Western Hognose Snake
(Heterodon nasiscus nasiscus; aka Plains hog-nosed snake)
Melissa Giese, DVM
Disclaimer: This information is intended to be used as a care guide for healthy adult animals. This is not a definitive source on the care for this species and should be used in conjunction with the experience of knowledgeable keepers, professionals, and further research. Ranges mentioned are for reference and are not absolutes.
Enclosure Style Ground dwelling
Natural Habitat prairie with loose, sandy soil
Diet Style Carnivore (rodents, reptiles, amphibians)
Life Span 10-20 years
Size females- up to 3 ft; males-1-2 ft
Temperature Range Ambient: 75-80 F
Basking: 90-95 F
Humidity Range 30-50%
UVB Required No, but 5.0 or 6% is recommended
Permits Required Yes in IL, endangered species permit
Fun Facts: These snakes play dead dramatically when they feel threatened. This is never something you want to see in captive snakes as it is a sign of stress. They have a toxic saliva made by a special gland called the Duvernoy’s gland. This is generally not harmful to humans and can cause some swelling and pain if a person is bit. Luckily, these snakes tend to be very reluctant to bite unless they mistake you for food!
Enclosure: Larger is always better when it comes to enclosures. These are ground dwelling snakes and cannot climb well vertically. Give them a tank with a lot of floor space. For a hatchling 5-10 gallons is sufficient, and an adult should be kept in a minimum of a 20-gallon space. Provide good ventilation- most snake enclosures come with a mesh top which works well. Cage clips are recommended to secure tank lids to avoid escape. They are not great climbers but can extend themselves and use their shovel shaped noses to lift up on screens!
Accessories: Two hide boxes should be provided with one on the warm side and one on the cooler side. Make sure your snake can easily fit within and get out of this structure. You should provide a large water bowl big enough for your animal to soak in if they choose to.
Substrate: Hatchlings should be kept on plain bedding such as newspaper, butcher paper, paper towel or reptile carpet. These snakes love to dig. For adults, substrate should be loose, at least 2-4” in depth and easy to clean. Aspen is the most common to use and should be agitated daily and changed weekly. Do not use pine or cedar shavings as the oil can be harmful to the animals. Sand should be avoided as it can cause impactions and abrasions. More advanced keepers may opt for bioactive setups with topsoil and play sand mixtures. This can work well but feeding in a separate tub is a good idea to prevent impactions.
Temperature and Lighting: This species is diurnal, and this makes them very interactive and curious during the daytime. Full spectrum lighting is needed 12 hours each day. Their general temperature gradient should be 70-85F with the basking area being around 90-95F. Aim to heat about ⅓ of the enclosure to create this gradient. Thermometers and thermostats should be utilized to keep the tank at optimum temperatures. Infrared temperature guns are great for a quick check, but thermostats will make sure that the temperatures stay consistent throughout the day and do not get too hot for your animal. Heat pads, heat tape, heating bulbs can all be utilized. Do not use hot rocks.
Though UVB lighting is not required for snakes, it is recommended as there have been studies that show health benefits along with promotion of natural behavior. A low power UVB such as 5.0 or 6% works fine.
Brumation: November through February this species will slow down to attempt to brumate. We recommend continuing to offer food items at normal intervals. Keep track of your animals’ weight weekly to make sure they are maintaining despite slowing down of appetite.
Humidity: Avoid high humidity in this species. Keeping their humidity between 30-50% is adequate.
Enrichment: Snakes need to have fun too! Adding rocks, interesting branches and changing around the hides in an enclosure can be good enrichment. AAZK (American Association of Zoo Keepers) has some great articles on enrichment for snakes that you can find on their website.
Feeding: In the wild, these snakes mostly eat amphibians such as frogs or toads. They also can eat rodents, reptiles, bugs, and small mammals. In captivity we recommend feeding frozen/thawed or pre-killed mice. Live prey can injure your animal. Tong feeding works well- they are messy eaters as they will strike their food from any direction instead of head on. Using tongs allows you some control over where they strike. Some hognose snakes are very reluctant to feed from tongs in which case leaving them alone with a food item or hiding it in something like a paper towel roll for them to accept on their own will suffice. Most adults should be fed once weekly as they have a very fast metabolism.
Feeding hatchlings: Hatchlings can be fed pinky mice. They can be difficult to get started on feedings as they are reluctant to accept rodents. You may need to scent them with tuna or amphibian to get them to eat (this can be as simple as tuna juice from a can and water that a frog has been sitting in- your pet store or friends with reptiles may be able to help!). They have an interesting feeding response you can use to also help with getting them started: dipping your frozen/thawed pinky into warm, scented water and holding the food item in tongs so that they can drink the water droplet will sometimes get picky eaters to finally strike. It is best to purchase an animal that has already had at least 3-4 meals with the breeder.
Common Health Concerns of Western Hognose Snakes:
- Impaction: These snakes tend to be messy eaters and are more prone to ingesting their bedding with their food. Feeding them in a separate bin from their enclosure is ideal. This can become life threatening if they cannot pass the material on their own and may require surgery.
- Respiratory Infection: This is often linked to inappropriate humidity. If your snake is wheezing, open mouth breathing, yawning frequently or bubbling by the nose it should be brought to a veterinarian.
- Poor appetite: Especially when young western hognose snakes can be particular about their food. If the ideas listed in the feeding section above are not successful or if you are noticing other signs of illness it is time to bring your pet to a veterinarian.
- Stomatitis: Western Hognose snakes have very fragile teeth and gums. They are more prone to irritation and trauma to these areas and can develop infections. If your snakes’ face is swollen or there are scabs along the lips you should seek veterinary care.
If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at 847-329-8709.