The western hognose snake is a reptile of varied abilities and characteristics. It ranges across a vast territory that begins in southern Canada, spreads down through large swathes of the midwestern and western United States, and finally terminates in the northern parts of Mexico. This western hognose snake care guide will help understand how to care for these amazing snakes and whether or not they are the right pet for you.
The western hognose snake has become a popular option for a pet in recent years. This is largely because it is relatively easy to take care of, it is not particularly dangerous, and it has an intriguing personality and temperament.
If you want to learn more about this fascinating reptile, keep reading. We’ll cover all the ins and outs of what you need to know to care for this wonderful creature.
Is It Hard to Care for a Western Hognose Snake?
The western hognose snake has a whole list of other names by which it is called—from the blow snake to the bluffer to the Texas rooter and many more. Its scientific name is Heterodon nasicus of the family Colubridae. Whatever name you call it, caring for a western hognose snake requires knowledge, attentiveness, and a certain degree of skill. That being said…
The western hognose snake is generally regarded as one of the easier snakes for which to care. It is ranked as a beginner-level snake, and it is not dangerous to humans, so even the young can enjoy this animal. And it has a remarkable personality and temperament, which makes it all the more fun. However, there are a number of things to consider when caring for this snake.
You must learn about handling the snake, feeding it, watering it, providing the proper enclosure in which it can live, regulating temperatures and humidity of the container, and many other similar things we’ve listed below.
As we said, though, it is not hard, and it can be richly rewarding. So, let’s get into all the things you should learn about taking care of a western hognose snake.
Western Hognose Snake Size and Appearance
One of the most prominent features of the western hognose snake’s overall appearance is its upturned nose.
The nose of a western hognose snake appears almost “hog-like” in nature, that gives the snake its common name. The nose is the result of a modified rostral or nose scale that has evolved into an upturned scoop-like structure.
The scoop-like shape of the nose allows these snakes to be effective burrowers. This helps the creature both hunt and burrow into loose soils of sand common to the areas in which they are found.
Another prominent feature of the western hognose snake, at least to the untrained eye, is its resemblance to a number of species of rattlesnake like the Western Diamondback, the Prairie, and the Mojave. This resemblance is widely believed among scientists to be an instance of Batesian Mimicry.
Batesian Mimicry is the adaptation of one harmless species of animal—in this case, the hognose western snake–so as to appear highly similar visually to another far more dangerous species—in this case, a rattlesnake.
In the case of the western hognose snake, the resemblance is largely a result of its general physical appearance, its coloration, and its keeled scales. Unlike the rattlesnake, a western hognose snake has no rattle—although it can shake its tail.
Physically, the western hognose snake is both squat and heavy-bodied. Females typically grow to around two feet in length, although some specimens can reach close to three feet. Males are usually smaller ranging from 14 to 24 inches (up to two feet max). Regardless of sex, most western hognose snakes measure only six to seven inches at birth.
Generally speaking, western hognose snakes have a ground color of olive, gray, tan, or brown. However, their shades are anything but bland. Here are some notes about coloring:
- Spots – Western hognose snakes often possess a series of bars or square blotches or, sometimes, parallel spots running in rows longitudinally down the body.
- Belly coloring – On their underbellies, the coloring usually consists of a glossy black interspersed with some more vibrant colors like orange, yellow, or even white.
- Variety – Thanks to the wonders of evolution and breeding, many characteristics of many animals are mutable. Snakes, and more specifically, western hognose snakes, are no exception. Due to careful breeding, western hognose snakes are now available in a variety of colors.
It is worth noting that lavender specimens of western hognose snakes are highly prized and can cost close upwards of $1000. Naturally occurring colors of this snake are the more earth-toned hues, like tan, gray or dark brown.
The scales on a western hognose snake are keeled. That is, they possess a ridge down the center of each scale, making them rough to the touch, not smooth like many other snakes. Again, this is a point of resemblance with rattlesnakes.
Western Hognose Snake Lifespan
Western hognose snakes have a life expectancy of up to 18 years if kept correctly and cared for properly. There are even some reports that they can even live as long as 20 years in captivity. Note, of course, that living in captivity differs greatly from living wild and affects the lifespan of each specimen accordingly. Proper western hognose care is essential if you want your snake to have the longest lifespan possible.
Western Hognose Snake Temperament
The western hognose snake is usually a docile snake, although there are exceptions and reports of very defensive specimens. But in most cases, the snake does not engage in normal violent behaviors. It is generally regarded as a suitable snake for beginning reptile owners as it is easily cared for and not particularly aggressive.
However, the western hognose snake is well-noted for possessing a unique manner of “defending” itself. If the snake is threatened or simply perceives a threat, it will go through a specific series of defensive behaviors. To be complete, we’ll walk through them one by one.
First, a western hognose snake may flatten its neck to give it a hooded appearance–not unlike that of a cobra. If that doesn’t work, it will suck in a huge breath of air, inflating its body by a considerable amount, and then release all that air in a loud hiss.
If that behavior doesn’t drive off its adversary, the snake may make a series of false strikes, either straightforward or off to the side. These strikes are called ‘bluff’ or ‘mock’ strikes. They are made with the mouth closed, so they generally do not result in a bite, but they may result in a sort of snout-butt with the keeled upturned nose of the snake we mentioned above bumping into its target.
Even if the snake is continually harassed, it almost never bites. Indeed, it is very difficult to get a western hognose snake to bite you. Usually, they only bite accidentally at feeding time if their caretaker fails to take the proper precautions (see below).
Last but certainly not least, the western hognose snake will try to feign death in order to persuade an adversary to leave. Basically, the snake begins its death act with a series of convulsions and similar such motions. It will turn over onto its back, thrashing its head back and forth and side to side, and then cease as if suddenly dying.
While pretending to be dead, it will leave its mouth open with its tongue lolling out of the side and simply cease moving. It may even bleed from the mouth or bleed and expel feces and foul-smelling musk from the anal area. If you pick the snake up and turn it over onto its belly, it will flip over onto its back and continue its charade. If you repeat the process, it will absurdly try to maintain the act.
How To Handle A Western Hognose Snake
As noted above, the western hognose snake is not known for being particularly aggressive. They have a reputation for being docile and easy to handle. Many experts will tell that they are perfectly acceptable as a beginner-level snake for any reptile enthusiast looking for a pet.
When The Snake Is Stressed
These snakes are most noted for their elaborate and complicated defensive/death routine we mentioned above. If your snake should begin such a routine with you, don’t look at it as a form of aggression but rather as an indication of undue stress on the creature.
In such cases, the best thing to do is to leave the animal alone so that it can calm down. Once the snake has had time to relax, you can try to handle it again.
If Your Snake Bites While Being Handled
To reduce the likelihood of a bite and to keep the snake calm, it is recommended that you move slowly and gently when handling the reptile. Note that western hognose snakes are mildly venomous. That is, their rear fangs can inject sufficient venom for their normal prey, and its saliva is also somewhat venomous, but neither poses significant harm to humans.
In the unlikely chance your snake does bite you, don’t try to pull it off or pry it from your flesh, as that could injure its jaws. Instead, pour a capful of mint-flavored mouthwash on the area being bitten. The mouthwash will not harm the snake but should be enough to convince it to let go.
While the venom won’t cause mortal injury, the bits of a western hognose will cause mild yet unpleasant redness and swelling around the site bit. You probably want to avoid that—even if there was no extra swelling.
Cleaning the Bite
The bite is best treated by simply cleaning the site of the injury with soap and water and then taking a Benadryl, preferably within an hour of the occurrence of the bite.
Hatchlings should first be given time to adjust and adapt to their new surroundings. Once that has occurred, you can start handling them once every few days.
When the hatchlings adjust to you, you can begin slowly increasing the frequency with which you handle them.
Western Hognose Snake Diet
Proper diet is an essential part of western hognose snake care. The western hognose snake feeds on a variety of things in the wild. They are primarily carnivores who prefer amphibians and small lizards but have been known to eat other types of animals. They eat by biting and chewing. They don’t constrict like many other snakes.
As stated above, they have rear fangs, which have a mild venom suitable for toads and small frogs, and their saliva serves to help break down the normal toxins found on many a hapless toad.
Eating Habits During Brumation
There are many reports of western hognose snakes going for as long as three-and-a-half months without eating during winter while in captivity. This typically occurs between January and March, and it is because of the snake’s instinct to brumate during winter.
Brumation is a process similar to (although very different on a scientific level) to hibernation that reptiles go through in the cold months of winter. When brumating, the reptiles’ metabolism slows down; it eats less, sleeps most of the time, but must still wake up every once in a while, to drink.
The process usually comes on gradually as temperatures drop. Some younger reptiles may not fully brumate in their first year of life, but they will still slow down.
What Do Western Hognose Snakes Eat In The Wild?
When the hognose snake does feed, it generally feeds on the following types of animals in the wild:
- Small frogs
- Other lizards
However, providing a varied diet, like the above, to an adult western hognose snake is very difficult in captivity. Generally speaking, most people involved with these snakes recommend limiting their diet to just small mice. And that seems to work perfectly fine.
An established western hognose snake is usually an enthusiastic eater presenting few difficulties at mealtime. In fact, when hungry, some may even approach with their mouth open in anticipation of their meal. They have been known to strike at their prey from any direction rather than just head-on. As a result, using hemostats, tongs, or forceps to feed them is highly recommended.
For best results, it is important to find a meal that is the right size.
Generally, it is recommended that the prey item be roughly the same diameter as the head of the snake or, alternatively, the thickness of the body.
A good rule of thumb is that the swallowed prey item should produce a small lump in the snake’s body which will gradually disappear in less than twenty-four hours.
The snake should be initially fed once or twice a week. As the snake gets older, feeding times can be more spread out, reaching once every 10 – 14 days for adult specimens. Additionally, as the snake grows, the size of the prey item used to feed it should also grow.
Food in Captivity
As noted above, a wild western hognose snake will often feed on toads, small frogs, other lizards, skinks, eggs found in the ground, and so on. However, in captivity, it is recommended that these snakes be fed primarily pre-killed mice, especially those that are frozen and thawed.
One of the benefits of using such frozen/thawed mice is that the snake will find them easier to digest. This is because the body of such a mouse will have begun to break down at the cellular level. Also, a live mouse will put up a fight and could possibly injure your snake in a confrontation. It is best to avoid such and feed your snake a pre-killed specimen.
Important note about feeding: If you purchase a recently hatched western hognose snake, make sure it has already eaten on its own at least three to four times. Inquire before you make your purchase. Breeders who take their responsibilities seriously will not sell a western hognose until it has established itself as a feeder.
Feeding a Baby Western Hognose
Small baby snakes are best fed with small hemostats or tweezers. The hemostat allows you to manipulate the prey item more easily and can even be used to attract the baby snake’s attention. Some options for getting a baby western hognose to eat:
- Thaw a mouse: A pinky mouse that has been thawed and dipped in warm water makes an excellent choice for the first meal of your baby snake.
- Try “braining” the mouse: Basically, you puncture the head of one of your frozen/thawed mice to get access to the brain matter. You then smear that matter on the pinky’s nose.
Although it is true that wild western hognose snakes are found in primarily semi-arid areas, they, like all living things, need water. Their water supply should be kept clean and fresh. Wash your snake’s water bowl and refill multiple times per week, as well as whenever the snake fouls it up.
Note that the snake will foul it up. The bowl should be of a size that allows the snake to soak in it, as soaking is a necessary component of its hydration processes.
Vitamins and Supplements
Being carnivores, the western hognose snake should have its nutritional needs provided for by the animals it consumes. However, sometimes the nutrition provided by feeder animals can be less than optimal, especially when compared to those animals the snake might consume in the wild.
As a result, there is some risk that over an extended period of time, your snake may develop a nutrient deficiency. This may occur even when you provide prey items purchased from even the best of breeders. To deal with this, it is recommended that you occasionally dust your snake’s prey items with calcium or other vitamin supplements to augment your snake’s diet.
The most common supplements used with western hognose snakes are:
- Calcium – As we said above, extra calcium is usually provided by dusting.
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D needs can be mitigated with appropriate lighting or through the dusting of the snake’s meals.
There are also multivitamins available for your snake that help with other vitamin deficiencies.
If you think your snake may need supplements of this sort, it is probably best that you discuss it with your veterinarian.
Western Hognose Snake Enclosure Requirements
A western hognose snake is a ground-dwelling snake that is not as particularly adept at escape as other snakes. Even so, it does need a secure enclosure of some sort. Choosing the right enclose is a huge aspect of western hognose snake care.
- Hatchlings: An excellent choice for hatchlings would be a plastic reptile terrarium with a capacity of 10 gallons and a secure lid. You can find such a terrarium at almost any pet store or an online reptile shop.
- Older, larger specimens: These snakes need larger cages, of course. An adult would likely do well in an enclosure with a 30-gallon capacity.
Because these snakes are ground-dwelling, you should seek to maximize floor space to give the snake as much room as you can. The height of the enclosure isn’t as important. Other important requirements of the habitat include:
- A basking spot
- A rock or similar items to bask upon.
- The itself should be made of either glass or plastic.
- Ample ventilation should be provided, particularly in humid areas. This can be done by drilling holes in the lid of the enclosure or what-have-you.
The next important part of the habitat is substrate.
Best Substrate For The Western Hognose Snake
The western hognose snake is often found in regions containing sandy, loose soils. As a result, some people believe that the best substrate for this snake is a similar soil mix of predominantly sand. Others, however, disagree. They argue that a sandy, loose soil mix can lead to impaction or the obstruction of the snake’s bowels from inadvertently consuming too much sand. Alternatives to sandy soil include:
- Newspaper. This simple solution for substrate is easy to come by and inhibits the growth of certain bacteria. It makes an excellent choice for hatchlings of the western hognose snake. It’s one drawback maybe its lack of aesthetic appeal–but that is largely a matter of taste.
- Shredded aspen bedding. This is most popular for adult western hognose. Not only is it easy to clean it also lets your snake burrow as well. Another popular option for adults is recycled newspaper products. Again, cleaning up for your snake is easy, and odors are readily absorbed. These, too, allow for burrowing—a must for any substrate.
Two substrates that are not recommended are shredded cedar and shredded pine, as these can cause problems with your snake’s respiratory system. And you don’t want that!
Generally speaking, the décor of your snake’s cage should be simple. There should be one good water bowl and maybe a couple of hiding boxes. In addition to that, there should be a basking area (usually consisting of flat rock and a heating pad below or light above) and perhaps a few other rocks and maybe some sticks.
Western Hognose Snake Temperature and Humidity
A critical aspect of western hognose snake care is the proper regulation of both temperature and humidity. Proper heating helps the snake digest its food items, gestate eggs if it is female, and provide appropriate seasonal breeding cues when it is combined with light regulation. Improper heating can result in health issues—some very serious.
One of the best ways to regulate heat in your pet snake’s enclosure is with an under-tank heater purchased from a pet store. Look for one specifically designed for your needs—that is, for use with an aquarium. Many such heating pads can be set to provide a gradient of temperatures throughout your snake’s enclosure.
Set the temperature for the basking area at around 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. You don’t want to heat more than one-third of the enclosure. You need to provide a cooler space (in the high 70’s) that your snake can use should it so desire. However, make sure it doesn’t drop below 70.
You should also aim for an ambient temperature of 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Monitor the temperature closely—on both ends of the tank. Use a digital thermometer and adjust as required.
Avoid using medical heating pads as they can sometimes overheat the enclosure or even be a fire hazard. Nor should you use hot rocks.
Finally, the humidity of the tank should be monitored and kept in the range of 30% to 50%.
Lighting Requirments For The Western Hognose Snake
The western hognose snake is a diurnal reptile. As a result, they should be provided with full-spectrum lighting for 14 to 16 hours per day during the spring and summer. During the autumn and the winter, the lighting should be reduced to anywhere from 8 to 10 hours a day. A variety of products exist to regulate light appropriately. Most of them can be found at a moderately well-furnished pet store or online.
Western Hognose Snake Care Summary
There you have it. Those are the details on western hognose snake care. Like many animals, there is a lot to learn. But your efforts will not be in vain if you approach the task responsibly and with the right attitude. The western hognose snake has a remarkable personality and makes for an interesting pet. We wish you well in your journey.