Despite the fact that the word "hognose" can encompass several different species of snakes, all hognose snakes are known for their characteristic upturned snouts. Heterodon nasicus is the most commonly kept pet hognose snake and because they are relatively small when compared to many other pet snakes, they are a popular alternative to a ball python or corn snake. Knowing how to properly care for a hognose snake will help it thrive and provide you with years of companionship and enjoyment.
Common Names: Western hognose snake, hognose snake, hog-nose snake, North American hog-nosed snake, blow snake, bluffer, faux viper, plains hognose snake, prairie hognose snake, spoonbill snake, spreadhead snake, Texas hognose snake, Texas rooter
Scientific Name: Heterodon nasicus
Adult Size: Up to three feet long with males being smaller than females
Life Expectancy: Up to 18 years
Hognose Snake Behavior and Temperament
Hognose snakes are known for their array of defensive behaviors but are otherwise considered fairly docile as pets and can even be great for kids. These small snakes are active during the day and if they feel threatened, you may even hear them make a hissing noise. Other defensive behaviors that may be observed include the flattening of the body to appear wider and larger, the compression of the neck to give the deceptive appearance that they have a "hood" like that of a cobra, and they may even play dead. Playing dead involves the hognose snake flipping over on its back with its mouth agape and tongue hanging out. It may even release a foul-smelling odor while it's pretending to die. These little upturned-snout snakes may occasionally strike if it is frightened, but it just strikes with its snout, not its teeth, so there is very little concern if you do get a hognose snake bite.
Housing the Hognose Snake
Because a hognose snake is not a very large reptile, its enclosure does not have to be very large, either. A 20-gallon long tank will provide ample floor space for an adult hognose snake; they just need room to slither and burrow, so consider a 40-gallon tank to give them extra space. They don't climb, so you may not think you need a lid on the tank, but you should always make sure your snake's enclosure is secure. A screen top is a must.
Unlike some other reptiles, hognose snakes burrow so that means that their heat source needs to be on the ground level. Under tank heaters can be utilized to provide heat by being placed on one side of the tank to create a thermal gradient. These can also heat up the glass of the tank, so be sure your reptile has no ability to burrow down to the level of the glass and experience a thermal burn. An alternative to a reptile-specific under tank heating pad is to use a heat-producing bulb to achieve a temperature of about 90 degrees, but you should never use a hot rock. Hot rocks can easily cause thermal burns and should be avoided. A cool side should be provided which should remain in the high 70's.
Hognose snakes are diurnal, so it is important to provide them with adequate white light each day. A full-spectrum light should be used for about 12 hours a day to mimic the normal day/night cycle your snake would experience in the wild. Be sure to follow the instructions on the specific light you purchase regarding the placement of the bulb as well as the expiration.
A semi-arid environment is ideal for a hognose snake, so it does not require a high level of humidity. Aim for about 30% humidity in your enclosure, but be sure not to get below 20% or above 50%. A hygrometer can be purchased and used to monitor these levels.
Bedding or substrate for an adult hognose snake can be a variety of things, but you want it to allow your snake to burrow and be non-toxic. Shredded or various recycled newspaper and other paper beddings and aspen shavings are the best options and can easily be spot cleaned as needed. Sand and crushed walnut shells should be avoided as they may contribute to an impaction.
Food and Water
Hognose snakes don't swim, but they do not have access to fresh water at all times. A shallow bowl of water should be placed in your snake's enclosure and changed out at least once a week. If your snake gets the water dirty, be sure to change it as soon as possible. Additionally, a water bowl large enough for them to fit into should be provided if your animal wants to soak.
Meals for hognose snakes consist primarily of small mice. Depending on the size of your snake, pre-killed pinky, fuzzy, or adult feeder mice should be offered about once a week if it is an adult or every three to five days if it is a juvenile. Use the size of your snake's head to determine an appropriately sized meal. If the prey item is wider than your snake's head, it is too large.
Common Health Problems
There are not any health problems that are specific to hognose snakes, but snakes in general can develop a few types of issues. Mouth rot, skin wounds, respiratory infections, skin infections, dysecdysis (or retained shed), and parasites are the most common health problems that affect snakes. A veterinarian that is comfortable treating reptiles may be needed for some health problems, but most issues can be avoided by providing your hognose with an ideal environment. Hognose snakes can be finicky when it comes to eating in captivity; some owners recommend using froglinks to entice your hognose to eat if they refuse food.
Choosing Your Hognose Snake
First and foremost, you should only purchase a captive-bred hognose snake. Wild-caught snakes can not only be illegal, but they can also harbor more parasites and experience more stress in a captive environment than those that were bred to be pets. There are various breeders as well as pet stores and rescue groups that sell or adopt out hognoses. Be sure to ask about the snake's origins before adopting it.
Purchasing a hatchling will almost always ensure you are getting a captive-bred snake, but regardless of its age, you should also ask what and how often the snake is eating. You should also find out the last time it ate and defecated and examine its skin for any signs of parasites, injuries, or infection. Your snake should have open, alert eyes, its ribs should not be visible, and there should be no retained skin.
Reptile expos and online breeder sites are the most popular sources for purchasing a hognose snake, and you should expect to pay at least a couple of hundred dollars for a traditionally colored hognose snake. Some rare color morphs may cost over $1,000, so be prepared to invest a substantial sum if you want a uniquely colored hognose.
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