The western hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus) is a small colubrid snake native to parts of the USA and southeast Canada. In it's native range they are often found in areas such as prairies, river floodplains, grasslands and semi deserts where they will eat mostly amphibians with the occassional mouse, bird, other snakes and eggs.
Western hognose are named after their enlarged upturned rostral (or nose) scale that they use to help them dig around in the soil and gravel.
They are rear fanged and produce a mildly toxic saliva from their Duvernoy's gland that is very effective in paralyzing their most common food, toads. This can cause mild allergic reactions in some people if bitten, but overall bites are rare.
Males are smaller than females, males often reaching around 1.5-2' and females reaching up to 3' on average. Known for their dramatic behavior, they are sometimes called fake cobras or fake rattlesnakes and can play dead to avoid potential predators (or their keeper attempting to feed them!).
There are a wide variety of enclosures that can be used for western hognose snakes. With young snakes, starting out with a small, secure and more cluttered enclosure is usually the best solution. Many prefer to make their own enclosure out of a plastic storage tub or tote, but 5 gallon terrariums are also a great alternative for a hatchling snake.
Adult males can be housed in 10-20 gallon terrarium/aquariums or similar floor space storage tubs. Adult females can be housed in 20-40 gallon terrarium or 28-40 qt sweater/shoe boxes or under bed storage containers.
Two hides, one on the cooler side and one on the hotter side, are recommended and the size of the hides should be just large enough that the snake can fit inside and feel secure. If a hide is too big they will feel insecure and won't want to use it. These can be anything that is smooth, proper size, and not transparent with a hole large enough for them to get inside.
A water bowl should also be given that is not too deep so they can come and go freely. A material that is easy to disinfect is recommended as they will often deficate in their water bowls.
Toilet roll tubes, sections of pvc pipe, fake vines and flowers, seed pots, clay pots, rocks etc are often used as enrichment or to help the snake feel secure in their enclosures. Open areas are scary to them. Anything given should be able to be easily disposed of or disinfected when soiled.
When making an enclosure out of a storage tub, create small ventilation holes along the sides of the container to allow air flow. Be sure to make the holes large enough for air but small enough that snakes won't try to escape or get caught. Tape can be applied or removed from the holes to help achieve the correct ambient humidity levels. For example, during the dryer months of the year some holes could be covered to keep humidity up, but in damper months some could be removed.
Although they are not as prone to escaping as some other species, care should still be taken that the enclosure is secured as they will often try to push up the corners of the lid. They are opportunistic escape artists.
There is a range of options for substrates but cedar/pine should never be used because of the oils that can affect your snake's health.
* Aspen shavings or chips - Can come in a range of sizes from small chips up to bigger flakes. Provide an opportunity for the snakes to burrow and regulate temperature if under the tank heating is used. Easy to spot clean or dump and replace, does not hold in humidity so low risk of mold but in a very dry environment may be harder to provide humidity if needed. Can be dusty sometimes so try to avoid brands that seem overly dusty.
* Newspaper pellets - Also allow snakes to burrow but can be more prone to mold if wet.
* Paper towel/paper bedding - Does not allow burrowing and has to be completely changed out often due to how frequently the snakes will mess it, also can end up holding in moisture if any water spills creating a colder and unpleasant area. Best option for any new snakes during quarantine, as you can see easier if there are any issues with parasites, if the snake is passing the food at the rate you'd expect, and if there are issues that need to be treated.
* Soil/clay mix - This is most similar to their natural conditions and with the right ratios can hold burrows and allow for digging behavior, but also tends to hold in more humidity (which may be desirable or could be a negative depending on ambient humidity). Also the heaviest option if you have to move the enclosures, and can be harder to clean out due to color. Some may mix this option into a full bioactive and there are a lot of resources for building an enclosure like that on the internet.
Western hognose snakes are able to adapt to a large range of temperatures and humidities as their native range is so large, but overall it is recommended to keep them around 80F (26C) with a hot side going up to 90F (32C) that allows them to self-regulate and move between hot and cool side as needed.
There is a wide range of options for heating the enclosures:
* Ambient room temperature kept at the correct level (especially if you have a large collection)
* Heat tape on the bottom or against the back
* Under tank heat pads
* Heat lamps
Heated rocks are never recommended as they can be hard to control the temperature of and have the potential of burning your snake's belly. All heat options should be controlled by a thermostat so they do not get too hot and cause injury and care should be taken to use them appropriately to reduce risk of fire.
These little snakes tend to be from lower humidity areas so as such keeping the humidity around 30% is adequate. Humid hides can be offered to allow the snake to have an area that is a little higher when they need such as during shedding. A hygrometer can test humidity and ventilation can be covered or uncovered to achieve the desired level. Even though humidity is lower they should still have access to clean water at all times and will sometimes soak in their waterbowl - this is normal and nothing to worry about unless they are always in there and then you may want to access your temperature and humidity as a whole to find out if there is a reason for them to always be in the water bowl.
Western hognoses are diurnal and active throughout the day so a normal day/night cycle for the season is appropriate. UVB can be provided but is not essential.
Usually western hognose in captivity will be fed a diet of appropriately sized frozen thawed mice. Hatchlings should be fed every 3-4 days with pinky mice that has a diameter similar to that of the snake's head and leave a just noticeable bulge after. Adults can be fed every 7-14 days.
Although most western hognose are rather eager eaters they can go on hunger strikes sometimes that can be scary for the owner. This often happens to males during the breeding season time or any snake during winter if not brumating. Usually they will return to eating again so if they do not eat one feeding just remove the mouse and try feeding at the next feeding time rather than stressing the snake out the next day.
If they will not start eating scenting can be useful, items such as chicken broth, tuna or salmon juice, frog scent (either from rubbing on a frog or toad or buying liquid frog scent) can be useful to give the mouse a scent that is more appealing. Sometimes simply dipping in a liquid so it forms a drop near the mouth can encourage them to take it too.
Continued not eating may be a sign of stress so husbandry should be evaluated to make sure that correct temperature, humidity and a feeling of security are being provided. Often hatchlings will go off food when put in a large bare enclosure too soon because of stress and moving them down to a smaller cluttered one can solve the issue.
Overall hognoses are easy to handle and rarely bite but can display a range of bluffing techniques like hissing, playing dead, fake striking etc and then calm down once in hand. They can also release musk if feeling very threatened.
They can be rather fast so it is recommended to hold them over a surface so they do not fall and injure themselves or escape.
As with almost all reptiles after handling you should properly sanitize your hands, especially before handling any human food due to the risk of salmonella.