Plains Hognose Care

The Plains Hognose (Heterodon nasicus) is a small species of colubrid found throughout North America.  Their range is vast, found as far north as Western Canada and as far south as Texas and Mexico.  They attain a length anywhere from 16″ for males, and 30″ for females.  One of the most endearing traits of the Western Hognose, is their defense mechanism of “rolling over” and playing dead when they feel threatened.   Like harmless garter snakes, the Plains Hognose possess Duvernoy’s gland, which secretes a toxic saliva used to inhibit their prey.  While some people may experience a reaction from their saliva, there have been no reports of death caused by a bite.

Enclosure Requirements

Western Hognoses are a species that as adults, will utilize larger enclosures if provided with the space and opportunity. Hatchlings being less established, fare well in small, escape proof enclosures during their first year. The smaller space helps them feel invulnurable, making them less likely to go off feeding. A shoebox style container measuring 12″ x 6″ with ventilation is ample space during their first 6 months to one year. Suggested minimum enclosure requirements are everywhere with this species. Some keepers and breeders suggest enclosures ranging from 10 – 20 gallons for one snake. We believe that bigger is always better. While an enclosure with a footprint of 20″ x 12″ is sufficient for an adult male and 24″ x 12″ for an adult female, we enjoy seeing our adults thrive in larger enclosures. We keep our females in enclosures with a 36″ x 18″ footprint, and our males in 24″ x 18″.  Provide plenty of hides (paper towel rolls and cork rounds are popular here!) and deep substrate for burrowing to ensure that they feel secure in their surroundings.


Heat and Humidity

As Western Hognoses are found in arid climates, their need for humidity is minimal. However, their need for a heat source is essential for them to digest food and thrive. Humidity should be relatively low at around 40% – 50%, with a humid hide box provided in the enclosure to aid in the shedding process. An ambient temperature ranging from 76 °F – 82° F and a basking spot around 90° F is necessary in order for them to thrive.

Suitable types of substrate to use for hognoses is another topic of debate. Some keepers swear by aspen chips, while others recommend aspen shavings or coco coir. We have kept our hognoses on a variety of different substrates including a mixture of coco coir/top soil, soil/excavator clay, aspen chips and aspen shavings. We currently use Lignocel for our hatchlings and aspen shavings for our adults. Both substrates allow our hognoses to burrow deep tunnels. With whatever substrate you choose, make sure it is free of softwood (pine, cedar) as they contain phenols that can cause respiratory problems. Sand, while not recommended on it’s own, can be used when mixed with soil.


We feed all of our hognoses in their enclosures. There have been no studies conducted as to whether this causes hand – food association related injuries. If anything, we have observed that by removing them and placing them in an unfamiliar enclosure, it causes them a great deal of stress. When feeding, we use forceps to offer food, to minimize the risk of injury to both the snake and handler.
We feed frozen thawed (ft) mice as it is the most humane for the mice and snake. All our mice are bred by us, so we’re able to provide them with the best varied diet and living environment. We believe that you are what you eat and see many “feeder breeders” using softwood shavings as rodent bedding. Softwood shavings also cause RI in rodents which leads to their immune system crashing as they try to fight infection. Our mice are kept on hemp or aspen bedding and fed a high quality, balanced diet.
We feed our hatchlings appropriate sized prey items on a rotating 5 – 7 day schedule. When choosing prey items, we prefer to feed smaller rather than larger. We feed our hognoses prey around the same girth as the largest part of them or slightly smaller. We notice that by feeding on the smaller side, their energy levels are increased, as well as alertness. In Western culture, slightly overweight has become not only acceptable but the norm. Our adult hognoses are fed once every 7-14 days, using the same girth measurement method as above.


Supplements! We dust every meal with Nekton Multi-Rep, to provide our hognoses with the minerals and trace elements they would get from their natural diet in the wild.

Hognoses are solitary creatures that are well known for their cannibalistic tendancies, especially during breeding season. We’ve had an over-ambitious male attempt to eat a female.  Because of this, we strongly recommend against cohabitation. It only creates a stressful environment for them, with no room to retreat from their tankmate.