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Western (Plains) Hognose
(Heterodon nasicus nasicus)

Temperment: Docile
Size: 18-36 inches
Experience level: Beginner

The western hognose group of snakes has gained much popularity in recent years due to their docile temperment, ease of care, and the introduction of several new color morphs.
They are a fun species to keep and being of small size and docile temperment make an excellent captive for beginners and experienced herpers alike.
I refer to the western hognose as a group of snakes because there are actually 2 (or 3 depending on who you ask) subspecies which are considered western hognose.
These are: H. n. gloydi is disputed as a valid subspecies by most sources and is considered to be a range variation of H. n. nasicus
I only work with the nominate form, the plains hognose. I usually refer to them as western since the common usage of that name normally refers to the plains specifically. H. n. kennerlyi is normally referred to only as the Mexican hognose.
For the purposes of this page I will use the more specific common name of Plains hognose.

Range and Description

The plains hognose has wide range and can be found from southern Canada all the way to Texas. They are threatened in parts of the range due primarily to habitat destruction.
They are a small stocky snake. Average length is 16-26 inches with males being the smaller of the sexes. Specimens exceeding three feet are rare.
Like other hognoses around the world, the plains hognose gets its common name from the upturned rostral scale. They have the "perpetual smile" look about them that is endearing even to many of those who otherwise do not like snakes.


These snakes are harmless but make every effort not to appear that way. They will often inflate their bodies to appear larger, and will flatten their neck when in a defensive posture. This behavior is often combined with loud hissing. They will also strike defensively, but you quickly notice that their mouths remain closed and the whole act is just for show. In my experience, the plains hognose rarely employs the feigned death posture in response to a threat as their cousins the Eastern hognose (Heterodon platirhinos) often do.

Captive Care and Feeding

Plains hognose are burrowers by nature and their enclosure should contain a substrate which allows for this behavior. I prefer aspen shavings in my collection but a more natural substrate of sandy soil could be used as well.
Being small snakes, they do not require a lot of space and an adult can live comfortably in a cage that 18 x 24 inches or so.
The heat gradient should range from the low to mid 70s on the cool end to the low 80s in the basking area.

The western hognose snakes as a group are fine feeding on a diet of rodents. Hatchlings can be a little reluctant initially and may require some scenting at first, but often even this is not the case.
In the wild they are known to eat a variety of prey, including amphibians (primarily toads), lizards, and small mammals, but it's best to stick to a rodent diet in captivity.

Notes on Hognose Venom

Western hognose are what is called "rear fanged" and they do possess a type of venom, really just a mildly toxic saliva. This toxic secretion is normally harmless to humans, however a few isolated instances of allergic reaction have been recorded. No lasting effects have been ovserved in any case.
It's actually quite difficult to experience a hognose envenomation. Due to the location of the fangs in the far rear of the mouth, coupled with their small size, it's hard to come in contact with them. For this reason, and the fact that the venom is very mild and normally has no effect at all on humans, hognose are not considered dangerous in any fashion.
Keep in mind though that on very rare occasions, some people have displayed allergic reactions to these secretions.

See this page for what I consider to be an extreme effect of a hognose bite: http://www.herpnet.net/bite/
For more information on hognose venom see this page: http://www.hognose.com/pages/venomous.htm

Clay Davenport
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