The Western Hognose Snake is one of the best beginner snakes you can keep as a reptile enthusiast. They have a distinctive look, characterised by their stockier bodies and upturned noses. Their nose has evolved to help them with digging in the soil in their native habitat to find prey items, their favourite of which are amphibians like frogs and toads.
For a snake that is well-known for being mildly venomous, the Western Hognose snake has a relatively mild temperament and is easy to care for. They also come in a wide variety of morphs (colours and patterns) that make them an interesting snake to consider breeding and collecting.
Western Hognose snakes are also relatively small, especially when compared to other commonly kept species like corn snakes and ball pythons. The species is dimorphic, which means that there are differences between males and females. Notably, males are significantly smaller than females when adult. Females tend to be around 3 foot, compared to males who can be around 1.5 to 2 foot.
The information provided in this Wester Hognose snake care sheet is a rough guide of how to care for your new Western Hognose snake. Some of the information might not be applicable to your own individual as with all animals, just like humans, they all have their own personality and preferences.
Western Hognose Housing
What Enclosure To Use
There are four types of housing that snake keepers use for Western Hognose. The main is the vivarium, a wooden enclosure that has a glass front. There are also top-opening vivariums. These are easily acquired and can have lighting, heat sources and other equipment attached to the vivarium for ease.
However, I have often found that vivariums are also easily escapable. There is also a plastic version of vivariums, known as terrariums. While these are less costly than vivariums, and don’t require any assembly, they are harder to include lights and are easier for the snake to escape from. All snakes are escape artists, so you have to minimise the chances by using the proper enclosure.
A third option for housing a Western Hognose snake is an aquarium. These are a good option for certain snake species, but they aren’t great for Hognoses. For one, it is hard to find a tight-fitting, secure top for aquariums. Snakes are excellent climbers and can escape from the top of an average aquarium lid.
All the above options also fail in allowing you to offer different sizes depending on the snake size. Viviariums are at a minimum 2 foot (with the exception of one 18 inch) and this can be too large for small snakes. And it is impractical to buy lots of expensive vivariums or aquariums to cater for one snake.
The final option is a rub set up. This is a plastic box with handles which secure the lid to the main box. There are numerous versions of this around, but the best version is the Really Useful Box. You can read how to prepare a Really Useful Box for snake habitation here.
Rub setups are great and used by breeders and keepers of large collections the world over. They allow you to adjust the humidity within the environment easily, are secure and can be cleaned with ease. In addition, you can use a tub that is appropriately sized for your snake and then cheaply move it up when it has grown.
Keeping a snake in an enclosure that is too large for them can stress them out. Many snake species can refuse to eat if they don’t feel secure and this includes Western Hognoses. Many breeders keep their hatchling Hognoses in 0.9 litre really useful boxes. They are then moved up as the snake gets bigger. Different owners move at different rates. However, there is a rule of thumb about the minimum size for snakes. If the length and width of the snake is shorter than the length of the snake, then the enclosure is too small. Female Hognose snakes can be kept in 33 litre tubs.
The substrate for Hognose snakes is up for debate. Many keepers use paper towels and newspaper. These are easy to acquire, clean and prevent accidental swallowing of materials. This makes them a very popular choice for hatchlings with some breeders. However, Hognose snakes love to burrow and these substrates aren’t good for this. They are also very unattractive. Therefore, you need to look at either aspen and lignocel. Both allow for burrowing, which is what your snake will really love.
Ensure that you are giving your Hognose at least 2 inches of substrate to burrow in.
If you are using a rub or terrarium setup, place a heat mat under one third of the tub. In the rub, use a thermostat to prevent the heat mat from getting too hot. The thermostat should be set between 32 and 34 degrees Celsius (90 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit). This might also work with an aquarium, but some heat mats can’t fit under aquariums.
If you’re using a vivarium, you can use a heat mat inside the vivarium, as long as you place a plastic or glass sheet with smoothed edges on the top of the heat mat. This will prevent the snake from rubbing directly against the heat mat that could harm it.
If you prefer you could use a ceramic heat projector. However, ensure that you place a guard around the bulb to ensure the snake can’t touch it directly. Again, ensure that you use a thermostat to make sure the temperature is within the correct range. A ceramic heat projector is also a good option for aquariums.
For any heating system, you should create a temperature gradient. This is where you have one side that is warmer than the other. This can be done by placing the heat source at one end and leaving the other side free from a heat source.
This requirement is due to snakes, like all ectothermic creatures, needing the environment to control their body temperature. A snake will travel to an area to heat or cool its body as is required. Therefore, you need to create an environment that allows it to warm up or cool down.
Most snakes do not require any special lighting. This is because most of them are crepuscular or nocturnal. Therefore, they are most likely hiding during daylight hours and would not come into direct sunlight during the day. If you do want to use lighting, then ensure that you are using your UVB lighting for only 8-10 hours a day.
All enclosures should use decorations to create a habitat or environment the Western Hognose would be happy with. Snakes like clutter, it makes it easier for them to hide and go about their business undetected. Lots of ‘clutter’ is great for snakes. This can be achieved by placing plastic plants around the floor of the enclosure. Plastic plants are a good choice because they can be easily cleaned.
In addition, you should have two hides. One should be placed on the cool side and one should placed on the warm side of the enclosure. You can also add in a third hide during shedding that contains damp moss to aid in shedding. Hides can be made from coconuts, bought plastic hides, flowerpots and other items. The moist hide, design for shedding, can be made from a Tupperware box or cricket feeder box with a hole cut in the top to allow access.
Finally, you need to add a water bowl. This should be large enough for your snake to soak in. Most snakes don’t drink a lot of water, getting most of their moisture from prey items (Dumeril’s Boas are an exception). But occasionally they will have a drink and they do like to soak, especially if they are going to shed.
You can also add in branches for climbing. This is controversial as many say they don’t climb, but others have observed a desire by Hognoses to climb, just a very poor ability to do so.
Feeding Your Western Hognose Snake
Wild Diet Of Western Hognose Snake
The natural diet for a Western Hognose snake in the wild is mainly made up of amphibians like frogs and toads. However, they will also occasionally take mice, lizards and sometimes insects. The Western Hognose snake is known as a rear-fanged venomous snake. This is because the saliva of the snake is toxic to prey, but for it be effective, the victim has to be chewed on for some time. It isn’t like venom like you see in rattlesnakes, adders, vipers or mambas.
For a human to be affected by a Western Hognose snake, the snake would have to chew for a considerable amount of time, which is unlikely. The ‘venom’ is also very mild and closely resembles being stung by a bee or wasp.
In captivity, Western Hognoses are fed mice. In the UK it is illegal to feed live food (that are vertebrates) to another animal unless absolutely necessary. It is cruel to the prey item and mice, rats and other prey items can fight back and hurt your snake. Therefore, you use frozen-thaw prey (F/T prey). This is prey, like mice and rats, that has been pre-killed and then frozen to keep it fresh.
The prey item has to be thawed (or defrosted) and then heated up to be fed to the snake. The prey item should be that its width is no larger than 1.5 times the width of the snake. Some individual snakes will prefer smaller prey.
Defrost a prey item by leaving out at room temperature for a period of time. Pinkies can defrost in 30 minutes, but rats can take a couple of hours. Never use a microwave to defrost or heat a prey item as this can make your snake very ill.
Once defrosted there are several ways to offer the prey item.
- Feed straight to the snake without heating: some snakes will take food like this.
- Heat the prey item in hot water (about 35 degrees Celsius) for about 6 minutes.
- Warm up the prey item on a heat mat for about 30 minutes.
Once you’ve heated the item (or not), you can offer the prey item to your snakes. Use tongs to hold the prey item by the tail or back leg and move the prey item in front of the snake or by the entrance to the hide where the snake is. The snake may take time to strike, but most will do.
If this is unsuccessful, you can try to leave the prey item nearby for a few hours. Gerald our Dumeril’s boa prefers this method of feeding.
Sometimes, a snake will not feed. As long as they aren’t young, this shouldn’t be a problem as some snakes can go months without food. If your snake refuses food, never offer another meal the next day. Instead wait until the next scheduled feeding time.
Never move a snake to a different enclosure for feeding. When moving a snake back its main enclosure you risk it regurgitating its food. This can cause serious damage to the snake.
How Often To Feed Your Western Hognose Snake
You should feed your Western Hognose snake about once a week. Some larger specimens, might need to be fed once every 10 days to stop them becoming overweight. Younger snakes might need to be fed every five days.
During the winter, some Hognose snakes will not eat. This is normal. Unless you are brumating, ignore and carry on as normal.
Handling Your Western Hognose Snake
As most snake owners do, you probably will wish to handle your snake from time to time. Snakes are very nervous creatures, so it is best to minimise handling. I recommend restricting handling to just three, 15 minute sessions per week. This is long enough for the snake without stressing it out and a good amount of time for you, the owner, to enjoy the snake.
You should not handle a snake if it has eaten in the past 48 hours or is in shed.
Handling is easy, the first thing you do is locate the snake and then place one hand underneath the belly of the snake and lift it. Never squeeze the snake, there is no need to. Once in the hand, you will naturally find that you can hold and control the snake. Just let it explore in your hands. Western Hognose snakes will often be calm while being handled, although they may move around to explore.
A snake will regularly go into shed. This is when it removes the outer layer of its skin and replaces it with a new layer. This allows the snake to grow and for it to replace dead cells on the top layer of skin. All animals do this in some respects, humans regularly shed their skin. We do it all the time in tiny particles that it’s hardly noticeable. Snakes do it all at once.
The first sign of a snake going into shed is its eyes going cloudy. This will last for about two or three days. Then that will clear up. A few days later they will then shed their skin.
You can help shedding by using a shedding hide in the enclosure and something rough for them to rub up against. If the snake is having trouble with its shed, you can bath the snake to help it remove any skin that hasn’t come off in the first go.
To keep your snake healthy you need to regularly maintain its enclosure. Every day you should replace the water in the water bowl. You should also spot check for waste. Small waste can be cleaned up quickly.
Every month you should clean out your snake and disinfect their enclosure. There are specially created reptile disinfectants you can use. Don’t use commercial or home disinfectants.
If you have a question about the Western Hognose snake, please feel free to contact us.