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Western Hognose Snake Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Western Hognose Snake
Scientific Name:Heterodon nasicus
Life Span:12 to 20 years
Size:Maximum size just short of 3 feet (Female)
14 to 24 inches (Males)
Habitat:Sandhills, Prairies, River Floodplains
Country of Origin:North America

Physical Description

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Most Western Hognose Snakes are small, yet they have bulky bodies, while the colors and markings differ between their subspecies. While the public might assume this type of snake to be a rattlesnake, their common difference lies in their snouts. The males are smaller in comparison to the females. Their usual length, including the tail, is 15-20 inches (38-51cm).

The reason why this snake is called the hognose is because of the modified rostral scale that looks upturned, thus giving a hog-like appearance. Since they have hognoses, they have learned how to become master burrowers. A trained eye will also observe the rows of dark, irregular sports located on the side of its body, the stomach and the lower surface of the tail is marked by the color black. 

Distribution

One can easily find the Western Hognose Snake in the continental United States, and South Dakota has been their common habitat. These snakes will always have a preference to reside and multiply on highlands.  They love environments that are dry and sandy.

Variations

Heterodon nasicus gloydi

This Hognose Snake’s common name is Gloydi, and its main location is in the United States. Some have reported having seen Gloydi in Southeastern Kansas and Missouri, the whole Texas, eastern parts of Oklahoma and the extreme part of southern Rio Grande Valley.

Heterodon nasicus kennerlyi

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This is also called the Mexican hog-nosed snake, and as the name implies, it can be located in Mexico. Its geographical range is from Tamaulipas and central San Luis Potosi. Some may even find it in northern and western parts of the Sierra Madre Occidental

Heterodon nasicus nasicus

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This Western Hognose snake has been named Plains hog-nosed snake, and it’s usually located in the Texas panhandle and New Mexico. It has a wide geographic range that spans from northern and western parts of Oklahoma, southwestern Manitoba and it even reaches the southeastern parts of Saskatchewan in Canada.

Eating Habits

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All Western Hognose Snakes comes with a relatively big nose that naturally assists them in discovering their prey via the sense of smell. The first thing that a hognose snake will do after catching its prey is to gulp it down headfirst. This action allows them to suffocate the prey until it reaches its death.

The good thing about the Western Hognose Snakes is that a wide variety of animals can be their meal, but they love toads. Once they have toads for dinner, they utilize their enlarged teeth located at the rear portion of their mouth, and this will put a small hole on the toad’s lungs, thus leading to a collapse.

As a defense mechanism, the toads will inflate themselves up, but since these snakes have enlarged teeth, deflating them will be nice and easy. The snakes will do this to ensure that their meals are of a size that can be easily swallowed. 

Regardless of the toads have poisonous skin on them, the hognose snakes can tolerate these. Their dinner will often include one of the following menus: frogs, rats, mice, lizards, sparrows, garter snakes, and shrews.

Benefits to Human Beings

Snakes will often seem like dangerous animals for humans, that’s why they are usually repulsive and end up getting killed. But what we fail to look at is that snakes, especially the Western Hognose Snakes, contribute a major role in making sure that the number of pests is lowered down if not controlled. 

The farmers in South Dakota, in particular, have discovered that these feed on rodents that eat their crops. It’s true that these animals belong to the wild, and they might cause harm when provoked. Educating people that the Hognose snake can become harmless and be even useful on farms is one of the best ways to ensure their survival.

Development and Reproduction

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If you’re planning to breed your own Western Hognose Snake, you should be informed that this type of snake becomes sexually mature at the age of two. They will usually initiate breeding season between the months of June and August.

One good sign that the Western Hognose Snake is ready for reproduction is that the male will explore around for a female. It will track down the scent that is left from the female’s shed skin. After their population, the female will lay 4-23 eggs in the sand. Although this is the usual number of eggs that the female will lay, the normal number that will hatch might only reach 13 as the condition of the eggs might be affected.

The Western Hognose Snakes are known for not giving after-birth care from either of the parents, that’s why after the young ones hatch, they are left to be completely on their own. Knowing this kind of development behavior is crucial for every breeder, one has to know that an egg should be fully developed before they hatch.

How to Breed

Snake breeders have always found joy in breeding a Western Hognose Snake are they are probably one of the easiest snake types to grow at home. Just like a normal animal breeding, one of the first things that you should take note of when breeding is the sex of your snakes. You need to make sure that you are housing two or more hognose snakes that have been properly sexed. 

If you are a novice breeder, a tip-in knowing the sex of your snake is observing it after the first shed. Give it a day or two after the first shed, then use the popping method, and you will accurately establish their sexes. 

Breeding will only begin by discovering the sex of the snake, you should also be mindful of the size and age of your pet snakes as this will also lead to having healthy eggs. For the male Western Hognose, they are generally mature and sexually ready for copulation by one year of age, and their weight should be around 70 grams. It might take a longer time for the female as they are sexually mature by age two, and they should be heavier at 250 grams at least.

Make sure that you take a halt on feeding your snakes for at least 2 weeks before they go on their brumation period. This action will ensure that their digestive systems are clear and breeding will happen after their brumation period. You need to confirm that snakes of both sexes have undergone the brumation period before they start with breeding.

After two weeks of not giving them food, you should alter the temperature of their cages, but do this in a slow manner so they will not be surprised at the changes. By the third week, the cage temperature should have 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Minimize their daylight cycle as well, from the usual 14-16 hours per day, you can lessen it to a scheduled 8 hours a day. This powerful stimulus is needed when you are in the process of breeding your snakes. For Western Hognose Snakes, you can put them under brumation for 2-3 months or longer and never feed them while on brumation.

Once their brumation period has ended, you can put them back on their regular cage lifestyle but make sure you are doing this in a gradual manner. You can place them under normal temperature and light schedules and once they have become more stable with their environment, offer the male food every week and twice a week for the female.

After going through an ovulatory shed cycle, you will observe that the female is becoming more responsive to breeding. Once you see the pronounced swelling located on the lower part of her body, it’s a sign that you can introduce the male. Do this on a rotation cycle of 2-3 days, or you can cease once you have visually established that they have bred for at least twice.

During the gestation period (generally between 28-45 days) it’s highly essential to give the female snake food at least twice weekly. Some female snakes will only take small meals while others will refuse the meal 2 weeks before laying eggs.

While in this period, it’s best of you can place a nesting box for the female. This doesn’t need to be grand; you can use a plastic container filled with damp sphagnum moss partially. Breeders will incorporate this in cages since egg-laying is normally associated with a pre-egg-laying shed. This generally happens 7-12 days prior to oviposition.

Once the eggs are laid, put them in an incubation container that comes with moistened vermiculite. Never disturb the eggs as this might cause stress and deformation but make sure that you are observing them always. The perfect incubation temperature should be 78-84 degrees.

Hatching of the eggs will usually depend on the incubation temperature, but it should happen after 48-60 days while in the incubation period. The experienced breeders can identify bad eggs with just one glance. The bad eggs are misshapen, small and yellow, some of them may have a waxy or wet characteristic.

 It may not always be needed to remove the bad ones from the incubator since they will not touch the other eggs, but if you think that they might damage other eggs, then you should just dispose of them. It’s also a big no-no to turn the eggs once placing them in a container.

As you see the young ones slowly hatching from their eggs, never disturb them and allow them to break the shells on their own. Baby hognose snakes can be placed in a plastic shoebox that has ample ventilation. Put in damp paper towels and a small water dish, so their humidity level is kept optimum.

It’s wise to keep the baby snakes together only before their first shed. Because after their first shed, they will start eating and can be sexed, having them together after this might cause you problems in the future.

Common Health Problems

Household Western Hognose Snakes don’t usually get sick as long as they are properly fed and their cages are sanitized. However, once they are left in dirty environments and unhealthy food, they might encounter some of the listed diseases below.

Blister Disease

The Blister Diseases is often contacted by snakes who live in damp and dirty environments. If their habitats are like this, it will affect the bottom scales named as the scutes. If their scutes are always in persistent rubbing with dirt and germs, they will have a reddish feature. If this is not treated, this will become enlarged with possible infection from bacteria and fungi.

In order to avoid Blister Disease, the owner should make sure that the cage undergoes intensive cleaning at least once a month. You can also bring your pet snake to a veterinarian, and he might give an injectable antibiotic as well as topical ointments.

Mouth Rot

Having a mouth rot is probably a common result of having an unclean habitat. The first symptom of this pus lines around the mouth of bubbling nostrils. Upon seeing that your pet snake has this, bring it straight away to the nearest veterinarian since having moth rot can be difficult to treat, and it will affect their eating habits. The vet may prescribe an antibiotic and a mouth rinsing that should be done twice a day.

Respiratory Problems

Respiratory problems are often caused by having poor husbandry and if they are stored with a sub-optimal level of temperature. Placing them in an environment that is either too warm or too cold for their bodies can only bring them stress. You will notice that your snake is showing signs of depression and will have a weak immune system. The most common respiratory illness that snakes are susceptible to is pneumonia, thus having appropriate temperature with a sanitized environment is crucial for their health.

These infections can stay in the bodies of snakes for quite a long time, and this usually leads to their death. Hognose snakes that are placed in a very humid cage have been reported to acquire respiratory illness compared to those who have been kept at optimum temperature. Make sure that you are monitoring the humidity level in their cages, this is not the same with the humidity level of your house. You can use thermostats just to guarantee correct humidity reading.

Preventing Illness

Keeping your own Western Hognose Snake will never be a walk in the park. They will need constant monitoring, and you have the skills in knowing if they don’t feel well. Some of the things that can help you in guaranteeing a healthy pet snake have been listed below.

Weigh your snakes weekly

Because your snakes will not eat on a daily basis, knowing if there’s a sudden drop on their weight will help you in figuring out if they feel sick. Always monitor their weight on a weekly basis to give you the normal ranges of their ideal body weight.

Have a weekly record

By employing a weekly recording routine, you are also informing yourself of the possible changes of the previous week to the present one. You can easily tell if your snake is acting unusual, and a possible visit to the vet may help. You can relay your observations to the veterinarian to help him with the diagnosis.

Have a reptile first-aid kit

It’s very important for every pet owner to have their own first-aid kit. This will help in treating small cuts or bruises for your pet snake, but if you notice that the symptoms are getting worse, the next logical step is to have them looked at by a veterinarian.

Behavior

The Western Hognose Snakes are known to be diurnal snakes that are more active during the day and sleeps at night. In comparison to other snakes that can become pretty aggressive with minimal contact, these snakes are passive but never underestimate them since a simple gesture may make them highly defensive. 

Once they feel threatened, it can produce a hissing sound, and it can even bluff striking actions to scare off predators. However, the Western Hognose Snake is well-known for employing a method that allows if to easily repulse predators. It will use the “adder” method first by extending out the front ribs located behind its neck. This stance will look like a striking cobra for some.

The next step that it will employ is emulating the tail of a rattlesnake by making a rattling sound and striking. Although hognose snakes have tails that are short and pointed with no rattle, this method has been proven effective in fending off its predators.

The Western Hognose Snake will immediately strike out at the predator with a closed mouth. This snake employs a lot of dramatics but will eventually play dead. The predator will leave the area as it sees the hognose snake lying on its back, motionless with an open mouth. It will continue doing this until it feels that the area is safe to crawl upon.

For pet hognose snakes who feel threatened, they will emit a foul-smelling musk or even expel feces to ward off threats. However, there are few reports that the hognose snakes do this compared to other species of snakes.

Brumation Cycle

For those breeding Western Hognose Snakes, the brumation cycle can become intentional, especially if you are already attempting to start their breeding period. The brumation period is not really needed for health reasons thus, it may cause them to become lethargic and stressed. While nearing the brumation period, you will notice that your pet snake refuses to eat and they hide their food all of a sudden.

Shedding

Snakes breeders know that just like other snake types, the Western Hognose Snake sheds their skin on a regular basis especially as they grow bigger and older. While the young ones are expected to shed frequently to ensure a healthy scale and the skin fits just right.

The common indicators that you need to watch out for when it comes to shedding are that your snake will have a dull or faded color, blue-eyes, doesn’t want to eat, feels lethargic and they hide more often. You might also notice a change in their behavior by becoming more defensive than their usual behavior.

You need to ensure that their cage has the right humidity level and your pet hognose should have access to plenty of clean water. After shedding, you should visually confirm that the skin around the eye caps and tip of the tail has completely shed since this may lead to shedding problems. 

Some snakes will have difficulty in shedding their skin as a whole, what you can do to help is add moisture in their substrates.

Habitat

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Most Western Hognose Snakes have been found in dry and sandy areas. They have also been located in dry rock lands and coastal islands. Some reports have mentioned that these snakes are not territorial, and adults can live in the same area for a long time.

How to Care for a Western Hognose Snake

Snake breeders have a common preference for keeping Western Hognose Snakes as pets as they will only grow in small sizes compared to other snake types. They can be easily housed, and adult Western Hognose can live its entire life in a 20- or 30- gallon glass terrarium. For the largest Hognose snake that you can find, a plastic cage with a size of at last 2 weeks will be enough as its cage.

As a snake breeder, you have the power to select any type of cage you want, but you need to assure yourself that it’s 100% escape-proof. If you are an experienced snake owner, you know that snakes will always test the capacity of the cage by always trying to escape. Snakes will usually do this if it’s just newly brought home or they have been just introduced to the new cage.

Just like its behavior in the wild, your pet snake loves crawling around and on the sides of the cage to see how far it can reach. Placing a climbing accessory in the cage will encourage them to climb up and explore the upper level of the cage. Remember, that your pet snake will not need a large hole to initiate escape, a hole as small as its skull is enough for it to escape.

Using a screen lid is also advisable to prevent your snake from escaping, ensure that it’s escape-proof by securing it with clamps. Terrariums with screen lid that can be easily slid into a groove are known for giving much security to your snake.

Tank Set-Up

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It’s common knowledge that your Western Hognose Snake will need space to move around but make sure that you are not giving it too much room area as this often leads to feeling insecure about some snakes. If you have a younger snake, you can use a 10-gallon reptile tank, and this will be enough until it reaches two years old. After 2 ½ years, you will notice an obvious double in length, and they will also be sexually mature at this time.

Upon reaching their sexual maturity stages, your snakes should be kept in a 20-30-gallon tank. You will need to incorporate the basic elements inside the tanks such as water dish, hide, warm and cool side and a suitable substrate for them. These snakes are poor climbers, and you might have to choose a horizontal tank than a vertical one.

Substrate

One of the most overlooked tanks necessities is the substrate used for snakes. There are different substrates being offered in the market, and novice breeders will often commit the mistake of just leaving their pet snakes contacting the glass bottom of the tank.

You can start off your substrate options by placing paper towels on the bottom of the tank, this way, your snake’s skin is not directly in contact with the coldness or warmness of the tank. Experienced snake keepers will have a strong preference for wood shavings like aspen and cypress. Star away from the aromatic wood shavings like pine and cedar since they have the tendency to cause lung and eye irritation.

A thick layer of wood shavings, around 3-4 inches will be sufficient as light and sanitary bedding for the snake. Since the Western Hognose snakes are master burrowers, you might notice them disappearing in the substrates as they use this as an alternative hide.

Lighting

The normal lighting schedule for your Western Hognose Snake is 14-16 hours per day while in the spring and summer season. Once they reach winter or their brumation cycle, you should expose them to 8-10 hours of light schedule. You won’t have a problem looking for the best light device to use for your tank as they can be easily purchased in any reptile pet stores.

If you are properly feeding your pet snake, you will not have to worry about them getting enough amount of vitamin D3. Their main source for this vitamin is normally from the animals that they eat. However, if you are a responsible breeder who wants to make sure that your pet snake is getting enough vitamin D3, you can have special lighting installed in their tanks, and this will provide adequate UVB lighting.

Most breeders who are using UVB light source for the tanks have reported that their pet snakes have become more active and healthier. The reason behind this is that the wavelengths for both the UVA and UVB lights are invisible to human eyes, but they act as an extra color on the rainbow for our pet snakes thus making a difference in their behavior and overall health.

Temperature

Their tanks should be provided with a basking spot with a temperature of 88-90 degrees Fahrenheit. The surface temperature should only be 78-80 degrees on the cooler side. You need to check that their tanks should not have a temperature that is lower than 75 degrees.

Just like humans, these Western Hognose Snakes love sunbathing, and they will always appreciate having their own basking side. Keep them warm is the appropriate term to use since you need to watch over them prevent blistering. To avoid this, get the temperature reading on all the sides of the tank, including the surface bottom.

Digital laser thermometers that are available in most pet stores have been found to be very useful. Take note that the temperature inside the house can also add to the temperature in the tank so you should monitor their temperatures frequently. A word of advice from experienced snake breeders, place their tanks away from windows that can be a source of direct yet painful sunlight and will surely make their tank feel like living in an oven.

There’s also the option of using an under-tank heating mat most especially during nighttime. Also, if you are not yet encouraging your snake to undergo brumation, never put it in temperatures that are lower than 70 degrees Fahrenheit on a regular basis.

Humidity

We all know that having the appropriate humidity level for your snake is vital for making it healthy and prevents illnesses. Their enclosures should have a humidity level of 30-50%. Once you see your Western Hognose Snake starting to shed, you can amp up the humidity level to 60-65% to assists in smooth shedding.

During the shedding process, it’s best if you will moist the snake twice in a day and makes sure that you are adding moisture by spraying both the tank and the snake as well. You should use warm water as cold water might surprise your snake and might feel traumatized. Breeders also make sure that there is an extra source of clean water in the tank, they will normally use a second water bowl or a damp sphagnum moss.

Using a hygrometer and putting it on the sides of the tanks will assist in accurate humidity levels readings. You should keep in mind that having low or high humidity levels may lead to mold growth inside the tanks, so you need to have optimum humidity at all times.

Having a constant temperature and humidity level may not work for a hognose snake so you might need to change these depending on the reactions and needs of your pet snake.

Hides

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Making sure that their tanks have a hide that is large enough yet easy to sanitize is essential in accommodating the coiled body of a hognose snake. Plastic hides may not always be your first choice, but it can be the most practical one to buy. 

A cork wood hide will look nice inside their tank, but they may be difficult to sanitize, but if you opt to use this, just make sure that you are going to replace this every year or you can bake it at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours to ensure that it’s been properly sanitized.

Feeding Schedule

You can always experiment with your Western Hognose Snakes, feeding schedules, and techniques as these snakes have different personalities. However, most breeders have mentioned that feeding them late in the morning is the best way for them to get acquainted with their captive habitat.

Some snakes, especially those who are still adjusting to their habitat can become picky, and they will need a lot of encouragement before they start eating. Other hognose snakes, will easily strike at the prey, thus breeders will need to use forceps when feeding just for safety.

How much food you will give to your pet hognose snake will greatly depend on how old it is. The babies will not start eating unless they’re about 2-4 weeks old, and as they grow bigger, they will only eat about twice a week.

If you frequently give them food, this will allow them to grow at a faster rate, and once it grows older, it will not require frequent feeding anymore. Keep in mind that your hognose snakes can become irritable after feeding so never handle them for at least 2 hours after their last meal.

Food items for your Western Hognose Snake

As mentioned above, the food to be given to your pet hognose will greatly depend on how old it is. For the different sizes of your snake, it will also require different sizes of prey like those of the mouse; pinky (newborn), fuzzy (slightly older) and hopper (bigger but not yet fully grown).

Knowing if your pet snake can swallow its prey is important to not give it feeding stress. Preys that are too big can give your snake a hard time swallowing and digesting. Breeders have employed this technique in making sure that your snake can take on the prey: the size of the prey should never be wider than the widest body part of the snake.

You can give your pet snakes a wide variety of food items, not just rats or mice. You can introduce one-day-old chicks, and you can also consider them giving them live prey to encourage their natural behavior while in captivity.

Cleaning your Hognose Snake Habitat

It’s relatively easy to keep your hognose snake tank clean, you don’t have to do an intensive cleaning daily but make sure that you remove feces at a glance so it will not harbor more bacteria. Weekly cleaning will entail having to remove at least the top inch of its bedding and replace the substrate.

As for the bi-weekly cleaning, make sure that you are cleaning any dishwasher-safe pieces of furniture inside the tank. While the most intensive, monthly cleaning will require you to remove everything inside the tank and spray and soak it with a 10% bleach solution for half an hour. Another half-hour will be needed to install a fresh substrate and putting all the accessories back.

A handy, separate container will be of great use of you are doing this intensive cleaning period. Make sure that even on this separate container, your snake will never be able to escape and it’s warm.

Availability – Where to Get One

There are a lot of ways to get your hands on a Western Hognose Snake. They are largely available in reptile stores; exhibition shows or via professional breeders. However, the most recommended way of getting your own Western Hognose is through a breeder with a known good reputation. Buying from these ones will assure you that you can literally get your hands on the animal before making that purchase.

Look out for the good signs before buying your own hognose snakes: see of the snake is active, checking the surroundings and constantly flickers its tongue. Once you grab it, it should feel strong and healthy, and you should not feel lumps or bumps on it. Take a look at its overall appearance as it should not look malnourished nor obese.

Conservation Status

This snake species has been tagged as the least concern among the IUCN Red List. Their wide distribution, along with a presumed large population, has listed them under that category.

FAQ Section

Are Western Hognose snake good for beginner snake keepers?

They can be a great pet snake, especially those who are starting with their snake breeding. They have the perfect size as a hatchling and as a fully grown adult. Generally, they are well-behaved yet inquisitive, and they are also not aggressive unless they feel threatened.

Can they be kept together in one enclosure?

Sure, some Western Hognose Snakes, especially the adults, have lived together in the wild. As a general rule of thumb though, they should be kept separated during feeding so they will not fight over food.

Do Western Hognose smell?

In general, they will not smell if they are kept in an enclosure that is well-maintained and makes sure that these snakes are clean.

Do Western Hognose like to be handled?

Some breeders will advise you to handle your pet hognose regularly at least once a week as this makes them calmer and docile. But just like other snakes, they don’t like being handled right after feeding.

Is selling a Western Hognose Snake considered illegal?

Western Hognose Snakes are not considered endangered however, some locals laws have put restrictions when it comes to owning, selling, purchasing, or breeding them. Do your research on your local laws first before you decide on purchasing one as a pet. 

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