The name "hognose" refers to multiple snake species with distinctly shaped upturned snouts coming from three related genera: Heterodon, Leioheterodon, and Lystrophis. They're found in North America, South America, and Madagascar. These animals are fairly small and generally have thick bodies and round eyes.
They're often kept in homes as pet snakes. Hognose snakes tend to be timid, preferring to hide from predators in the wild rather than attack. Likewise, in captivity, they rarely turn aggressive. They are relatively easy to maintain once you have their housing and feeding routine down.
Common Name: Hognose snake
Scientific Name: Heterodon, Leioheterodon, Lystrophis
Adult Size: Less than 2 feet long on average; some can reach 4 feet
Life Expectancy: 8 to 10 years; up to 20 years in captivity
Hognose Snake Behavior and Temperament
Hognose snakes are diurnal animals (active during the day), and they are known for their docile nature. In fact, the eastern hognose (Heterodon) is especially well known for its habit of playing dead around predators. When hognose snakes feel threatened, they might flatten their necks, raise their heads, and occasionally strike but rarely bite. But if they're handled regularly from a young age, they can grow up to be fairly calm around people.
There's ongoing debate in herpetological circles about whether hognose snakes should be classified as venomous. Technically, they do secrete venom in their saliva that is lethal to small prey animals, but it's harmless to humans. And because hognose snakes don't typically bite, it's unlikely that a human would come in contact with the venom anyway. For these reasons, most snake experts don't consider hognose species to be on the same level as poisonous snakes, such as rattlesnakes and cobras.
Click Play to Learn More About the Small and Distinct Hognose Snake
Housing the Hognose Snake
Hognose snakes don't grow very large, and a tank that allows them to stretch the entire length of their body will suffice. A 20-gallon tank is often a good size for one snake, depending on how large your animal grows. Prioritize floor space over height, as these snakes don't typically climb. But a secure lid is still recommended to keep your snake safe in its enclosure. Provide a water dish that's big enough for your snake to climb into, as well as a hide box where it can go to feel secure.
Within the enclosure, provide a temperature gradient with a basking area at around 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and a cool side that doesn't drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. To achieve these temperatures, you might need to experiment with different wattages of heat bulbs at varying heights. For an accurate reading, remember to measure the temperature at the level of your snake in the enclosure, not at the top of the tank.
Many owners opt to provide full-spectrum UVB lights on a 12-hour cycle in the snake's enclosure to mimic the natural day-night cycle. This isn’t absolutely essential, as these snakes get most of their vitamin D from their diet. But the lighting can help their bodies produce vitamin D, ensuring that they don’t become deficient.
Hognose snakes need a humidity level from roughly 40 to 70 percent. The level varies slightly among the species, and the snakes tend to prefer a little higher humidity when they’re about to shed. The water dish in the enclosure will provide humidity, but you also can lightly mist the enclosure if you need to raise the humidity level. Monitor the humidity with a reptile hygrometer.
Hognose snakes have unique snouts that act like little shovels. In the wild, they use their noses to burrow into the ground. In captivity, it's ideal to provide them with a few inches of sand mixed with reptile-safe soil or another material that allows the snake to burrow and hide.
Food and Water
Hognose snakes, especially Heterodon platirhinos, can be difficult to feed in captivity and might refuse food. In addition to staying consistent with what and when you feed them, make sure the enclosure temperatures are correct. Snakes need warmth to remain active and properly digest their food. And there's little doubt when hognose snakes are hungry. They'll often approach their feeder with an open mouth, ready for their food.
Hognoses will start out eating gut-loaded crickets (crickets fed nutritious foods) dusted with calcium powder. As they mature, they'll graduate to pinkies, fuzzies, and possibly adult mice, depending on how large the species grows. Young hognose snakes need to be fed a few times a week, and fully grown snakes typically do fine being fed one prey item a week. If you notice your snake is about to begin shedding, it's sometimes wise to reduce feedings to prevent regurgitation.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
Despite their timid nature, hognose snakes are a hardy breed that doesn't often get sick. But there are a few diseases to watch out for.
Like most reptiles, hognose snakes are susceptible to respiratory infections, which show symptoms of wheezing, drooling, and general lethargy. It's believed that improper humidity is usually the reason for recurring respiratory infections in snakes.
Another ailment that afflicts snakes is mouth rot, or infectious stomatitis. If you spot saliva bubbles and inflammation around your snake's mouth, those are classic symptoms of mouth rot. It's a painful condition, and if left untreated it can cause an infection that makes your snake's teeth fall out.
Hognose snakes also are prone to fungal infections, which can cause problems shedding and discoloration of the skin. All of these conditions should receive attention from a veterinarian who specializes in reptiles.
Choosing Your Hognose Snake
Ideally, you'll want to get a captive-bred hognose snake from a reputable breeder or rescue organization that can answer questions about the snake's health history. Make sure to ask what the snake has been eating, how often it usually eats, and the last time it ate and defecated. Expect to pay around $100 to $500, depending on the species and age of the snake.
It's up to you to decide whether you want an adult snake or a hatchling. If you have limited experience with snakes, you might want to choose a hatchling. You can pretty much guarantee it's been captive-bred, and you'll be able to start handling it from a young age.
A healthy snake's ribs shouldn't be visible, and it shouldn't have any noticeable kinks in its body when it stretches to its full length. Plus, you should check its skin for mites and ticks before agreeing to take it home.
Similar Species to the Hognose Snake
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Otherwise, check out other types of reptiles and amphibians that can be your new pet.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snake. University of Florida.
Common Diseases of Pet Snakes. VCA Hospitals.
Mycotic Diseases of Reptiles. Merck Veterinary Manual.