The Western Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasiscus) is a cute and charming snake. Small in stature, but big in personality and attitude! In this caresheet I’ll be covering housing, heating, lighting, feeding, social needs, handling and those funny defensive ploys that Western Hognose Snakes use, sexing, breeding and morphs! Let’s get started.
Meet the Western Hognose
The Western Hognose is a small species of snake, with males often being around 18-24″ and females being 24-30″ with some very large females being up to 36″. They originate in North America and have an upturned nose that allows them to dig and burrow to find their prey. Rather than wrapping around and constricting their prey like colubrids, they are rear fanged to hold onto the prey and have a saliva that paralyses small rodents and frogs. This is not a venom like a true venomous snake – the teeth are not hollow and nothing is injected into the wound, but the saliva contains protolipase enzymes. Humans may experience localized swelling around the finger if bitten but these are a species that is considered safe and harmless.
For myself, I’ve been keeping and breeding Western Hognose morphs for over a decade and I’ve never been bitten by one of them. Although they can be a bit defensive, they tend to be big bluffers and are defensive, not aggressive. More on that in the handling section.
One of the biggest reasons I love this species so much is that they are diurnal – awake during the day. This is very unusual with snakes and it makes this species an active and interesting one to watch all day long.
Housing for Western Hognose Snakes
The Western Hognose is a small species, but as mentioned, they are active in the day, and are an active and inquisitive species that will use lots of space if given it. We’d recommend a minimum of a 36x18x18″ enclosure for a single adult, especially if male. To provide more space, or if you end up with a large female, consider a 36x24x24″ setup or 48x18x18″ setup.
The setups suitable for Western Hognoses on our website are labelled Corn Snake Setups, but these are suitable for a wide variety of species and perfect for hognoses.
Babies can be kept in a starter setup until well established feeding and are big enough not to be escape risks. This is a species that can be a little shy, but with a well decorated vivarium can usually move into their permanent enclosure at a young age.
Western Hognose Snake Heating and Temperature
You need to create a hot and a cold end of your tank for your Western Hognose Snake. This is so they can thermoregulate – choose between hot areas and cold areas depending on their body temperature. All your heating should be on one side of the tank, and this should provide a hot side of 85-90F. On the unheated cool side of the tank your ambient temperature should be around 75 – 80F. At night you can allow this cooler temperature to be steady throughout the tank and they can tolerate as low as 68F at night.
You have two main options of heating. We generally prefer Ceramic Heaters but due to their small size and body weight and their dry enclosures, you can use a heat mat with a Western Hognose Snake.
1. Heat Mat
A heat mat is a device that goes underneath the substrate or against the back wall of a wooden tank. If your tank is made of glass, you can put the heat mat underneath. The heat mat should be well covered by substrate – you do not want your snake to sit directly on it, and should also be kept dry.
Your heat mat should always be controlled by a thermostat.
2. Ceramic Bulb
A ceramic bulb is an excellent option for providing heat. It has a much higher heat output than most heat mats, making it more suitable for larger tanks and for obtaining more reliable temperatures. Heating from above is more natural as well. Ceramic bulbs are particularly good for larger snakes or larger enclosures.
Your Ceramic Bulb should be controlled by a thermostat and must be guarded so the snake cannot burn itself as well.
Keep a thermometer in the vivarium at all times – digital ones are best – to ensure the temperature is correct.
A standard room humidity of 50-60% is fine. There’s no need to spray the tank and keep a medium size water bowl on the cold side of the tank to avoid evaporation causing humidity.
You should provide a damp moss box during shedding periods to provide your hognose somewhere to go with higher humidity, but you may find some don’t use it.
Lighting for Western Hognose Snakes
Having a small daylight bulb in the tank helps provide a natural photoperiod allowing the snake to distinguish clearly between night and day. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it has plenty of benefits and is very inexpensive. You can use a low wattage LED which won’t raise the heat much at all, or you can use a low wattage basking bulb if you do want to raise the heat a little in this area.
If you use any heat-emitting bulb you will need to put a guard around it to ensure the snake does not curl around the bulb and inflict burns upon itself. Snakes do not recognise pain very quickly and a snake can have horrific burns before it registers to move away.
UVB for Western Hognose Snakes
In the past people didn’t use UVB for Western Hognose Snakes, even though they are diurnal. However, more recent research has shown that most snakes are active at dawn and dusk and will sometimes even bask in full sunlight. UVB has been shown to offer benefits to health, such as increased appetite, more activity and brighter colouration. We’d recommend it where possible, but we don’t force people to use it if they don’t want to.
Following recommendations from Arcadia Reptile for low UVB snake species, we would recommend having a UV Index of 2-3 in your tank. This can be obtained with a 6% T8 UVB at 10-15″ height or at a 15-18″ height you can use a T5 6% UVB or a T8 12% UVB. You should use a UVB guard to stop the snake damaging themselves or the bulb.
UVB remains optional when it comes to nocturnal snakes like the Western Hognose Snake, but we highly recommend it. You can read our entire UVB guide here.
We recommend a deep layer of dry substrate that facilitates burrowing, such as Aspen or Lignocel. You can also use a more natural substrate such as Arcadia EarthMix.
You will need multiple hides – at least one on the hot and one on the cold – side of the enclosure for your Western Hognose Snake to choose where to hide in. You should also add plenty of exercise and stimulation opportunities such as branches and plants.
A medium sized water bowl containing fresh water should be provided at all times, keep this on the cool end of the tank to avoid it increasing the humidity too much.
Like most snakes, Western Hognose Snakes do not have any social needs and are fine to live by themselves for their entire lives. In the wild they only come together for breeding purposes. It is possible to house more than one together, but a male and a female may breed unduly, whilst two males may stress each other with territorial and competitive behaviour. If you are housing more than one we’d recommend two females, but you need to feed separately, and ensure there is ample space in the enclosure as well as multiple hides on both hot and cold sides. In general, snakes do better living alone.
Feeding Western Hognose Snakes
A breeder may find that Western Hognose can be quite tricky to get started feeding as they would often eat fish or frogs in the wild, but if you’re purchasing a pet from a shop or a breeder, your snake should already be well established on defrost rodents. Once established and eating regular, this species is a very good feeder and can be very greedy – but males in particular can go for fasting periods, see below.
They have a fairly fast metabolism and are an active snake so Western Hognoses may eat more frequently than some other species of snakes. We recommend feeding growing individuals every 5-7 days and adults every 7-10 days. They start on pinkies and most adults will max out at small to medium mice, although large females may take large or even XL mice.
Always use a pair of tongs so the snake can clearly tell the difference between food and not. Western Hognose Snakes are not super precise feeders and can often miss, so it’s really important!
When your Hognose won’t eat…
One of the most common questions I get asked about Western Hognose Snakes is why aren’t they eating. This is a species that can go quite a while without food and in the wild would be focused on finding a mate during certain times of the year. It’s not uncommon for a male to go off their food for several months. It’s a species that tends to either very greedy – eating everything you offer with extreme enthusiasm – or not at all bothered and ignoring your food completely!
If your Western Hognose goes off their food you should first check the enclosure and ensure the temperatures and humidity are all correct. Then check your snake and make sure that they’re looking generally healthy – no injuries, mucous, problems with the eyes, mouth or tongue, etc. If they are looking healthy but are refusing food, give them a weigh and note their weight. Do this every month, if you find their weight is dropping significantly this is a suggestion of there being a problem and you may need to consult a veterinarian. But in most situations, going a month or two without food isn’t going to do them any harm.
Handling Western Hognose Snakes
Western Hognoses are a small species that are generally easily handled, but there are a few things to be aware of.
You should always wash your hands before handling a snake, to ensure there is no scent on your hands that could put them in feeding mode, and after, as good hygiene practice.
Due to their small size and the fact they are a tasty snack for a wide range of predators in the wild, they do have a number of defensive behaviours. They will puff themselves up and expel air, creating a deep rattling sound. I affectionately call my Hognoses my Darth Vader’s because they’re always huffing at me as I walk past the vivariums! This is really just bluff, trying to scare away a predator.
If genuinely in fear for their life they can also musk, releasing a powerful odour of death, and taking this one step further by flipping onto their backs, mouth open, tongues lolling. The hope is that a predator does not want an old rotting snake and will keep moving. In captivity I’ve only witnessed this behaviour personally in a very small percentage of newly hatched Hognoses and it’s very cute! It could definitely be alarming if you hadn’t seen it before though, so something to be aware of.
In my experience if you just pick your hognose up firmly by the midsection and support the body they quickly realize you are not a threat and are fine to be handled, but still may hiss, and occasionally even jump, if startled or feel threatened during handling.
I often get asked about the Western Hognose bite. They are often incorrectly described as venomous. They do have a toxic cocktail of protolipase enzymes in their saliva, that they use to overpower frogs, mice and fish in the wild, but they do not have hollow fangs and can not inject any material through their fangs. Instead they chomp down hard and let their saliva seep into the wound.
In captivity Western Hognoses are not aggressive. Biting usually happens accidentally as a feeding response, which is why it’s important to feed with tongs, and to always wash your hands when handling. Personally I’ve not been bitten by a Western Hognose Snake despite keeping and breeding them for 10 years.
I do know other people who have been bitten by them whilst feeding, and the bite has resulted in either no reaction (just clean and put a band-aid on it), or localised swelling that went down within 48 hours. There have been mentions of allergic reactions, but there’s no documented cases that I could find of an allergic reaction actually occuring – so if they are possible, they’re incredibly rare.
Sexing Western Hognose Snakes
Western Hognose Snakes are one of the easier species to sex visually, certainly as adults. Adult Western Hognose snakes are usually quite significantly different in size between males and females, with females being up to three or four times the weight at times!
Males have a long thin tail, whilst females have a much shorter and stubbier tail.
You can also use traditional snake sexing methods such as popping (hatchlings) and probing (larger snakes).
Breeding Western Hognose Snakes
Before you breed, please consider whether your adults are healthy and genetically free of any problems that might be passed down. The female in particular should be fully mature. Breeding any snake too early can cause serious health problems. Even the most healthy snake can still have problems during breeding which will need a veterinarian to help with, so make sure you know who your local exotics veterinarian is, and have the funds to take care of any medical needs that might arise from breeding.
Male Western Hognoses should be at least 70g and at least a year old to breed, whilst female Western Hognoses should be at least 250g and at least two, but often three years old to breed. As you can see there is a very big size difference and maturity levels required.
You also need to be sure that you can house all your hatchlings separate, get them feeding, and find new homes for them.
Western Hognose Snakes breed readily in captivity and are a fairly beginner species to breed, although sometimes the hatchlings take a while to get started on mice, so some experience with problem feeders or feeding scented mice would be recommended.
Brumation / Cooling
We recommend brumation for successful breeding. It is possible to breed without brumation, but considering your males may be cruising through the winter without eating, brumation keeps them in the best condition whilst also stimulating breeding behaviour.
In November we stop feeding for 2 weeks to ensure the digestive tract is empty and then lower the temperature to 50 – 60F. We brumate at the higher end of this as it can be quite hard to get temperatures as low as 50F #(10c) indoors in the UK! You need to ensure you have somewhere safe to brumate them that will keep the temperature stable throughout this period. A garage or attic may be the best options in the UK, but do some testing to get your temperatures right and check your temperatures every single day. They should always have fresh water, but are not fed at all during brumation.
Brumation should last 2 – 4 months. We bring ours out of brumation in the first week of February. We gradually increase the temperature and light cycle over the course of a week. Once back at regular temperatures you can restart feeding. Feed females every 5 days or even more at this point, but males can follow your usual schedule.
Courtship and Egg Laying
A female Western Hognose Snake will ovulate triggered by the increase of temperatures, usually within about 3-4 weeks of the temperature reaching normal levels. You may notice a swelling two thirds down her body. Equally it’s easy to miss especially if she’s not out and about, but she will shed a week later. It’s usually safe to assume that the first shed after brumation indicates ovulation, and now is a great time to introduce the male. Leaving the shed in the tank can increase the pheromones.
We like to see a physical confirmation of locking at least twice. If your snakes aren’t giving you that visual confirmation, you can leave the male in for 2-3 days and hope that he does the job whilst you’re not looking. After copulation separate for a few days to a week then reintroduce.
Gestation depends on the temperature in the enclosure and where the female is changing her time, but is quite short. It can be anywhere from around 30 – 45 days. The female may start to refuse food towards the end; if she does refuse, try a much smaller food item, as you really want her to have as much food as possible during this period.
You need to provide an egg laying box that is large enough for your female to comfortably sit inside. We use large tupperware boxes with a hole cut in the lid! It’s important to have a lid so she feels secure and safe. We half fill this with sphagnum moss, kept damp, not wet. She will lay anywhere from 6 all the way up to 25 or so eggs in this box. An average size from my experience is around 10-15.
We use vermiculite or perlite as an incubation medium in tupperware tubs. We recommend holes in the sides of the enclosure as opposed to the top to encourage airflow. Western Hognose Snakes eggs do not tend to stick to each other so you can place them carefully with a small distance between them to allow for growth. Be very careful not to turn your eggs at any point, as the air pocket is at the top.
Incubate your eggs at 78 – 84 F and they will hatch within 50 – 60 days. Leave them in the incubation chamber until you’re sure they’ve absorbed the entire yolk sac. Hatchlings will shed within 7-10 days and you should separate into individual enclosures and then start feeding as soon as they’ve shed.
Since their rise in popularity in the pet trade, breeders have been producing stunning genetic morphs of Western Hognose. Some are very rare, but hopefully will become more available in the next few years. For a full list of morphs including a breeding calculator, check out the Western Hognose Morphs section of Reptile Calculator, which has photos of most morphs as well.
You can check out what snakes we have in stock right now here – don’t forget we can arrange courier UK wide!
I hope that this Western Hognose Snake Caresheet has provided all the information you need to know, but if there’s anything you have a question about just drop it in the comments, leave us an email or contact us on Facebook! We provide free advice on all species of reptiles.