The Western Hognose Snake/Plains (Heterodon nasicus) is among the most endearing and charming of North American colubrid species. Their small adult size (males 15-24in. /females 28-36in) exceptionally mild temperament and easy care make it an ideal pet. With several new pattern and color morphs becoming readily available in the trade it is easy to see how this species is favored by many.
The 1st hognose I kept (as breeders) were during the late 90's and were wild caught. Basically, they were difficult and many of the babies were no different. Many breeders at the time had similar experiences due to lack of knowledge in proper husbandry techniques. Today much improved through better husbandry and genetics the western hog is poised to become one of the most successful species in our trade. Below is a detailed care sheet I wrote that gives you the basics to be successful at keeping and breeding them. If you need any help or need clarification of anything, please feel free to call or write me. This care sheet is "work in progress" meaning I will be updating it from time to time as I learn new things. If you have a suggestion, please feel free to contact me.
Care for Western Hogs overall is very simple. My approach differs a bit than many other keepers and my success with them has been remarkable. For many years, the standard model of care was like that of a corn snake or kingsnake. This approach doesn't do as well since they generally don't have an opportunity to get hot enough.. long enough for proper health and breeding. Fed-up with dismal success I decided to try my own method. I raised my temps to better match their environment, reduced humidity by adding more ventilation with fans as well as kept the lights on longer. This seemed to work.
I currently keep adult females in 25-32 qt rack/drawer containers with about 3in of aspen bedding. I use disposable wax soup bowls as water bowls. Make sure your cage has plenty of ventilation. Multiple oscillating fans in the room work very well for this.
Some hogs put into a cage that is too large can become insecure and refuse to feed. I like a good size to space ratio, a good rule of thumb is to keep them in a drawer/cup/bin/tank about as long as they are.
Other sizes are..
Yearling-Subadult and adult males 6-16qt
Hatchling-Well Started 16oz deli - 6in Deli- 6qt for larger
Heat is provided using ambient heating of the room and a small heat cord set 95-100F (reads about 90-98F on surface). I program my heaters for this schedule:
I prefer my hogs to have a average body temp of 84-90F.. below this and they can go off feed and or not be able to digest larger meals properly.
Light Cycle is very important, hogs are primarily diurnal, and I find that a strong consistent light cycle helps in regulating activity. The longer the light is on the more active they are. I provide 16hrs light and 8hrs of dark during most of the year, this helps to offset any seasonal changes which helps to keep them feeding properly.
Feeding is a bit different than most domestic colubrid. Living in Texas I have had a unique opportunity to observe this species in the wild. Normally in the wild they would feed on amphibians, various reptiles their eggs ..rodents. etc.. But in captivity their diet is limited to what we can provide.. domestic rodents. Having a high metabolism, I believe this species needs to be fed a minimum twice per week. I try not to over feed my animals at feeding time, I usually offer one very small meal, barely enough to make a lump which is digested in about 36-48hrs. This seems to have many good benefits. For one a fat hog is a lazy hog, I have noticed that if you feed them a large meal, they will spend most of their time and energy digesting. Much of what they gain in weight become fat which can lead to metabolic problems which can result in poor breeding and premature death. So, my method is one very small meal every other day or 2-3x per week. They tend to grow faster, have better feeding response and are more active and healthier. Hogs have a very good sense of smell and vision. Vison seems to play a key role in feeding response. I have notice that sometimes hogs will ignore a prey item if it isn't moving. So, keep this in mind if you tend to just drop the food in their cage and leave. Sometimes they may smell the food but will fail to feed due to lack of visual stimulus.
Another aspect to feeding which I believe is commonly ignored is quality of food items. There are many wholesale companies and private breeders out there , some raise their own rodents and tend to be a bit more expensive and there are those companies that buy from other "sources" then resell them to you, this can affect the quality food you are providing. Feeders that have been repeatedly thawed or stored for a long time are less nutritious than fresh. So, strive to buy the freshest you can get. Another aspect is sex and age of the rodents being fed. Younger is healthier , small fuzzies have full bellies of milk that is beneficial. I would rather feed a smaller , healthier prey item 2x a week then one larger ..older prey item that is 2x the size. For one when you buy young animals, they tend to be a healthier food source in almost all aspects. Being more aware of what you feed your animals and how it affects them will help you to manage your collection with better results.
Note about hognose fasting:
Hognose hatchlings and adults can temporarily go off feed during the winter and very early spring usually right before and/or during breeding season. Don't let this bother you, this species can go several months with little, or no food and it seems to be a natural element of their behavior. If this stresses you out, then this species is probably not for you. Patients is key.
Brumation is fundamentally the same as most North American colubrids. Most hogs do well with a 8-week brumation in the temp range of 45-55'F. I start by giving them 10 days off feed with temps around 80'F and very little light. After the 10th day I pull the plug on the heaters in the room and let it fluctuate from 75-65'F. On the 14th day they are cooled down between 45-55'F. Maintain this for 8 weeks (drop into the 40's is ok and maybe beneficial).Humidity of 50-75% is ok anymore could be an issue. After the 8th week give them 3-5 days of warm temps then feed them a small meal. A couple days later resume normal feeding.
My Routine Is:
Dec 15 start cool down
Jan 1 brumation begins @ 50F
March 1st end brumation
March 3-5 resume feeding
June-July Egg laying
Breeding is simple if your observant , after brumation most (but not all) females will go through an ovulatory shed cycle prior to becoming receptive. This can take place after or before the 1st ,2nd or even 3rd shed after brumation but generally the 1st or second. Place the pair together every 3-5 days for a stay of a day. After copulation gestation will be 4-5 weeks. Females should be a minimum of 250g (but 300g+ is prime) males 60-75g plus. I have had males breed at 9 months of age and 15in with a weight of only 60g, don't underestimate these little guys , one male can service 3-5 females. Make sure to not let the males exhaust himself on one female. Two witnessed copulations are enough for good fertility.
Keep in Mind that keeping track of the shed cycles will help you keep on top of things. The female will likely go off food her second or third week. You will usually be able to notice swelling in her latter 40% of her body. Before Egg deposition she will shed one , provide a small container half filled with slightly damp moss(sphagnum or peatmoss). A Rubbermaid with a small whole cut in the lid works well for this. 5-14 days after shed she will lay.
Incubation is simple, I use a mix of vermiculite, perlite, and water , which in my containers translates to 70g vermiculite / 30g perlite / 30g water. I prefer the coarse or large grain varieties. Also, a small condiment cup filled with water helps maintain humidity as well and will help replace water absorbed by the eggs. I put a lid on them and puncture it with several medium size holes. The water will evaporate inside the container and will keep humidity high but will not cause excessive saturation which hog eggs are prone to. Incubate at 80-84'F (26-29'C) for 55 days. Note: this method works best if you set up the egg container a day or more in advance. Also microwaving the water and vermiculite before use will help to ensure a more sterile incubation environment.
Hatchling Care/Feeding is quite simple if you are patient. When westerns hatch some tend to sit in the egg a few days, do not disturb them, this is normal. Shortly after hatch most will shed, food can be offered as little as 2-5 days after this. Feeding western hogs usually is quite simple many will feed on live or thawed newborn pinkies right away, but some will not. I have found that certain lines tend to feed better than others. I usually give hatchlings a minimum of 2-3 feeding attempts about 3-4 days apart before I try scenting.
The scenting techniques that work best for me, they ar easy to find and have little risk of giving your animals parasites or illness.
Broth from Vienna Sausage Can
Live Pinkies scented with the above etc.
Now some of the scents work much better if you repeatedly freeze and thaw them. This breaks the scent down and helps enhance it.
Frog and lizard scents , if they come from the wild should be used carefully as they can possibly carry disease or parasites.
Another method that I use is mixing scents, this seems to have a better success than just one scent. I prefer toad, salmon with a bit of chicken and/or gecko or anole.
Scenting isn't for the squeamish!!And if you don't want to do it then you probably shouldn't breed hognose since a good percentage may need scenting to survive.
I start by freezing the desired animals. Then I use a small blender and puree the scenting material and then freeze in a deli cup. I thaw a little bit of this every time I need to scent pinkies, and this seems to work very well. Another thing to try is to press the scented pinky against their snout gently. This seems to elicit a better response in some animals then just leaving it in. The methods above will usually get almost any hatchling to feed with patience. As time progresses and your hognose starts feeding on a routine then start weaning them off the scent. You can do this by using less and less scenting until they accept an unscented pinky. A good way is to dip in scent a cotton swab or small piece of balled up paper towel on the end of some tweezers. Then place this in front of your hog, many times they will open their mouths and bite anything that moves. Slip an unscented pinky in the mouth and usually they will swallow. Over time this should get the hatchling accustomed to the taste and smell of unscented pinkies. Without them consuming the scenting medium. Which is the best route for many obvious reasons.
This can be done visually. Although probing and popping is an option usually just a quick glance at their tail will do. Generally, the female's tail is quite short and stubby whereas the males are quite long. Females will have 30+ rows of scales after the vent and males 40+. Hatchlings can be difficult due to their small size and only experience helps here. Adults generally are quite easy to tell.
Hognoses have their own set of problems they experience. Here are some issues they can experience.
Drowning in a water bowl ..kind with the hole in the lid. Don't use these!!
Can't find the water bowl or too high, they don't do up and over well sometimes.
Eating their own eggs or a smaller cage mate. Monitor closely and remove eggs as soon as possible!!
Laying without nest box.
Respitory Infection from high ammonia or humidity. Drill more holes and use more fans, clean more often!!
Musk gland infection/impaction. ..cage floor and bedding too dirty clean more often use a disinfectant,
Every 4-6 months be sure to gently express the musk glands. Be gentle and don't try to get it all as you don't want to press to hard or too much and injure them.
Gnats i.e. carrion ,fruit flies etc.. common problem for collections. Use small wax water bowls they have a hard time drinking water out of these. Use HIGH ventilation in your cages and fans to help dry out waste. The key is proper air circulation and taking away their source of water and food(dries out the poop LOL) by using the wax soup bowls and fans. Spot clean daily and use a good quality aspen bedding.
Hognose can sometime get sick due to internal parasites especially after stressful periods such as a long fast, injury ,brumation or egg laying. The symptoms may include regurgitation , runny and fowl stools, bloody stools, loss in weight and appetite and/or complete failure to feed. As far to my knowledge hogs are not susceptible to crypto , IBD etc. so generally when they get sick it is intestinal and is easily fixed. Flagyl is great for this and is very safe , as well as panacur (fenbendazole). I would suggest using orally Flagle for protozoa type infections and panacur (fenbendazole) for worms etc. Antibiotics like injectable Batryl seems to work well for RI infections, injuries etc.. and amikacin orally seems to work very well. Although I wouldn't recommend injecting it.
Always see a vet 1st , this info is to only be used as a reference and not to diagnose or treat anything.
I hope this brief article on care helps. If you have any questions, feel free to email me and I will do my best to answer.