Western Hognose Snake

Natural History

Hognose snakes are relatively small, stout-bodied snakes found throughout the Great Plains states of the U.S. from Canada to Mexico. Their color and pattern is highly variable from subspecies to subspecies, although most specimens appear much like the infamous rattlesnake to the untrained eye. This optical bluff, used in conjunction with a wide array of other clever defense tactics, makes these snakes quite unique among North American serpents.

These snakes get their common name from the modified rostral (nose) scales that are formed in an upturned manner, providing a very "hog-like" look. Additionally, this adaptation makes these snakes adept burrowers, which is a useful skill when hunting or seeking refuge from the elements.

While hognose snakes are still occasionally collected from the wild, nearly all specimens offered for sale are of the captive bred and born variety. This provides the keeper with the best chance of success with this species, as well as the potential for selectively bred color and pattern variations in the future.

Size and Longevity

These are small snakes, by most standards. Males are considerably smaller than females, with adult lengths rarely exceeding 20 inches. Females attain a greater size, occasionally approaching the 3 foot mark.

Hognose snakes are long lived, and thrive in captivity with proper care. Life spans of 20 years or more are not unusual.

Housing

As a result of their small size, hognose snakes are housed easily in reasonably sized glass terrariums. While smaller quarters may suffice, a standard 20 gallon enclosure (or equivalent) is ideal for a single adult or even a male/female pair.

A secure lid is a must, as these snakes, like all snakes, are pros at escaping from unsecured cages. A fully screened lid is advisable to avoid excess humidity and to ensure proper ventilation and air exchange.

Heating and Lighting

As a temperate species, hognose snakes can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. However, in captivity it is advisable to provide an ambient daytime temperature of around 80 degrees. One section of the enclosure may be safely heated to 90 degrees, so long as the animal has access to cooler areas within the enclosure.

Nighttime temperatures can be slightly cooler, with 75 to 78 degrees being a desired target. Again, by providing a thermal gradient (one warm side, one cooler side) within the enclosure, one can be assured that the snake can choose the temperature that suits it needs at any given time.

Heat can be provided for hognose snakes in a variety of ways. Standard incandescent heat lights, under tank heating pads, ceramic heat emitters, and infrared bulbs are all acceptable. The use of a high quality thermometer is essential to ensure that temperatures are at proper levels.

No supplemental lighting is necessary when maintaining hognose snakes. However, a fluorescent bulb may be used to facilitate the viewing of the animals during the day. Additionally, the light provided by most heat bulbs will doubly serve as a light source, and help provide a consistent day/night cycle for the snakes.

Substrate and Furnishings

Hognose snakes prefer a dry substrate in which they can easily dig burrows, or at the very least bury themselves. Aspen shavings and chips are highly recommended. Avoid excessively dusty beddings or ones that may promote unhealthy humidity levels such as mulches or barks.

The terrarium used for housing hognose snakes can be as simply or elaborately decorated as the keeper deems fit. The basic necessities are multiple hide spots, specifically one on both the warm and cool sides of the enclosure.

Additional furnishings such as logs, sticks, rocks, and silk or plastic plants may be added to provide a more natural appearing habitat. Because these snakes burrow, make absolutely sure that any heavy items placed within the cage are resting directly on the cage floor, not on the surface of the substrate. This prevents accidental cave-ins or settling cage furniture that could harm or even kill a small snake.

Water and Humidity

A small, shallow water bowl should always be present for these snakes. A sturdy dish is recommended to prevent spills should a curious snake decide to burrow beneath a full bowl of water.

Hognose snakes can tolerate very dry conditions, and little or no concern should be given to attempting to manipulate the cage humidity. Should shedding issues occur, a small, localized area of increased moisture may be provided temporarily, but should be eliminated once the problems have resolved.

Nutrition

Most captive bred hognose snakes will readily accept one appropriately sized rodent every 5 to 7 days. Some collected specimens may prove tricky to feed, as they are likely accustomed to a diet of frogs, toads, and native rodents.

A prey item of appropriate size should produce a slight, but noticeable, bulge in the snake’s belly after ingestion. Hatchlings will require pinky (newborn) mice, while adults will readily consume adult mice.

Handling

While hognose snakes are generally considered harmless, they do possess a set of modified teeth located far back in the mouth that produce a mild toxin, used typically to subdue toads and small mammals. A nip from one of these animals will offer no more consequence than that of a similar harmless colubrid. However, a prolonged "chewing" bite may result in localized irritation, swelling, headache, or nausea.

Thus said, it should be noted that no reports of a serious envenomation from these animals exist. Hognose snakes are sold annually by the thousands and pose little to no real threat to their keepers. They can be freely handled as any other snake may be, keeping in mind that over handling can lead to stress in any captive reptile.

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