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Western Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus) Care Sheet

Refer to the General Snake Care Sheet for more information on the basic keeping of Western Hognose snakes before reading this section!


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| Introduction & Description | Fact Sheet | Hognoses As Pets | Costs | The Bare Minimum For Keeping | Captive Care Environment | Handling | Behaviour | Important | Feeding | Reproduction | Potential Health Problems | Related Topics | References & Further Reading |
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Western Hognose Snake Introduction & Description:

Western Hognose snakes (H. nasicus spp.) are small, robust, prairie snakes with an unusual face. This, with the fact that they are mainly burrowers by nature and have opportunistic feeding habits, make them fascinating snakes which are a welcome addition to any snake collection. Some breeders reckon that these snakes, especially rarer colour and pattern morphs are becoming increasingly popular in the pet trade. Hognoses are also tough and very easy to care for.

The species consists of three subspecies, namely the nominate form, H. n. nasicus or the Plains Hognose snake, H. n. glodi or the Dusty Hognose and H. n. kennerlyi or the Mexican Hognose. Refer to the Western Hognose Snake Zoology page for more description info.

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Western Hognose Snake Fact Sheet:

Common Name(s):

Apart from the species difference, Western Hognose snakes are also called Western Hognosed snakes, Westerns or Hognoses.

Scientific Name:

Heterodon nasicus spp.

Birth Size: -
Mature Size:

Females 60 120 cm / 24 - 47 "
Males 46 - 56 cm / 18 22 "

Colour & Pattern Morphs:

The three subspecies shows natural colour variation. The Plains Hognose snake is pale brown or buff with highly contrasting saddles of dark brown, reddish brown or olive along its back and flanks, while the Dusty Hognose snake is brown with similar markings and the Mexican subspecies is greyish in colour with poorly defined markings.

Red Western Hognose snakes, axanthic Western Hognose snakes (lacking yellow), hypomelanistic Western Hognose snakes (lacking black), albino Western Hognose snakes (lacking all picment) and yellow Western Hognose snakes are being produced in captivity.

Temperature: 25 - 30 C / 75 - 86 F with a drop of 5 C / 41 F during the night.
Brumation (hibernation):

Short cold spell before breeding season.

Danger To Man:

Although most are not aggressive, Western Hognose snakes pose cytotoxic saliva which can cause tissue swelling if properly bitten.

Life Span:

15 to 20 years.

Captive Care Food:

Dead or thawed mice, from pinkies to young adults. Might prefer carrion.

UV Requirements: None
Supplementation: No supplementation is necessary if prey is well fed.

Most are docile, but some individuals can be mildly aggressive, very rarely bite, might mistake hand for prey.

Similar Species:

The upright snout distinguishes this species from other snakes. The genus also includes the Eastern Hognose snake (H. platirhinos). The South African Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) also plays dead when threatened and the Shielded-nose snake (Aspidelaps scutatus) and the Texas Patch-nosed snake (Salvadora grahamiae) have a similar deformity of the rostrum.


Adult males tend to only take food a few times a year, making them much smaller than adult females.

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Western Hognose Snakes As Pets:

As with most other reptiles, Hognoses are quiet, do not stink and need very little effort from your side to keep them happy. Most specimens will feed at intervals not less than a week. Western Hognose snakes are very tough and easy to keep and will adapt in almost any responsible home. Hognoses are relatively small when compared to other, even small snakes and their housing do not need a lot of space. They prefer dead or thawed prey over live ones which can make food management a lot easier.

At this stage Hognose snakes are relatively expensive in comparison with other pet snakes. As with most snakes they are also very shy and will hide away most of the time, only to come out when they need to feed or bask or feel like it. Being poisonous they cannot be handled easily and regularly and especially not by children or non-responsible persons. Some snakes might prefer carrion which can become a nuisance to work with.

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Western Hognose Snake Costs:

Because Western Hognoses are relatively scarce in South Africa, they tend to be a bit more expensive than the usual pet snake. As far as I am concerned babies go in the region of ZAR700 to 900 (2005). Do not buy new-born Hognoses that did not have at least one or two pinkies and did not shed at least once. Older snakes and rarer species/colour morphs will obviously be more expensive. Make sure to enquire before buying older specimens. Some, even older, specimens can be picky eaters or even anorexic for long periods.

Always remember only to buy healthy animals from reputable pet shops and breeders. Make sure you buy animals that are captive bred in your own country and that is not illegally imported or caught from the wild.

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The Bare Minimum For Keeping Western Hognose Snakes:

The minimum requirements for keeping Western Hognose snakes are listed below. Refer to the General Snake Care Sheet for more information on the basic keeping of snakes before reading this section:

  • Vivarium/container
  • Correct size prey, live or frozen
  • Hiding
  • Water bowl
  • Warmish room or heating equipment

A single Hognose need very little space to thrive. An area of (30 x 30) cm / (12 x 12) " with a water bowl, hiding and substrate will be adequate. Males can be kept separate or with one to three females in the same enclosure. When more than one snake is housed the same container the size guidelines in the General Snake Care Sheet apply.

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Western Hognose Snake Captive Care Environment:

Environmental temperatures should be maintained between 25 - 30 C / 75 - 86 F. A small drop of about 5 C / 41 F during the night should not do any harm. A heat gradient that exceeds both these temperatures by 1 or 2 degrees C / 30 degrees F should be maintained for thermoregulation.

Hognose snakes can be housed in a variety of containers. Small snakes can be kept in small to medium lunch boxes or ice-cream boxes. Small holes for ventilation should be drilled in the sides or in the lid. Small acrylic containers specifically made for small pets, so called "Pal Pens" or "Desert Dens" can be bought from most pet shops. For bigger snakes anything large enough will be appropriate. Glass tanks or aquariums used for fish make good housing and can be cleaned easily. When using a glass tank, make sure the lid ahs a tight fit and that there is appropriate ventilation. Snakes are masters of escape! A cabinet with glass-fronted doors that can slide open or a vivarium is also widely in use.

Hognoses are burrowers and although not necessary, a deep soft substrate can also be used as hiding. Sand is widely used when keepers wants to stimulate burrowing behaviour. Refer to the Suitable Substrates For Herptiles section for more information on Hognoses.

The rest of the environmental factors are discussed in the General Snake Care Sheet.

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Western Hognose Snake Handling:

Because these snakes are potentially harmful to humans when they bite, Hognoses must always be handled with caution. Do not let non-responsible, children or inexperienced people handle one.

Hognose snakes do not wrap snugly around your arm like pythons or kings. They tend to pick a direction and go for it. Although they are relatively small in body mass, they are quite strong. Gently grasp the back of the head with one hand and support the middle of the body with the other. It is recommended to use special snake handling equipment to handle these snakes. Never handle or attempt to pick up an aggressive snake without these equipment, rather wait until it has calmed down. When a snake bit get the snake to leave its grip as soon as possible and do not let it bite or work its way deeper into the biting site. Special snake handling equipment can also be used to handle these snakes.

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Western Hognose Snake Behaviour:

Like most snakes Hognose snakes are shy and prefer to  hide away during most of the day. They are most active during late evenings and early mornings.

Being natural burrowers, hence the upright "hog" nose, these snakes spend most of their active burrowing. When given the opportunity they will hide away under  the terrarium substrate. Suitable / safe burrowing substrates include corn cob, loose sand and wood shavings. Refer to the Suitable Substrates For Herptile section for more information on the safety of- and other suitable substrates for Hognose snakes.

They are known to  be opportunistic feeders and will eat dead prey, often which has been dead for a long time. Another strange thing about their feeding behaviour is that they will often take prey from the side of the body rather than from the head like most snakes do. With this they will literally bend the body in half while swallowing it down.

These snakes are great bluffers and although most individuals are docile, some of them can put up a huge act. When aggressive specimens are disturbed they can react by huffing and puffing, often raising the head and flattening the neck like a cobra. Sometimes they will also make mock strikes with a closed mouth, but most of the time they will have no intention to bite. If all of this fails they might even try to play dead (thanatosis), although this behaviour is rarely seen in captivity.

Hognoses will very rarely bite, but when they do they will often keep on biting and work their mouth and teeth deeper into the biting site. Some authors claim that this is only because of their aggressive feeding behaviour and the fact that they wrongfully confuse the handler as potential prey. Refer to the Western Hognose Snake Zoology section for more information Hognose bites.

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Hognose babies are only ready to be sold after their first self caught meal (not force fed). Shedding should take place about two to five days after hatching after which they start to take food. Some buyers insist on seeing the physical skin and the feeding records.

When buying a new Hognose snake, note whether it is male or female, if possible, get the date of birth and the shed and feed records. When buying a hatchling, try to take a look at the parents of the snake, especially when buying certain subspecies. This will give an indication of how the snake will look when mature. In short, get as much as possible information from the seller. The more info you get, the better you will be able to care for the snake (if that person did not talk rubbish). If not sure about the behaviour of the snake, call him/her, ask, ask and ASK!

If the seller can not give you most of the above info, he or she is not worth to be called a breeder or a seller for that matter. In this case it is maybe better not to buy from this person!

When selecting a Hognose snake, look for a well fleshed body, no visible cuts or abrasions, clear, alert eyes, no nasal discharge, tongue flicking, no signs of mites or ticks and a clean vent.

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Feeding Western Hognose Snakes:

Mature females have better appetites when compared to males, but experience shows that even females eat less than most other snakes. It is advised to work out the feeding behaviour separately form other snakes and feed accordingly. Males, which also stays considerately smaller when compared with females, survive on only a very few meals per year.

These snakes will take dead, thawed and often rotten prey (carrion). We prefer to kill the prey before feeding. Hatchlings will start off with small pinkies and adults will consume one or more young adult mice at a time.

Refer to the Reptile & Amphibian Feeding Problems section for more information on what to do if a Hognose refuses to eat.

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Western Hognose Snake Reproduction:

After sexual maturity (at the age of about two years), adult Hognoses breed in the spring and early summer. They are oviparous (egg-laying). Clutches usually consists of two to twenty four small soft shelled eggs. Double clutching is possible when a female has a good body condition score and health.


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Western Hognose Snake Potential Health Problems:

We have noticed some shedding problems in our own Western Hognose snakes. Sometimes an individual snake can be "in the blue" for weeks and only shed after this. Spraying the terrarium once or twice a day with luke warm water during the shedding process might hasten the shedding process.

According to literature these snakes are also prone to external parasites such as ticks and mites, internal parasites (possibly due to their feeding behavior), skin infections (especially juveniles who need higher humidities) and respiratory infections. Consult a specialized or reptile friendly veterinarian when any signs of ill health are observed.

Newly obtained Hognose snakes should be quarantined for at least six months before they are introducing it into an established snake collection. Refer to the General Animal Bio-security & Quarantine section for more information on the isolation of Western Hognose snakes.

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Western Hognose Snake Books:

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"If you did not understand something or thought that I left a few things out, read the General Snake Care Sheet. If you think I should add more information to this section or think that something is incorrect, contact me and let me know. I would love to hear your ideas or methods you might use that is different than ours."

Last updated 28 June 2008 by Renier Delport

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"Always remember only to buy healthy animals from reputable pet shops and breeders. Make sure to buy animals that are captive bred in your own country and that it is not illegally imported or caught from the wild."

"If you've read something funny, or heard something that sounds out of place, use your common sense before applying. It is extremely important to do research from more than one source (before buying or accepting a new animal). Browse other internet pages, read related magazines and talk to experienced people."

Related Topics:

General Snake Care Sheet
Western Hognose Snake Zoology
Other Care Sheets
Photoperiod & Brumation / Hibernation
General Animal Bio-security & Quarantine
Feeding Problems
Accessories & Other Stuff For Herptiles
Suitable Substrates For Herptiles

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References & Further Reading:

Bartlett, Patricia P. & Griswold, Billy, 2001 Reptiles, Amphibians & Invertebrates - An Identification & Care Guide. Barron's Educational Series U.S.

Miller, Stephan A. & Harley, John B., 1999 Zoology, Fourth Edition, WCB McGraw-Hill.

Mattison, Chris, 1998 Keeping & Breeding Snakes, Second Edition. Blandford.

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| Introduction & Description | Fact Sheet | Hognoses As Pets | Costs | The Bare Minimum For Keeping | Captive Care Environment | Handling | Behaviour | Important | Feeding | Reproduction | Potential Health Problems | Related Topics | References & Further Reading |
| Email This Page | Western Hognose Snake Zoology |





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