The harmless Western hognose snake is easy to take care of and has multiple unique factors that set it apart from other snakes. The snake is an excellent choice for new and seasoned reptile enthusiasts.
Though the Western hognose snake has a natural range from southern Canada through the central U.S. into northern Mexico, the snake has become a popular pet addition over the years. The snake can be found in a variety of patterns, genetic mutations and color phases. The increased popularity has also raised its price.
Western Hognose Snake Appearance
The snake has a short, stout build and is covered in keeled scales. The upturned snout is used for digging and burrowing in loose bedding. The Western hognose snake’s body color can range from tan or brown to gray or olive with darker, squarish blotches, bars or rows of parallel spots that run down the body. The snake’s underside has glossy, black scales that are often speckled with white, yellow or orange markings.
Adult female Western hognose snakes can grow to a maximum of three feet. Adult males are smaller and average between 14 to 24 inches. Western hognose snakes can live between 15 to 18 years in captivity.
All snakes require a secure cage, though the Western hognose snake is not as good at escaping as other types of snakes. Use a five to 10-gallon reptile terrarium with a secure lid for a hatchling. An adult should have a 20-gallon terrarium.
The Western hognose snake is a ground-dwelling snake, meaning the enclosure should have more floor space; height is not as important. Keep the cage decorations simple. A water bowl and a couple of hiding spots are all that it needs.
For baby Western hognose snakes, the best substrate is a paper towel or a cage carpet. This eliminates the threat of a baby accidentally eating substrate that could cause an abdominal blockage.
Zoo Med Aspen Bedding is the most popular substrate for larger Western hognose snakes; it is easy to clean, allows the snake to burrow and is not hazardous to the snake’s respiratory system.
We recommend feeding the snake in a separate enclosure to prevent it from possibly ingesting the bedding.
Never use pine or cedar beddings. We do not recommend using sand.
Lighting and Temperature
Heat is essential for proper digestion. Failure to maintain appropriate temperatures will lead to health problems. The cage must allow for a proper range of temperatures that the snake can use; have a hot spot on one end of the cage and a cool spot on the other so the snake can move between the two and regulate its body temperature.
The hotspot should be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the cool spot should be between 70 and 80 degrees. Do not let the temperature get below 70 degrees. The best way to monitor temperature is with a digital thermometer with a probe or an inferred thermometer.
To heat the cage, use an under-cage heating pad and tape, ceramic heat emitters or basking bulbs. When using ceramic heat emitters and basking bulbs, keep an eye on the humidity inside the cage, especially if the cage has a screen top; the air can quickly dry and increase shedding issues.
Use thermostats, rheostats or timers to control the heat source. Do not use heat rocks, as they can cause severe burns. If you use a heating pad without a thermostat, make sure to use a cage carpet to prevent injuries.
Feeding and Water
Western hognose snakes are usually eager feeders. They do well on a diet of living, pre-killed or frozen and thawed mice. Many snake keepers prefer frozen and thawed rodents due to the risk of the snake being injured by a live mouse.
When buying a baby Western hognose snake, always get one that has eaten at least three or four times unassisted; ask before you purchase it. Responsible pet stores should not offer Western hognose snakes for sale unless they are well-established feeders.
Feed the baby with tongs so you can better manipulate the food item and draw the snake’s attention. Tongs also reduce the chance of an accidental bite. Some babies can be challenging to get to start eating. Try “scenting” a live or thawed pinky mouse with either canned tuna or salmon juice, which may encourage the snake to eat. It is easy to wean the baby snake off this form.
The snake needs clean water at all times. Change the water as required and wash the water bowl at least once a week or more often if the snake dirties the water.
Western Hognose Snake Handling and Temperament
The Western hognose snake is docile and easily handled. It is known for its array of simple defensive tactics that can be accompanied by a loud hiss. The snake can flatten its body when threatened, which makes it appear larger and dangerous to predators. It can flatten out the ribs along the neck to create a “hood” like a cobra.
An alarmed snake may also exhibit bluffing displays, but it’s not a sign of aggression. Bluffing displays consist of the snake, with a closed mouth in a series of forward or sideways movements, hitting the perceived predator with its snout. It does not bite when it does this.
Sometimes the Western hognose snake will play dead to ward off danger. The snake will roll over onto its back with its mouth open. When flipped upright, it will resume its death feign by rolling back onto its back. This act is sometimes accompanied by the snake squirting a foul-smelling musk from its anal glands.
Western hognose snake bites are rare and typically occur due to overeagerness during feeding time. Some snakes will gently take food from tongs, or they might prefer having food left in a corner of the cage to eat when they are comfortable.
If you do get bit, do not force the snake off by pulling on it, as this could damage its teeth and jaw. Pour a drop of alcohol onto the snake’s mouth; it will not harm the snake and will make it want to let go. A bite may lead to mild swelling around the bite area. The bite can be remedied by cleaning the location with soap and water and taking Benedryl within an hour after the bite.
Do not handle a snake that is exhibiting stressed behavior. Wait until it has calmed down.