (Eastern hognose)
- simus (Southern hognose)
The western hognose is the most common in the pet trade.
Hognose snakes are technically rear-fanged venomous, having fangs at the back of their mouth instead of at the front like vipers. Hognose snake venom is considered non-medically significant, and while it can cause a mild localized reaction, it is otherwise quite harmless to humans.
- 36” x 18” x 18” (minimum) front-opening reptile enclosure
- 100w halogen heat bulb, white light
- 5” dome heat lamp with a ceramic socket
- plug-in lamp dimmer
- digital thermometer + hygrometer
- temp gun
- 22” forest T5 HO fluorescent UVB bulb + fixture
- light timer
- flagstone basking rock
- 3-6” of substrate (bedding)
- decorations: branches, plants, cork logs, rocks, etc.
- large water bowl
- 12” soft-tipped feeding tweezers
Keep reading for specifics on the supplies that you will need!
When choosing an enclosure for a terrestrial snake is that the dimensions should reflect this formula — (snake length) x (1/2 snake length) x (1/2 snake length) — as length x width x height.
Generally speaking, this means that a front-opening 40 gallon (36” x 18” x 18”) terrarium should be used as the minimum sized enclosure for a pet hognose snake. Particularly small snakes (under 24”) can be housed in a 20 gallon (30” x 12” x 12”), while particularly large snakes (over 40”) are better housed in an enclosure such as the Zen Habitats 4'x2'x2' PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure.
Front-opening terrariums are the most popular for housing snakes because they make terrarium access easy, hold heat and humidity well, and tend to be more attractive. Furthermore, front-opening enclosures tend to be more secure (read: escape-proof) than their top-opening counterparts.
Because hognose snakes are fossorial, make sure that the front-opening enclosure you choose has enough room to accommodate a deep substrate layer.
Some people advise housing young hognose snakes in smaller enclosures than adults, but as long as your snake is not very young (near hatchling size), they should be able to be housed in an adult-sized enclosure without problems.
Multiple hognose snakes should not be housed in the same enclosure.
Lighting, Temperatures & Humidity
Hognose snakes are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. Having a light in the enclosure helps them regulate their day/night rhythm and stimulates activity.
There is a common myth that snakes don’t “need” UVB and therefore shouldn’t have access to it, for fear of stressing them out or hurting their eyes. This is false. There is mounting scientific evidence that UVB is, in fact, beneficial for snakes, and therefore should be provided. For this reason we recommend using the Zoo Med T5 HO ReptiSun 5.0 or Arcadia Forest 6%, long enough to cover about 1/2 of the enclosure.
Lights should be left on for 12 hours/day. Nighttime lighting and colored bulbs are not necessary.
Hognose snakes are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on their environment to determine their body temperature. They can’t control their own body temperature like humans can. So they need to have a range of temperatures in the enclosure which enables to the snake to regulate its temperature as needed.
Temperatures for western and Mexican hognoses:
- Basking zone: 90-95°F
- Cool zone temps: 70-80°F
- No cooler than 70°F at night
Temperatures for eastern and southern hognoses:
- Basking zone: 86-88°F
- Cool zone temps: 70-75°F
- No cooler than 70°F at night
Many people may recommend using heat pads to you, but this is an outdated practice and does not allow hognose snakes to thermoregulate properly.
Instead, we recommend using a halogen heat lamp to mimic the effect of the sun in a hognose snake’s natural habitat. Use a white heat bulb like the Philips 90w PAR38 Halogen Flood Bulb or Zoo Med Repti Basking Spot 100w in a dome heat lamp for best results. Plug the lamp into a lamp dimmer so you can dial it down if it gets too hot.
This lamp should be placed on the extreme left or right of the enclosure to create the desired gradient. This gradient can be easily measured by using an infrared temperature gun, but a digital probe thermometer should be used to keep tabs on the basking spot temperature.
Western and Mexican hognose snakes thrive between 30-50% humidity.
Eastern and southern hognose snakes thrive between 50-60% humidity.
Correct humidity levels help maintain respiratory health as well as facilitate proper shedding. You can maintain good humidity by using the proper substrate, a large water bowl, and misting with a spray bottle as needed. Extra misting is recommended when the snake shows signs that it’s about to start shedding its skin.
Keep track of humidity levels with a hygrometer like the Zoo Med Digital Thermometer and Humidity Gauge. The humidity probe should be placed on the cool end of the enclosure.
Given that hognose snakes are fossorial, using a thick layer of the right substrate is very important to their health and happiness in captivity. Aside from enabling your hognose snake to thermoregulate properly and exercise natural behaviors, choosing the right substrate is critical to promoting healthy humidity levels in the enclosure.
Substrates for western and Mexican hognoses:
- Aspen chips/shavings
- Lugarti Natural Reptile Bedding
- Zoo Med Reptisoil
- DIY Naturalistic Mix: 30% play sand + 70% organic topsoil
Substrates for eastern and southern hognoses:
- Coconut fiber
- Lugarti Natural Reptile Bedding
- DIY Naturalistic Mix: 40% organic topsoil + 40% Zoo Med Reptisoil + 20% play sand
Spot clean the substrate regularly to remove poo and urine as necessary, replacing any substrate that you remove. Substrate should be totally replaced every 3-6 months, depending on terrarium size and your snake’s habits.
Feeding Your Hognose Snake
Like other snakes, hognose snakes are carnivores, which means that they must eat whole animals in order to get the nutrition their bodies need.
Generally speaking, juvenile hognose snakes should receive one pinky mouse every 3-4 days, and adult hognose snakes should receive 2-3 rat fuzzies once a week. It is better to feed your hognose hairless or nearly hairless rodents than those that are old enough to grow hair, as it is said that hair can cause digestive problems for hognose snakes.
Hognose snakes aren’t as “stretchy” as other snakes. So prey items should be the same diameter as the snake’s head, no larger. As the snake grows, gradually increase the size of the prey.
Keep a large bowl of water in the enclosure at all times, changing the water at least twice weekly. If it gets soiled before then, scrub with an animal-safe disinfectant, rinse, and replace.
You will need to wait a little while after bringing your new pet home to let it settle in. This usually takes about 2 weeks, but you shouldn’t start handling until it’s eating regularly.
Once your hognose snake is ready for handling, take it slow at first. Start with brief handling sessions (no longer than 5 minutes), and don’t return the snake until it is calm. This teaches your pet how to behave during handling by using basic positive reinforcement. If you are nervous about being bitten, wear a pair of leather gloves. Once this has been accomplished, you can work up to 10 minutes, and then gradually up to no more than half an hour.
Handle your hognose snake at least 1-2x weekly, but no more than once daily. Snakes do not require social interaction, but handling helps the snake stay tame and is a good opportunity for exercise as well.
Do not handle your hognose snake within 24 hours of a meal, as this can stress them out and leads to regurgitation, which is a traumatic experience that can lead to death. Also do not handle if the snake’s eyes have turned opaque or cloudy. This means that your snake is preparing to shed its skin and can’t see well, making them jumpy and possibly more likely to bite.
Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.