Western Hognose Snake Care Sheet (For Beginners)

Western hognose snakes (Heterodon nasicus) are known as the drama queens of the snake world.

From cobra mimicry to playing dead, hognoses have an arsenal of tricks up their sleeve. Viral videos showcasing their hilarious self-defense tactics brought about their rise in popularity in captivity.

Western hognose snakes, or hoggies, make great pets for dedicated beginner and intermediate reptile keepers. They do have a few quirks that prospective owners should take into account. Otherwise, they’re undemanding little snakes.

Is This The Right Snake For You?

Before we dive into the joys of hoggie ownership, let’s get the pitfalls out of the way. Hognose snakes may not be the right pet for you if:

  • You lack patience for fussy eaters.
  • You’re squeamish about handling live or frozen feeder rodents.
  • Snakes make you nervous. Hoggies are known for their spunkiness and bluffs!
  • You’re prone to allergic reactions. Hognose snakes have mild venom that can trigger swelling and blisters.

In-Short

  • Western hognose snakes are terrestrial, prairie-dwelling snakes.
  • Their natural diet includes frogs, toads, salamanders, and small lizards.
  • They’re native to west-central North America, from Canada to Mexico.
  • Hoggies grow to a maximum length of 36” and weigh no more than 800 grams.
  • Western hognose snakes are notoriously picky eaters in captivity.
  • Hoggies are known for their cinematic self-defense displays. They hiss, rattle their tail, flatten their neck like a cobra, bluff-strike, and even play dead.
  • Their habitat should utilize floor space as a priority, ample hiding spots, low humidity, and moderately high temperatures.

About The Western Hognose Snake

Eastern Hognose Snake Playing Dead
This eastern hognose snake is playing dead to fool potential predators.

Don’t worry! He’s fine. He just got a little too excited.

Likewise, we know you’re practically dying of excitement to find out more about these captivating little snakes!

Background

Western Hognose snake, partially coiled, resembling a rattlesnake, camouflaged in grass
A western hognose snake in one of its natural habitats: a semi-arid, grassy meadow.

The western hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus) goes by many alternative names and nicknames:

  • Hoggies
  • Prairie hognose
  • Blow snake
  • Bluffer
  • Faux viper
  • Plains hognose
  • Spoonbill snake
  • Spreadhead snake
  • Texas hognose
  • Texas rooter

Their native range extends from:

  • Saskatchewan, Canada to the North
  • Zacatecas, Mexico to the South
  • Arizona, United States to the West
  • Illinois, United States to the East

Hoggies prefer habitats with loose, sandy soil. They frequently inhabit prairies, scrublands, floodplains, and semi-deserts.

There are currently three recognized subspecies of Heterodon nasicus:

  • Heterodon nasicus gloydi (Gloyd’s hog-nosed snake, Dusty hog-nosed snake)
    • Southeastern Kansas, southeastern Missouri, eastern Oklahoma, and most of Texas.
  • Heterodon nasicus kennerlyi (Mexican hog-nosed snake)
    • Mexico, southern Texas, southwestern New Mexico, and southeastern Arizona
  • Heterodon nasicus nasicus (Plains hog-nosed snake)
    • The remainder of the western hognose’s range.

There are several isolated populations of Western hognose snakes that are in decline. As a species, hoggies are widespread with a healthy overall population.

Appearance

big heterodon nasicus snake
A perfect example of the rattlesnake-like pattern of western hognose snakes.

The western hognose snake is short but heavy-bodied. The hognose’s overall appearance mimics the rattlesnakes that inhabit the same environment.

Hognoses have rough, keeled scales. Their body is covered with irregular brown splotches on a light tan base color.

One prominent distinguishing feature of western hognose snakes is their upturned rostral scale. It forms a horn-like structure at the tip of their nose. The flat front surface of their nose is where they got their name: “hog-nosed” snake.

Morphs

Closeup Pink Albino Western Hognose Snake
Albino western hognose snakes lack all black pigmentation, even in their eyes!

There are roughly 60 different hognose snake morphs, including:

  • Hypo
    • Reduced black pigment.
  • Tiger
    • Striped bands instead of splotches.
  • Arctic
    • Pattern has a dark black outline with white edging.
  • Sable
    • Increased pigmentation. Darker overall color.
  • Toffee
    • Lack of black pigment.
  • Diablo
    • Increased red pigment with black eyes.
  • Albino
    • Lack of black pigment with red eyes.
  • Pastel
    • Colors are lighter and brighter.
  • Jaguar
    • Unusual, irregular pattern with increased black pigment.
  • Mocha
    • Larger blotches that are deeper chocolate in color.
  • Granite
    • Unusual decreased pattern with increased black pigment.
  • Shadow
    • Square, blocky splotches with increased black pigment.
  • Axanthic
    • Lack of red pigment. Snake is gray-tan.
  • Caramel
    • Reduced black pigment. Peach undertones. Unusual or absent head markings.
  • Leucistic
    • All white with blue or gray eyes.
Holding a Hognose snake in the palm of your hand
This leucistic hognose snake is stark white with dark gray eyes.
  • Twinspot
    • Normal pattern is split into two and doubled along the back. Two rows of splotches instead of one row of splotches.
  • Pistachio
    • Lack of black on the top half of the animal. Clean off-white background with tan markings.
  • Lavender
    • Purple hue and dark eyes.
  • Anaconda
    • Condas have a faded pattern and a solid black belly.
    • Supercondas are patternless.
  • Pink Pastel
    • Version of albino with enhanced pink hues.
  • Purple Line
    • Increased dark red pigment, purplish hues.
  • Green Phase
    • Reduced black pigment, greenish hues.
  • Extreme Red
    • Increased red pigment.
  • Lemon Ghost
    • Snake becomes more yellow as it ages. Pattern fades.
  • Swiss Chocolate
    • Increased black pigment. Black head. Dark chocolate brown markings on milk chocolate background.

Most hognose snake morphs are polygenic line-bred traits. Polygenic morphs are associated with more than one gene—the morph shows as a spectrum. For example, Extreme Red hognoses can range from reddish-brown to fire red.

On the other hand, a handful of hognose morphs are tied to a single recessive or dominant gene. They are either present or not. For example, an albino is either albino or not albino. These morphs are similar to most morphs found in other common snakes, like ball pythons and corn snakes.

New and more extreme morphs cost more than common morphs or wild-type hoggies.

Size

Western Hognose Snake Image
A western hognose snake shows an uncertain but bright emotion. Neutral background.

Adult Female Length: 20-36”

Adult Female Weight: 150-800 grams

Adult Male Length: 14-24”

Adult Male Weight: 60-200 grams

Hatchling Length: 5-9”

Hatchling Weight: <30 grams

Western hognose snakes are perfectly sized if you’re limited on space or funds for a large enclosure. They’re also great for folks who may be intimidated by the larger size of more common snakes, like ball pythons.

If the hognose snake isn’t suitable for you, here are some more pet snakes that stay small.

Temperament and Behavior

Wild hognose snakes are solitary animals that spend their days hunting, searching for basking spots, or tracking down a mate during Summer. They’re crepuscular, which means they’re most active at dusk and dawn.

The preferred prey for western hognose snakes is toads. They’ll also eat frogs, salamanders, small lizards, terrestrial bird eggs, and small mammals.

Western hognose snakes have several unique adaptations for their toad-based diet.

They use their upturned snout to dig around for buried amphibians.

Toads will fill their bodies with air and puff up to avoid being eaten. Hoggies evolved specialized toad-popping “fangs” towards the back of their mouth.

Since they aren’t hollow, they aren’t considered to be actual fangs. They do have a specialized groove that allows the western hognose to administer their amphibian-specific venom while deflating the toads.

Western hognose snakes also have an enlarged adrenal gland for processing the poison secreted by amphibians.

When hoggies are ready to hunker down and digest a meal, they use their shovel-like snout to dig into the ground. They’ll also utilize burrows made by other small animals.

Western hognose snakes are known for being spunky and defensive. Hognose enthusiasts find their spicy behavior to be endearing.

Threatened hognose snakes will:

  • Hiss loudly
  • Rattle their tail
  • Flatten their neck like a cobra
  • Puff up their neck to appear larger
  • Bluff-strike with their mouth closed

If those efforts fail to deter their perceived threat, western hognose snakes will play possum.

They will emit a foul-smelling musk, roll over onto their back, and even dangle their tongue out. Any attempt to upright a death-feigning hoggie usually results in the snake immediately flipping itself back over. What would ever want to eat a rotting, stinky, dead animal, right?

Venom

An Eastern Hognose Snake
If you look closely, you can see the rear fangs of this eastern hognose snake.

Scientists consider western hognose snakes to be mildly venomous.

Unlike most dangerous venomous snakes of North America, hognose snakes don’t inject their venom through hollow fangs.

Hoggies produce their specialized saliva in a Duvernoy’s gland. Duvernoy’s glands are smaller than the venom glands of cobras and vipers. They’re unable to produce the force needed for injection. Still, they serve the same purpose of venom production.

The western hognose snake’s venom is designed to incapacitate toads faster. These snakes don’t have the body length or strength needed to constrict their prey. Instead, they rely on their mild venom to handle the job.

Herpetological experts and biologists agree that Heterodon venom is not medically significant to humans.

Given the snake’s small size and the position of its fangs, it isn’t exactly easy for them to land an envenomating bite on a human.

Since they don’t inject their venom, they need to work their jaw muscles and “chew” for several minutes to deliver any notable amount of venom.

The worst reported reactions included swelling, bruising, blisters, and enlarged lymph nodes. No human deaths from a hognose snake envenomation have been reported.

To put it simply, you should take precautions to avoid being bitten by your pet western hognose snake. If you’re bitten, you may experience uncomfortable side effects.

You don’t need to worry about your pet’s bite causing hospitalization or significant illness.

Lifespan

Average Lifespan in Captivity: 15 to 25 Years

Western hognose snakes have the same average lifespan as most other species of snakes.

In the wild, their lifespan is shortened by environmental conditions, predators, and human encroachment.

Where to Buy a Western Hognose Snake

Bringing a new pet into your home is a big step. This is especially true when that pet may live for over 20 years!

The internet is full of scammers and unethical breeders. People will often try to sell their pet snake when they find out it’s sick or can’t get it to eat.

Reputable sources can be ethical reptile breeders and trustworthy reptile vendors.

Cost

As we touched upon earlier, you can expect to pay more for high-end hognose morphs than wild-type hoggies.

Standard western hognose snake hatchlings cost $150 to $250.

Standard morphs start at $250, while designer morphs can range into thousands of dollars.

Legality

Western hognose snakes are not illegal to own in the United States.

However, depending on where you live, there may be state, county, or city laws against owning native or venomous reptiles. The classification of Heterodon as a venomous snake is at the discretion of your local animal services department and law enforcement. They are venomous, but they aren’t dangerous.

Colorado is one U.S. state that has chosen to restrict the ownership of western hognose snakes.

Certain countries, such as Australia, also ban the importation and ownership of non-native reptiles like the western hognose snake.

Western Hognose Snake Husbandry

Eastern Hog-nosed Snake Hiding
This pet hognose snake is hiding under a modified terra cotta pot.

Alright, we’ve discussed everything you could ever want to know about hoggies. Let’s dive into the fun part – taking care of them!

Don’t forget to pick out the perfect name for your new pet western hognose snake.

Supply List

Prices may vary depending on where you live and where you shop. You can cut costs by using a tub or DIY enclosure, repurposing household materials for hides and decor, and buying used reptile supplies.

Here’s what you can expect to pay for new supplies at most pet stores.

  • Terrestrial Enclosure: $100
  • Screen Lid & Locks: $25
  • Two Hides (Minimum): $20
  • Water Bowl: $15
  • Substrate: $10
  • Feeder Mouse: $2

Total: $172

If you’d like to prepare yourself further, check out this in-depth look at the costs of snake ownership.

Habitat

Your pet will spend at least 90% of its life in its habitat. Ensure that your hoggie has enough space, places to hide, and mental stimulation.

Whether you decide to do a natural set-up and mimic their natural environment, or you go crazy with colorful bird toys and decorative figurines, even snakes appreciate things to climb, smell, and explore.

Try to plan for the long-term. Your snake may be a baby now, but it will grow.

The idea that snakes are stressed by too large of an enclosure is a myth.

Empty enclosures stress snakes. Fill it up with clutter – plants or toilet paper tubes and tissue, the snake doesn’t care as long as it feels secure!

There is no such thing as an enclosure that is “too large.” No enclosure will ever be as expansive as a wild hognose’s territory.

Starting small and upgrading as your snake grows will cost you more in the long run.

Enclosure Styles

Your western hognose snake can live in an enclosure made of glass, acrylic, PVC, wood, or even a plastic tub.

The most important thing about the design of the enclosure is to ensure that there’s adequate ventilation. Hognose snakes thrive with low humidity and fresh air.

Front-opening versus top-opening enclosures is essentially a personal choice. Top-opening enclosures are by far cheaper and readily available. Be advised that if you use overhead heating or lighting, you will need to move it every time you access the habitat.

Front-opening enclosures are more convenient, but they’re more expensive. If you’re handy, DIY front-opening enclosures can be constructed at a lower cost. Your snake may be more comfortable with you reaching in from the side. When you approach a snake from above, you may seem like a swooping predator.

Size

Minimum Adult Female Enclosure Size: 36” x 12” (L x W)

Minimum Adult Male Enclosure Size: 24” x 10” (L x W)

Minimum Hatchling Enclosure Size: 16” x 8” (L x W)

Remember: There’s no such thing as an enclosure that is “too big”! The bigger, the better. If you can manage it, your hoggie will enjoy more space to stretch out, thermoregulate, and explore.

Lighting

General Guideline: 12 Hours Light/12 Hours Dark

Seasonal Replication (based on Texas averages):

  • Winter: 10 Hours Light/14 Hours Dark
  • Spring: 12 Hours Light/12 Hours Dark
  • Summer: 14 Hours Light/10 Hours Dark
  • Autumn: 11 Hours Light/13 Hours Dark

Dedicated lighting is not a requirement for western hognose snakes, but it’s a healthy addition to their habitat.

At a bare minimum, your pet should receive exposure to a natural day and night cycle. The light can come from windows or artificial room lighting.

As crepuscular critters, wild hognose snakes are naturally exposed to mild levels of sunlight – including UVB rays.

Snakes don’t require skin-synthesized vitamin D3 to absorb calcium. They receive all of the nutrients they need from their whole-prey diet. Therefore, most snakes won’t develop significant deficiencies due to an absence of UVB exposure.

Still, studies prove that even snakes experience positive health effects from UVB exposure.

If you choose to provide your western hognose snake with a UVB basking light, be sure to follow manufacturer guidelines regarding placement and replacement of the bulb.

Too much UV can be a bad thing, too. Western hognose snakes prefer low levels of UV exposure. Be sure to provide lots of spaces for your snake to hide from the light.

Bulb Strength: 5-7% UVB

Placement: 10-15” Away

Bulb Length: ⅓ to ⅔ enclosure’s length

Did You Know? Western hognose snakes engage in a behavior known as cryptic basking. When a snake is cryptic basking, it hides most of its body while exposing a small portion – maybe one or two inches – of skin to the light source.

We advise against the use of colored nighttime reptile heat bulbs.

Contrary to popular belief, snakes can see the light emitted from red and blue light bulbs. It will cause stress by interfering with their natural day and night cycle. It could even cause permanent damage to their vision!

LED lighting is excellent for increasing visibility in the enclosure and even growing plants.

Halogen light bulbs are an excellent tool for providing daytime light and heat in wavelengths that closely match the sun.

Heat

Ideal Basking Spot Temperature: 90-95°F

Ideal Warm Side Ambient Temperature: 80-85°F

Ideal Cool Side Ambient Temperature: 75-80°F

Ideal Nighttime Temperature: >70°F

Seasonal Replication (based on Texas averages):

  • Winter: 61°F High/41°F Low
  • Spring: 77°F High/56°F Low
  • Summer: 96°F High/73°F Low
  • Autumn: 79°F High/58°F Low

As indicated in the lighting section, halogen light bulbs are the most natural and ideal source of daytime heat for our western hognose friends.

Most average households won’t need any supplemental nighttime heat unless the temperature dips below 70°F.

Ceramic heat emitters, radiant heat panels, heating pads, and heat tape are all acceptable heat sources. Their wavelengths differ from the sun’s, but they get the job done.

Always run heating elements on a thermostat to avoid overheating your reptile.

Heat rocks and any heat source that your snake can come into direct contact with are hazardous. They can burn your pet.

Water and Humidity

Ideal Humidity: 30-50%

Seasonal Replication (based on Texas averages):

  • Winter: Moderate
  • Spring: High
  • Summer: Low
  • Autumn: Moderate

These humidity levels are easily achieved in most environments. Simply leave a water bowl on the cool side of your hognose’s enclosure and ensure adequate ventilation.

Placing the water bowl near the heat source will cause the humidity to spike up.

Most snakes occasionally enjoy submerging their bodies. We advise using a wide, shallow water dish for your western hognose snake.

Ideally, replace the water daily and wash the bowl once per week. Be sure to change out the water weekly at a minimum.

Tap water contains many beneficial minerals. It’s perfectly acceptable and healthy for your snake. If you prefer to give your snake bottled water, be sure to use spring water or drinking water. Do not use distilled water.

Decor and Environmental Enrichment

Western hognose snakes enjoy climbing and exploring new terrarium decorations.

At a minimum, your western hognose snake’s enclosure should include at least two hides. Feel free to get creative. Paper roll tubes and cardboard boxes work just as well as store-bought reptile caves. They’ll need to be replaced when soiled, but they’re free!

While western hognose snakes are terrestrial, like most snakes, they enjoy climbing. They just aren’t the most graceful! We recommend wide PVC pipes, driftwood, and rocks. Hognose snakes are prone to falling from thin branches and vines.

Rocks also serve as great basking spots. Snakes love their heat-absorbing abilities!

Feel free to add other organic materials, like dead leaves, grass, or even plants. Be careful not to use live plants with high water needs. Succulents and artificial greenery are perfect.

The more cluttered and full the terrarium looks, the safer your hognose snake will feel.

Cohabitation

While western hognose snakes aren’t known for cannibalizing, we recommend leaving cohabitation to the experts.

There’s always a risk that one snake will attack or even try to eat the other. If they’re similar in size, this could kill both of them. Why risk it?

Wild hognose snakes are solitary by nature, except during the mating season.

Substrate

The substrate in your snake’s enclosure will serve multiple purposes.

  • It stimulates your snake’s senses by providing a unique texture and odor.
  • It holds heat and facilitates raising or lowering the humidity level in the enclosure.
  • It will act as a litter material, absorbing liquid waste so that you can easily remove the solids and soiled litter.
  • It serves as an additional hiding spot and enrichment activity, especially for the fossorial western hognose snake.

Which substrate you choose is mostly a matter of preference. Try to steer clear of humidity-raising substrata, like coconut fiber or cypress mulch.

For your western hognose snake’s permanent enclosure, we recommend:

  • Aspen shavings
  • Arid bioactive substrate mixes
  • A 50/50 mixture of washed play sand and topsoil

For temporary or treatment enclosures, consider using paper towels. It will allow you to inspect any feces, urates, and potential regurgitation. It’s also easier to see parasites, like mites, on paper towels.

Paper towels or newspapers aren’t great for long-term use. They don’t allow your hognose to burrow.

We recommend avoiding these substrates altogether:

  • Coconut husk
  • Coconut fiber
  • Calcium sand
  • Reptile carpet
  • Cypress mulch
  • Cedar, pine, or fir materials

Spot clean the enclosure on an as-needed basis as soon as you notice waste. Replace all of the substrate and clean the enclosure surfaces every one to six months.

Replacing the substrate isn’t necessary if you establish a bioactive setup.

Bioactive

A bioactive set-up utilizes beneficial microorganisms, arthropods, and living plants to facilitate the natural nitrogen cycle in the soil.

When your western hognose snake sheds or defecates, the waste is consumed by natural bacteria and arthropods. Most hobbyists purchase isopods and springtails as their “clean-up crew.” The bacteria colonize over time.

These organisms transform the waste materials into nitrates, which fertilize the living plants.

Once there is a healthy and established population of bacteria, arthropods, and plants, the enclosure will require little to no maintenance.

Arid bioactive enclosures, like what a western hognose snake would require, are a bit trickier than temperate or tropical set-ups. Most arthropods and plants need high humidity levels to thrive.

If you decide to pursue this route, look into using mealworms or roaches as your clean-up crew. Spineless succulents are perfect for arid bioactive habitats.

Bioactive enclosures also offer the following benefits to your snake:

  • A natural and stimulating environment
  • Visual, olfactory, and tactile enrichment.
  • Additional hiding and climbing opportunities.

Diet and Feeding

The western hognose snake’s natural diet consists of amphibians, like frogs and toads.

Most captive snake keepers find rodents to be the most convenient prey for feeding their pets.

As you can see, there is some discrepancy here that has led to hognose snakes being known as “picky eaters.”

Most captive western hognose snakes can be transitioned to a diet of primarily rodents with time and patience.

Reputable and trustworthy breeders will put that hard work into their hatchlings before selling them to the public. Still, some snakes may revert to preferring their natural prey.

Furthermore, hognose snakes aren’t strong constrictors like boas, pythons, and king snakes. They aren’t capable of overpowering or stretching to accommodate prey that is much girthier than their own body.

Be prepared for the occasional hunger strike, and be willing to try some unorthodox techniques to convince your pet to eat.

Food Options

Blister pack of white frozen dead feeder mice, new born naked pups
Pre-killed, frozen rodents are available at most pet supply stores.

If your hognose snake accepts mice, that will be the most convenient option. Be sure to feed only pre-killed prey since hognose snakes aren’t constrictors.

Some hoggie owners have temporary success feeding frog-leg filets. Frozen frog legs are available at most oriental grocery stores.

Western hognose snakes are unable to digest the large bullfrog bones. Avoid nutritional imbalances by only feeding frog meat as a temporary treat or dust it with calcium powder.

A company called Reptilinks manufactures links of ground whole-prey stuffed into a casing. Sausages for snakes, if you will.

Some of the links are made with frogs. The smell is incredibly enticing to picky hognoses. They’re also much closer to the diet hognoses evolved to thrive on.

Reptilinks are an excellent choice for snake keepers who are squeamish about storing or handling frozen rodents.

Food Size Guide

Western hognose snakes have a difficult time with large meals. They may give up trying to eat or regurgitate large prey.

Here’s a handy chart showing ideal prey size relative to your hognose’s weight.

  • 5-8g: Mouse Pinkie Head, Mouse Tail, Reptilinks Micro Link
  • 8-15g: 1-Day Old Mouse Pinkie, Reptilinks Micro Link
  • 15-25g: Pinkie or Reptilinks Mini Link
  • 26-40g: Peach Mouse Fuzzy Reptilinks Mini Link
  • 40-75g: Mouse Fuzzy or Reptilinks Mini Link
  • 75-250g: Mouse Hopper or Reptilinks 8-12g
  • 250g: Small or Reptilinks 16-20g

Frequency

Feeding frequency varies much less and is more dependent on the snake’s age.

  • Up to 12 Months: Every five days
  • 12+ Months: Every seven days
  • Breeding Animals: Every three to five days

Watch for signs of obesity, which will shorten your hognose snake’s lifespan:

  • Rolls
  • Loose skin
  • Scale separation (skin stretched in space between scales)

Techniques

Leave frozen food items in the refrigerator overnight. This slow defrosting allows you to heat the prey evenly and discourages bacterial growth.

When you’re ready to feed your snake, put the food item into a waterproof container and place the container in hot water. You want the prey to warm up to about body temperature, 90-100°F. Warming up the feeder can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, depending on food size.

Once the food item is thoroughly warmed, dangle it in front of your western hognose snake with a pair of rubber-tipped tongs. You may need to make the food do a “zombie walk” or “zombie hop,” like a live mouse or frog! Western hognose snakes are visual hunters.

Regurgitation

If your snake regurgitates its meal, it’s likely due to one of these three reasons:

  • The prey was too large.
  • The snake became stressed.
  • The snake is not warm enough.

Ensure that your hognose snake has access to a basking area that reaches at least 90°F.

Next time, try sizing down the snake’s food. For example, feed a pinkie instead of a fuzzy.

Don’t handle your snake for 48 hours after it eats.

If your western hognose snake continues to regurgitate its meals, make an appointment with a qualified reptile veterinarian.

Anorexia

Anorexia, or refusal to eat, is a common problem in western hognose snakes.

If your western hognose snake isn’t eating, you can try:

  • Reptilinks
  • Frog leg meat
  • Brain the mouse
    • Use a sharp tool to poke a small hole in the mouse’s skull. Squeeze some of the contents out.
  • Flash-boil the pinkie
    • Bring a pot of water to a boil. Dip a thawed pinkie into the water for just a few seconds until the skin turns white and rubbery.
  • Soaking a mouse in canned tuna juice
  • Feeder frogs or lizards from reptile vendors

Don’t handle your hognose snake until it starts eating again. Cover the sides of its habitat. Try to keep its surroundings as dark, quiet, and still as possible.

Handling

Snake lovers and professionals still debate whether or not snakes can bond with their owners. One thing we do know, however, is that you can connect with your hognose. The easiest way to establish a bond and interact with your pet is by handling it.

If your western hognose snake is new or not used to being handled, prepare yourself. It will likely hiss, strike, hood up, and tail-rattle in an attempt to make you go away. You must persevere!

Those are all primarily bluffing behaviors. Eventually, your hognose snake will become accustomed to your presence. Tame hognose snakes are calm and pleasant once you’ve put the work in!

Always wash your hands before and after handling your western hognose snake.

Frequency

You can handle your hognose snake every day, except for the first two days after it eats.

We recommend handling your hoggie at least once a week. It’s excellent practice for you and your snake!

Start with short handling sessions and build up your snake’s tolerance. Watch for signs of stress, such as rapid breathing. Try to end every handling session on a positive note.

Techniques

Handle your hognose snake with calmness and confidence. Support its body with both hands. Don’t attempt to grip or restrain the snake. Allow it to slither freely through your fingers.

You may wish to give your hognose snake a signal when it’s not feeding time. The signal could involve tapping the side of the enclosure or even lightly tapping the snake’s body before you pick it up. Repeat this signal every time you’re going to handle your hoggie. Don’t give the signal if you’re going to feed him or her.

Breeding

Western hognose snakes breed readily in captivity as long as the right conditions are provided.

They breed seasonally, once a year. Brumation is required to stimulate reproduction.

Females lay more than 25 eggs per clutch! Make sure you have a plan for all those babies.

Female western hognoses shouldn’t be bred until they weigh at least 250 grams.

Most male hoggies won’t breed until they reach 70 grams.

Determining the Sex

The first step to successfully breeding hognose snakes is to determine their sex.

For adult western hognose snakes, this is a relatively straightforward process. Males are half the size of females!

Baby hognose snakes can be sexed, too, but it’s a bit more complicated. You need to look at the size and shape of their tail.

Female hognose snakes have short, stubby tails.

Male hognose snakes have long, slender tails.

Probing and popping are reliable methods for determining your snake’s sex, but they are somewhat risky procedures. We recommend having an experienced snake breeder mentor you in person before you attempt doing it yourself.

Brumation

Brumation is similar to hibernation. Western hognose snakes need to go through a period of brumation to stimulate follicle and sperm production.

Stop feeding your hognose snakes at least two weeks before you plan on cooling them.

After two weeks, begin gradually dropping their temperature over one week. Your goal temperature is 50°F to 60°F.

This is best accomplished in a garage, attic, or shed, as long as it doesn’t get too cold where you live.

A wine cooler with an accurate thermostat is another option. Be sure to open the wine cooler at least once a day to allow air to circulate.

Maintain cold temperatures for at least two to three months. Limit light exposure during this time.

Don’t feed your western hognose snakes during brumation. Offer fresh water once a week.

When you’re ready to bring your snakes out of brumation, gradually raise their temperatures back to normal (high of 90-95°F) over a one-week period.

After one week of normal temperatures, you can start offering food again.

The female should go into shed within a month of being taken out of brumation. You may notice an obvious swelling in the lower half of her body. At this point, she will be receptive to breeding, and you should introduce the male.

There’s nothing left to do except hope that nature works her miracles.

Egg Incubation

Snake eggs on the ground.
Like most snakes, western hognose snakes lay eggs that need to be incubated.

If all goes according to plan, your female western hognose snake will be ready to lay her eggs 28 to 45 days after breeding. As outlined in the feeding section, offer breeding females a meal twice every week.

Your gravid western hognose snake may begin refusing meals two weeks before she lays her eggs. She may also go into a pre-lay shed. This usually happens about 12 days before egg-laying.

Ensure that your female hoggie has access to a suitable nest box. It should feel secure, warm, and filled with damp material like sphagnum moss. Hognose clutches usually range from eight to twenty-five eggs or more!

Hognose snakes eggs need to be incubated.

After your female lays her eggs, move them to an incubator. Keep them at 78°F to 84°F. Ensure the incubation medium stays moist but not wet. They should hatch after 48 to 60 days.

Don’t disturb the hatchlings until they’ve fully emerged from the eggs on their own.

Hatchling Care

Hatchling western hognose snakes should be housed individually after their first shed. Set up their habitat similarly to an adult’s, but smaller and with slightly higher humidity.

A hatchling hognose’s first shed usually occurs at one to two weeks of age. At this time, you may offer them their first meal. Follow our tips in the feeding section if you’re having a hard time.

Potential Health Issues

Western hognose snakes are generally very hardy critters. There are still a few ailments that you should keep an eye out for.

Veterinary Care

Veterinarian measuring snake length
Be sure to find a veterinarian that has the experience and training required to treat your pet snake.

We urge you to find a local, qualified reptile veterinarian as soon as you bring your western hognose snake home. Establishing a veterinary-client relationship before your pet gets sick is ideal in terms of appointment scheduling and your stress level.

Difficulty Shedding

The shed skin of a snake after molting
All snakes shed their skin. Sometimes, they need a little help.

Given their dry preferences, western hognose snakes are sometimes prone to having difficulties shedding their skin. This issue is known as disecdysis.

Disecdysis is easy to resolve at home. Try soaking your hognose snake in lukewarm water (no hotter than 90°F). Use a cotton swab to rub off any loosened skin gently.

To prevent disecdysis, consider offering a “bed” of moist sphagnum moss in a plastic hide when you notice your snake going into shed. You can identify an upcoming shed by an overall dulling of the skin and a blue haze in the snake’s eyes.

Respiratory Infections

Western hognose snakes are prone to respiratory infections if their enclosure is too cold or too humid.

Check temperature and humidity levels daily to preserve your pet’s health.

Signs of a respiratory infection include open-mouth breathing, raspy breathing noises, and discharge from the mouth or nose.

Respiratory infections need to be treated by a veterinarian. Unlike the common cold in humans, respiratory infections pose a life-threatening risk to reptiles.

Mites

Reptile mites are prevalent in pet snakes.

They can be introduced on any item that is purchased from a store housing infested animals. Decor and bags of substrate are common culprits. You can even bring mites home on your clothes if you handle an unfamiliar, infected reptile!

Luckily, mites are easy to identify and treat.

They appear as black specks on your snake’s body and in the snake’s environment. Mites congregate around the snake’s eyes and in the loose skin of their lower jaw.

If you notice your hognose is soaking its body more than usual, inspect it for mites. Frequent shedding is another common sign.

Mites can be treated at home with over-the-counter reptile parasite spray.

More Perfect Pet Snakes

Corn snake in hand
If you’re still contemplating your next pet, there are many other species of snakes to choose from.

The hognose snake’s eccentric bluffs and picky eating habits are not for the faint of heart! Luckily, their cute faces and full-of-life personality more than make up for it in the eyes of hognose enthusiasts.

If you’re still uncertain about snakes or snake ownership, perhaps consider a different beginner-friendly snake species. But if you are an expert, you can try a more demanding animal like the False Water Cobra.

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