Western Hognose Snake
Western Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasiscus nasiscus; aka Plains hognose snake)
The Western hognose snake is a harmless, diurnal North American colubrid that has grown in popularity in collections around the globe. Its natural range extends from southern Canada through the central U.S., including Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, into northern Mexico.
It has a stout build, is covered in keeled scales, and possesses a sharply upturned snout that is used for digging and burrowing in loose sandy soils and to hunt for prey. Dorsally, the Western hognose has a ground color of tan, brown, gray or olive, with darker, somewhat square blotches or bars, or rows of parallel spots that run longitudinally along the body. Ventrally, the Western hognose has glossy black scales, often interspersed with white, yellow or orange.
The Western hognose is probably best known for its wide array of harmless defensive ploys, sometimes accompanied by a loud hiss that is achieved by the snake forcing air through its unique skull and rostral bone structure. Added to this is the Western hognose’s ability to compress, or flatten, its body when threatened (this might be an attempt on the snake’s part to appear larger and more dangerous to would-be predators). Often while in hissing mode, a Western hognose will also flatten out the ribs along its neck, or “hood” like a cobra. This bluff is most impressive with mature animals; in younger snakes it’s quite amusing.
An alarmed Western hognose will also strike, often repeatedly with a closed mouth in a series of either forward or sideways movements. When a Western hognose does strike, it hits the predator with its heavily keeled snout, but does not bite.
Finally, on occasion the Western hognose—most often younger animals—will play dead when it has exhausted its other defenses to ward off danger. The snake rolls over onto its back, with mouth agape and lolling tongue. When flipped upright by hand, it will resume its death feign by rolling back onto its back, which can be quite amusing to witness. This death act is also sometimes accompanied with the Western hognose squirting a foul-smelling musk from anal glands located on either side of the cloaca (not as amusing to witness).
With increasing varieties of color phases, patterns and genetic mutations, its ease in care, and its uniqueness, the Western hognose is a great choice for new and seasoned reptile enthusiasts. I have worked with the Western hognose for many years, and it is my absolute favorite snake to keep and work with.
Western Hognose Snake Availability
Due to the growing number of Western hognose breeders around the world, there is now a greater availability of animals, along with increasing choices of pattern and genetic mutations and great color phases.
Western Hognose Snake Size
Female Western hognoses can grow to a maximum size just short of 3 feet, with a weight that normally does not exceed 800 grams. Males are somewhat smaller, averaging between 14 to 24 inches.
Western Hognose Snake Life Span
Western hognoses may live up to 18 years in captivity.
Western Hognose Snake Caging
A Western hognose does require a secure cage, even though it is not as adept at escape as other snakes. A plastic, 5-gallon terrarium with a secure lid is ideal for a hatchling. These are inexpensive and widely available at most pet stores that sell reptile supplies. An adult Western hognose can be kept in a 20-gallon aquarium set up. The Western hognose is a ground-dwelling species, so opt for an enclosure with a greater amount of floor space; height is not as important.
If housing several specimens, it can be more economical to use large, clear, plastic shoe or sweater boxes, the size of which depends on the size of the animals. I normally use three different sizes: 5-liter boxes for established hatchlings, 30-quart boxes for adult males and 40-quart boxes for adult females. Shoe and sweater boxes should have ample ventilation, especially in more humid regions, which can be achieved by drilling holes into them.
Western Hognose Snake Substrate
For hatchling Western hognoses, the best substrate is newspaper. While it is not the most aesthetically pleasing, it is inexpensive, inhibits the growth of bacteria and eliminates the threat of a hatchling ingesting substrate that could cause an abdominal impaction.
Shredded aspen bedding is the most popular substrate for adult Western hognoses. It is easy to clean, allows the snakes to burrow, and, unlike cedar and pine, it is not hazardous to a snake’s respiratory system. Also popular, and generally safe, are recycled newspaper products that make cleaning up after the snakes easy. They also absorb odors fairly well and allow the snakes to burrow, which is important to hognoses, especially younger snakes.
Although wild Western hognoses inhabit regions of sandy, loose soils, it is not recommended that sand be used in their enclosures due to the threat of impaction. Some keepers prefer to feed their snakes in a separate enclosure or receptacle to prevent their possibly ingesting substrate.
Western Hognose Snake Lighting and Temperature
Heat is especially important for proper digestion of food items, for gestation of eggs in females, and, when combined with light, it provides Western hognose snakes with seasonal breeding cues. Failure to maintain proper temperatures can lead to health problems in your pet, and worse.
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