Care Of Your Hognose Snake

14/03/2011 17:22

Western Hognose snakes are a wonderful, small species of snake with lots of character. They have become more and more popular over the years and are now a commonly available species in the pet trade. In the wild they are known to feed on toads, lizard, snakes, eggs and even insects. In captivity however, they will regularly take to rodents. There are 3 subspecies of Western Hognose; the Plains Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus nasicus), the Dusty Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus gloydi) and Mexican Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus kennerlyi). The Plains Hognose snake is the most commonly seen in captivity, the care for all three species is virtually identical. Males grow to around 18”, females up to 30”. This is an excellent species of snake to keep in captivity, its small size, good nature and feeding response makes it a good beginners snake.


When keeping any snake as a pet, you generally want to be able to view the snake from the outside of its enclosure, in the most natural surroundings you can offer. This will be more aesthetically pleasing and also aid in the general condition of the snake. If the snake likes its surroundings, it will have a better feeding response and generally grow quicker. A larger vivarium also offers more interest to the snake’s life, and by adding branches and other natural products you will enhance the quality of life the snake has, and stop it from becoming lethargic and overweight. Also, being stronger it should have more of a resistance to any viral infections or any other problems that it may encounter later in life.

For an adult Western Hognose snake, a vivarium 60cm Length x 45cm Width x 45cm Height is ample. Contrary to popular belief, and propaganda spread by various campaigners, you can actually have too large of an enclosure for many snakes. The reason for this, is that snakes are very prone to stress, and being in an excessively large enclosure can scare them. Imagine in the wild they are constantly hiding from predators, then, when they feel it’s safe in the dark of night, they will venture out to hunt for food. Once they find their food, they will return to the safety of their secure hiding place until the next time around. Many species will not even hunt for food; rather, they will sit and wait for their prey to come along. They may also leave their den for sloughing their skin or finding a mate at certain times of the year. Many individual snakes feel very comfortable in captivity, although this generally comes with age and lots of handling. Snakes like these will often thrive in a larger than usual enclosure.

Snake enclosures can be made from a number of materials. Most commonly used is a melamine coated wood which covers all sides except the front, which has glass sliding doors. Aquariums can also be used, although a specialist lid should be bought or made rather than the original aquarium lid. It is essential when thinking about what type of enclosure you use, you think about these 6 ‘SSSHHH’ factors:

1) Safety – Can the snake or owner injure itself from the enclosure or any appliances held within?
2) Secure – Can the snake escape through any small hole or cavity?
3) Size – Will the enclosure be appropriately sized?
4) Heating – Is the enclosure able to regulate the temperature properly?
5) Humidity – Will the enclosure last well in humid conditions? Is there enough ventilation for the moisture to escape?
6) Hygienic – Will the enclosure build up a lot of bacteria in small cavities? Is it easy to clean?

By following the steps above, you can have a suitable enclosure made from a variety of materials.


Décor in your tank serves two purposes. First being extra cover for your snake and second, allowing for a more natural and pleasing appearance. When choosing décor, think about the safety of the snake. Make sure that whatever you decide to use, it is securely fixed and that no rocks, wood or anything heavy can fall and possibly injure, or even kill the snake. You must also make sure that everything used is parasite free. If anything has been picked up from outside, or has originally come from outside, such as cork bark, you should either boil it, or place the item in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately 30 minutes. Freezing works for some parasites, however others have been known to survive months in freezing conditions. Some parasites found in English conditions last winters in minus temperatures, so it is not entirely effective.

Once all your décor is parasite free, it is then safe to place inside your enclosure. As a general rule, if you can put pressure on an item to knock it down, an adult Western Hognose snake is also capable of doing this. When positioning rocks or heavy objects, make sure they are completely secure. If it is still uneasy, screw them or use superglue to fix them securely. If it is not possible, the rule is simple: Do not place the item in the vivarium!

If you decide to go for a large enclosure, you must provide plenty of cover and hiding areas. A hiding place can be anything from an ice cream tub with a hole cut out to a naturalistic piece of cork bark. There are many brands of fake plants and décor you can use which is both safe for the animal and pleasing to the eye. Cork bark is available from almost any reptile pet shop in the UK, and can be ordered in if they do not have it in stock. This is excellent cover for any reptile and is 100% natural. One thing you must consider when thinking about the size of the vivarium, is the bigger you go, the more hiding areas you must provide. I recommend at least one hiding place per foot in length of the enclosure.

NOTE: Never use sticky tape in an enclosure; this is an accident waiting to happen. Believe me; removing sticky tape from any snake is no easy task!


Western Hognose snakes require a thermal gradient, meaning they must be allowed to move around the enclosure to find their required temperature. The hot end of the enclosure should be 84-88ºF while the cool end should be approximately 74-76ºF. During the night, the temperature should drop to a more constant overall temperature of 72-74º.


a form of lighting as well. A power plate should be used in conjunction with a HabiStat Pulse Proportional Thermostat, which will stop the power reaching the power plate as soon as the temperature goes above the setting, and turn back on as soon as it is too cool. This is one of the most accurate thermostats on the market today.

Ceramic heaters, spot bulbs and heat mats are also ways of heating a vivarium. These all have their advantages and disadvantages, but in my opinion, none quite weigh out to be as good as a power plate.

Having artificial light in a vivarium is aesthetically pleasing to the owner, and is a good addition to a snake’s enclosure. They will use this as a photo-period, and their regular time clock will generally adjust to the settings on which you have your light set to.

They do not require any form of special lighting, such as a D3 Ultra-Violet light commonly used for lizards. An Arcadia Natural Sunlight Fluorescent Lamp is a good form of lighting. This comes in lengths of 12” up to 48” and I suggest you use the largest size able to fit inside your vivarium.


Western Hognose Snakes are generally not exposed to a high humidity range in the wild, and in captivity you should not worry about controlling this. A fairly dry environment should be provided, although raising the humidity when the snake is coming up to a slough may aid in shedding its skin properly.


Hatchlings should be offered pinky mice, and as they grow the mice should become larger. An adult Western Hognose snake should be fed on large size mice or small weaner rats. Hatchlings should be fed on a regular basis, every 4-5 days is ideal. Their metabolic rate is very high and as they are growing, they need a lot more food to keep them going. Adult Western Hognose snakes need feeding once every 2 weeks on 2 large mice, perhaps one for males. The only exception when they should be fed more is bringing them out of hibernation, getting them into condition for breeding and then, fattening up females for egg production. An egg-laying female should be fed more often than normal, once a week on 2 large mice.

By Chris Jones
Director of Pet Club UK Ltd.






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