Western hognose snakes are fairly popular among snake owners because they bite very rarely even if angry. While they have other defense mechanisms, western hognoses are fairly beginner-friendly and relatively easy to handle.
If you are looking to adopt a western hognose as your first snake, then know that it’s a good choice. But there are plenty of things to be aware of at the initial stages of snake ownership.
With that in mind, let’s cover all the basics of western hognose care below.
Western Hognose General Information
- Western hognose snakes are native to southern Canada, the entire US, and northern Mexico.
- Western hognose snakes are nonvenomous but do have irritating saliva.
- Western hognose snakes are generally docile, rarely fight back or bite their owners, and get used to humans fairly easily.
- Western hognose snakes are very eager eaters and rarely miss a meal.
- In captivity, western hognose snakes live up to around 20 years.
Western Hognose Enclosure
First of all, you should choose an enclosure for your western hognose. You should do so before adopting a snake so that you have everything up and running when you bring it home.
Below, let’s talk about the things that matter in snake enclosures.
Snake tanks are typically made from either glass, plastic, or wood, or their combination. Each of these materials has some advantages and disadvantages, so let’s talk about these so that you know what kind of enclosure to look for.
Glass is a very popular snake tank material due to a number of advantages:
- Glass looks great.
- Most snake tank heaters are made with glass in mind.
- Glass is easy to see through.
- Glass lets heat in easily.
If these are the benefits that you are looking for, then a glass enclosure may be the best option for you.
With that said, keep in mind that glass has some downsides as well:
- Glass is expensive.
- Glass easily lets humidity and heat out. Due to this, glass may not be the best material option in dry or cold areas.
- Glass is fragile and easy to shatter.
Even if glass is the perfect material for you, we suggest that you use plastic instead while your western hognose snake is young. Your snake will grow quickly, and if you build, say, a 10-gallon enclosure now, it may turn out to be a waste of money since your snake is likely to grow out of it very soon.
Plastic is a good option for dry or cold areas since it retains heat and humidity better than glass. Besides, plastic is cheap and doesn’t shatter. Due to its cheapness, plastic is the right material to use in a temporary enclosure for a hatchling or a juvenile snake.
On the other hand, many people don’t like that plastic doesn’t look as good as glass and also isn’t as see-through. But if these downsides do not overweigh the advantages for you, then plastic may be the right option for your western hognose’ enclosure.
Wood is used in snake enclosures fairly rarely due to a couple of reasons:
- Wood is opaque. Due to this, wood isn’t used in the front and sidewalls of the enclosure. But if any of the sides of the enclosure are against a wall, then wood may be used there to save some money.
- Wood is combustible. Due to this, wood shouldn’t be used as a bottom material, and it should be kept away from the snake tank heater.
- Wood doesn’t let heat through very easily.
With that said, wood is cheap and very accessible. But given the downsides listed above, wood should be used scarcely throughout the enclosure – mainly, it should be used in areas that are away from any heat sources and in areas where it won’t obstruct your view.
The western hognose snake doesn’t require too much vertical space. Instead, these snakes should be provided with plenty of horizontal space, so buy or build an enclosure that’s wide and long.
Partly thanks to their preference for horizontal spaces, western hognose snakes can be fairly easily kept in rack systems with multiple snakes.
Adult western hognose snakes can be kept in a 20-gallon tank. As for hatchlings and juveniles, snake owners usually keep them in temporary enclosures that don’t require too much investment. Hatchlings, for example, may be housed in a 5-gallon plastic terrarium. And as your snake grows, you may switch to a more “serious” glass enclosure sized at around 20 gallons.
Western Hognose Enclosure Conditions
It’s not enough to merely build a nice enclosure for your western hognose – you also need to ensure proper environmental conditions inside the tank.
Among the environmental variables to consider are:
Let’s talk about each of these more in-depth.
Proper temperature is important for the general health of your snake. Among the things that temperature contributes to are digestion and gestation of eggs in females. Aside from that, changes in temperature provide your snake with seasonal cues that are especially helpful in breeding.
Like it is with many other snakes, the right way to go with temperature is to ensure a temperature gradient inside the enclosure. That is, one end of the enclosure should be around 10 degrees warmer than the other.
Usually, the recommended temperatures are about 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.22 degrees Celsius) in the warm end of the tank and around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.67 degrees Celsius) in the cool end.
The purpose of the temperature gradient is to allow the western hognose snake to thermally regulate itself. Snakes are cold-blooded and thus are reliant on exterior temperatures when it comes to thermal regulation.
How to maintain enclosure temperatures?
Snake tank temperatures are most commonly maintained via under-tank heaters. You can find other heater types out there, but under-tank heaters or pads are the most popular out there since they do their job well and pose very little risk to your snake.
To ensure the temperature gradient, you should shift the heater pad a little towards the end of the enclosure that you want to keep warmer. The heat pad shouldn’t be too large since it may make it difficult for you to ensure the right gradient.
As you are adjusting the heating device, use a couple of thermometers to monitor the temperatures and make sure that they are just right.
You may also want to get a heating pad that has a built-in thermostat in it. Snake tank heating devices can get quite hot, and a thermostat would be able to help you keep the temps steady at a proper level.
Pay attention to the temperature of the room that the snake tank is placed in as well. Ideally, the room temperature should be below the temperature in the cool end of the enclosure – this way, you will only have to think about heating the warm end. If it’s too warm in the room, then you may need to think about both heating and cooling.
When it comes to humidity, western hognose snakes like it relatively dry – at least 30% and at most 50%.
Proper humidity is necessary to ensure hydration in the snake. Too low humidity will cause dehydration and may also hamper shedding, while excessive humidity may encourage the formation of mold and mildew, as well as cause respiratory issues, scale rot, and other health problems.
How to maintain enclosure humidity?
Maintaining enclosure humidity shouldn’t be too difficult since 30-50% isn’t too much.
If you live in a not too dry area, then simply placing a water dish inside the enclosure should produce enough moisture for your snake’s needs. If the humidity isn’t sufficient, then you may add some live vegetation or a second water bowl to the enclosure. You may also try misting or humidifying the room that the tank is in.
No matter what you do, make sure to use a hygrometer to monitor humidity.
If you are living in a humid area, you may even need to reduce the humidity. To achieve this, you may use a dehumidifier, open the enclosure’s top a little, or remove live vegetation (if any).
Lighting is very important as well since it allows the snake to tell day apart from night. When it comes to lighting, western hognose snakes are a little challenging since they require plenty of light.
During the spring or summer, your western hognose should be provided with 14-16 hours of light per day. If the summer days in your area are shorter than this, then you should use artificial lighting – LED bulbs or strips – to ensure that your snake gets enough light. You may use a timer to schedule the lights so that they go off after 14-16 hours.
In winter, the light needs of western hognoses are pretty substantial as well – they require 8-10 hours of daily light, which can be quite difficult to achieve in winter. Again, make use of artificial light to ensure a proper day length.
What western hognose snakes also need is UV. These snakes spend a considerable share of their time under the sun, so the lack of UV could be detrimental for them. The best bet here would be to go for full-spectrum artificial lighting or a UV bulb.
Some kind of a substrate is also necessary for a few reasons:
- Snakes can burrow into the substrate.
- The substrate makes the enclosure look nicer.
- The substrate is easy to replace and thus makes the enclosure easier to clean.
Among the most popular substrate options for snakes are aspen shavings. These are easy to clean, allow the snake to burrow, and aren’t hazardous to snakes.
You may also use newspapers or paper towels as substrate. These are cheap and easy to replace, but they don’t look good. Typically, snake owners use them with hatchlings that are yet to be moved into a permanent enclosure.
Make sure to avoid shavings made from aromatic woods such as pine or cedar. These release fumes that are toxic to snakes.
The western hognose snake likes privacy like many other snakes. To provide your snake with a private spot, you could buy a ready-made snake hide box, or you could make one yourself from an unused bowl or even Lego bricks.
Make sure to place at least two hide boxes – one in the warm end and the other in the cool end of the enclosure. Besides, you may want to make sure that the hide boxes are easy to access for cases where you need to remove your snake from the tank.
Western Hognose Enclosure Furnishing
Western hognose snakes do well in very simple enclosures. The only must-haves for a western hognose tank are substrate, a water dish, and a couple of hiding boxes.
With that said, you could also add some furnishing and décor to the snake tank. Aside from making the enclosure look nicer to you, furnishing will provide your snake with a surface to rub against during shedding, and it may also allow for some exercise opportunities.
Keep everything simple and manageable. If you add too much stuff into the enclosure, you will obscure your view of the snake. Besides, it will be more difficult for you to secure everything in place so that your snake doesn’t knock something over and harm itself or the tank.
Western Hognose Feeding
Diet is the next thing we want to talk about.
If you’ve ever had a snake, then you shouldn’t have any issues with western hognose snakes since they follow general snake feeding rules. With that said, there are some specifics for you to keep in mind.
In captivity, western hognose snakes are very commonly fed on rodents – usually, young or adult mice.
Baby western hognoses should be fed 2-3 times a week, while adults are typically fed around once a week. The mouse should be sized no bigger than your western hognose snake’s widest part. This means that baby hognoses should be fed on smaller mice.
Food is usually served with tongs to avoid being bitten. You don’t really need to shake the food around or do something else to attract your snake – just showing food to it should suffice in most cases.
It’s typically suggested to avoid handling snakes before the meal since handling may stress them out and reduce their appetite. Besides, handling should be avoided after a meal as well – snakes digest food quite slowly, and you should wait for at least a day after feeding before handling.
Live rodents are the less popular food option among snake owners. And there are a few big reasons for this:
- Live mice may harm or even kill your snake while defending itself. This means that your snake should be supervised if fed on live rodents.
- Live mice are difficult to maintain and thus aren’t as widely available as frozen mice.
- Feeding snakes on live mice is associated with pain and suffering for the mice.
As you can see, these are pretty serious reasons for you to avoid live mice altogether and feed your snake on frozen mice from the get-go.
Some snake owners may argue that live mice are good for variety. Besides, some snakes may show disinterest in mice unless they are live (though this shouldn’t be the case with western hognoses since they rarely skip a meal).
In the end, it’s up to you whether to feed your western hognose on live mice or not. Most people opt for frozen-thawed mice, and you should probably do so as well.
Frozen-thawed mice are much easier to store, maintain, and transport, which makes them very widely available no matter where you are. Besides, frozen mice pose no risk to your snake if stored properly.
Most western hognose snakes probably won’t show reluctance with frozen mice. If your snake does so, then you may try to shake the mouse around to stir your pet up.
Frozen mice need to be thawed before the meal, which can be done by just leaving the mouse out of the cold for a few hours. For quicker thawing, you may place the mouse in a plastic bag and place that bag in warm water.
Even though western hognose snakes don’t need much humidity, they should be provided with constant access to water.
Provide your snake with fresh, dechlorinated water in a water bowl. Make sure that the bowl is large enough to fit your western hognose since snakes like to sometimes soak in the water. The bowl should also be heavy enough not to be tipped over by your snake.
Refresh the water and wash the bowl as frequently as possible – two-three times a week should be good enough. If your snake defecates or urinates in the water, replace the water and wash the dish immediately.
Western Hognose Feeding Issues
The western hognose snake usually is a very eager feeder – these snakes rarely refuse a meal. Aside from making your life easier, this is also good in the sense that if your snake has reduced appetite due to health issues, you will know right away that something’s not right.
There are a few very common feeding issues with western hognose snakes to keep in mind though. These generally apply to many other snakes, but there are some specifics to keep in mind with western hognose snakes.
These rules also apply to western hognose snakes, but they may actually be easier to overfeed than other snakes. This is because they are eager eaters, and they will often consume the provided food no matter how much time has passed since the last meal.
Be very careful with the diet of your western hognose. While it’s difficult to say how often you should feed your snake, a weekly feeding schedule should work for most snakes. If you notice that your western hognose snake starts to get obese, reduce its food intake.
Underfeeding, although less common, shouldn’t be ignored as well. There could be many reasons for underfeeding, starting from lack of food and ending with issues with digestion. If the feeding schedule of your western hognose has been unchanged but it has started losing weight, then there may be some underlying health issues in your snake.
Regurgitation is arguably the biggest feeding issue in snakes. It perhaps isn’t the most severe health condition, but it’s so common and so easy to induce that we should talk about it a little more in-depth.
Regurgitation is commonly caused by:
- Overfeeding, especially if you feed your snake on too large mice.
- Handling right after feeding.
- Underlying health issues.
Overfeeding is bad because it can cause obesity in your snake, but it’s also bad because it can trigger regurgitation. To avoid regurgitation, you shouldn’t feed your western hognose snake too often, and you shouldn’t feed it on too large mice.
Remember the sizing rule of thumb we mentioned above – the mouse needs to be no larger than your snake’s widest part.
Handling too soon after feeding may also trigger regurgitation. Snakes usually need around a day or two to fully digest food, so you shouldn’t handle your snake for at least a day after feeding.
Some health conditions may also cause regurgitation. If there are no apparent reasons for vomiting in your snake, then there’s likely something going on in its digestive system. Your best bet in this case would be to take your snake to a vet.
Since regurgitation is very taxing on snakes, you should avoid feeding your snake after regurgitation for around a week to allow it to recover its stomach fluids.
Once a week or so has passed, try to feed your snake again. If it doesn’t regurgitate, then you may proceed with the regular feeding schedule. If your snake does regurgitate though, you should probably take it to a vet to find out whether it has any health issues.
Also, keep in mind that regurgitation may be caused by improper enclosure conditions. Your snake may be stressed out, and stress might be a trigger for regurgitation as well.
Western Hognose Handling
Western hognose snakes are generally docile and easy to handle. They bite their owners very rarely, and they get used to handling relatively easily. With that said, they do sometimes show signs of aggression, and they might bite you or get stressed out if you try to approach them when they are unhappy.
Western hognoses are known for their arsenal of harmless defensive moves. Some western hognose species can even flatten out the ribs along their neck, which makes them look like irritated cobras.
Western hognose snakes may hiss and strike as well, but they often do so with a closed mouth, rarely biting intruders. Some western hognoses will also play dead by rolling over onto their back and opening their mouth when nothing works to keep the danger away. If you flip the snake upright, it will roll back upside down.
It’s generally recommended to start with short handling sessions to get your western hognose used to human touch. Your handling sessions may start at 2-3 minutes and extend to around 15 minutes as your snake gets used to you.
When handling your snake, support its body at points along 1/3 and 2/3 its length. As you handle your snake, allow it to slither through your fingers and across your arms. Don’t allow your western hognose to get under your shirt – you are unlikely to be harmed, but it may be a challenge for you to get your snake out. Generally, if your snake goes somewhere you don’t want it to go, gently direct its head away.
Western Hognose Shedding
Western hognose snakes shed just like any other snake. Their skin isn’t elastic, and to be able to grow safely and easily, they need to occasionally get rid of it.
Since growth rates are higher in young snakes, hatchlings and juveniles shed much more often than adult snakes. Expect a young snake to shed every week. Adult snakes will shed rarer and rarer as they grow, and their shedding rates will usually settle at one or two times a month.
As the shed is about to start, your western hognose will show the common shedding symptoms – blue/cloudy eyes and dull skin tone. These symptoms will disappear in 2-3 days, and your snake will soon start to shed its skin. The whole process from start to finish typically takes around a week.
Don’t handle or feed your snake during the shed since you will most likely stress it out. Normally, the only thing you need to do is to ensure proper humidity levels inside the enclosure. If everything else is alright, your western hognose should have no issues with shedding.
Western hognose shedding issues
Snakes do run into issues with shedding sometimes, and it’s important that you spot them early so that you can assist your snake.
Among the most common symptoms of problematic shedding are fragmentary shedding, patches of skin stuck on the snake’s body, or simply inability to shed.
No matter what the issue is, it’s likely that it has been caused by improper humidity levels inside the enclosure. So first of all, check whether the humidity inside the tank is right.
If it’s not where it needs to be, then increase it to at least 30%. You may go all the way up to 50% in case your snake can’t shed easily.
If increasing the humidity level doesn’t help, then put your snake in a water bowl with lukewarm water. The water will soften the skin and will likely allow your snake to shed more easily. Sometimes, snakes are able to shed without issues after soaking – if not, then you may assist your western hognose by holding a damp towel and allowing the snake to slither through it.
If your snake was able to shed, check whether there are any patches of old skin left on its body. These should be removed since they will restrict the growth of your western hognose. Pay special attention to the eye area – the old eye caps should come off as well. If there’s anything left, then remove the stuck patches of skin manually.
If nothing seems to help, then you should probably take your western hognose to a vet.
Western Hognose Cleaning
Many people also wonder whether western hognose snakes need any bathing. And the answer is that snakes take care of their bathing needs by themselves by soaking in the provided water. Given that your snake is provided with fresh water, you shouldn’t have to worry about bathing it.
Keep in mind that reluctance to bathe, as well as excessive bathing may be symptoms of some health issues. If your snake soaks very often, for example, it may have mites, or the enclosure may be too hot for it. Do monitor your snake’s behavior as closely as possible to be able to spot any irregularities in it.
Western Hognose Enclosure Cleanup
You should occasionally clean your western hognose snake’s enclosure as well. There are two types of cleanups that you will need to do:
- Frequent spot cleanups. You should check the enclosure every day for moist substrate, dirty water, or feces. Remove any mess from the enclosure and, if necessary, replace the affected substrate or refresh the water.
- Deep cleanups. These cleanups should be done only occasionally – typically, once per month is often enough for a deep cleanup.
Deep cleanups are most typically performed with a 5% bleach solution. To perform a deep cleanup, follow these steps:
- Remove everything from the enclosure and place your snake in a temporary container.
- Apply the bleach solution to the surfaces inside and outside the enclosure. Let the tank sit for around 15 minutes.
- Thoroughly rinse the enclosure out and wait until it fully dries.
- Put everything back together.
Western Hognose FAQ
Are western hognose snakes venomous?
Western hognose snakes are nonvenomous, but they have potentially irritating saliva that may cause localized swelling and itching on the bite site. Western hognose snakes bite very rarely though, so you shouldn’t have to deal with any of the bite symptoms.
If you have been bitten by your snake, then you should wash the location of the bite with soap and water. You may take Benedryl as well, but only if you don’t have any contraindications.
What morphs of the western hognose snake can you find?
There are many western hognose morphs, but the more popular ones are:
- Lavender hognose. These snakes have a light lavender base shade and darker lavender spots throughout the body.
- Anerythristic hognose. These hognose snakes have a body with gray as a base color. Dark gray and white spots can be seen throughout the body.
- Super conda hognose. These hognose snakes usually have a pattern-free body that’s usually brown in color. Some super conda hognose snakes may have markings on the head.
- Leucistic hognose. This morph has a gorgeous solid white color and arguably is the most beautiful morph of the western hognose snake.
- Lemon-ghost anaconda hognose. Snakes of his morph feature a body made up of yellows, browns, and mustards. Remarkably, the body spots on these snakes have a hazy look to them.
- Extreme red albino hognose. As you could have guessed from the name, these western hognose snakes have a skin pattern with predominantly red colors and a mixture of whites. Their eyes are colored red as well.
- Coral hognose. Coral hognose snakes are fairly rare. This morph boasts a beautiful coral pink color. The base color of this snake is a light pink, and throughout the body are a bit darker blotches.
There actually are many more western hognose morphs than listed above. With that said, all morphs are similar, though they do come from different regions and may thus have slightly different needs for food, lighting, or whatnot.
The price of the western hognose snake can differ significantly from morph to morph. More common morphs usually cost around $150, while rarer and more beautiful morphs can cost up to $1,000.
What western hognose diseases should I keep an eye out for?
Among the more common diseases snake owners face are:
- Mites. Any snake can get infected with mites. Among the symptoms of mites are rubbing, lethargy, prolonged soaking, loss of appetite, tiny black dots on shed skin, ash-like dust on scales, and tiny black dots on the skin. Mites are commonly caused by poor hygiene and contamination.
- Internal parasites. Your western hognose may get parasites from live prey, especially fish and amphibians. Besides, if you’ve caught your snake in the wild, it is likely to have parasites.
Among the common symptoms of parasites are loss of appetite, weight loss, regurgitation, smelly feces, and diarrhea.
- Respiratory infection. Respiratory infection is usually caused by excessive humidity, but it may also be caused by poor hygiene, cool temperatures, and diseases. Among the symptoms of respiratory infection are loss of appetite, excessive saliva, lethargy, and audible noises while breathing.
- Scale rot. Scale rot is also often caused by excessive humidity, but it may be caused by poor hygiene as well. This condition usually shows itself via watery blisters, swollen scales, bruising, flaking, and foul odor.