Species: H. nasicus
Conservation Status: Western Hognose have the largest range of the north american hognose snakes and display healthy populations throughout the regions they are found. While some states have laws restricting the collection of wild hognose they are classified as least concern.
Natural History: Hognose snakes of the genus Heterodon are almost instantly recognizable. Their short heavy bodies, dramatically upturned rostrum, and short square shaped head make them appear very different from any other group of snakes. The Western Hognose is found throughout a huge range that stretches from southern Canada through the central and western United States and into northern Mexico. They can typically be found in dry scrubby habitats with loose sandy soils and plenty of cover in the form of vegetation, fallen timber, rock formations or man made debris. The namesake 'hognose' is actually a large hardened scale that is used to help dig and burrow, either to avoid predators and the hot sun or in the pursuit of prey. Hognose snakes in the wild feed heavily on amphibians, nasicus are the less specialized of the north american hogs and will also readily consume lizards and small mammals. Hognose are not really constrictors, they dont coil around their prey like a ratsnake or kingsnake might. Instead, once the prey has been bitten the hognose will press it into the sides of a burrow, a rock or even into the soil and chew heavily, working the prey animal into its mouth. All members of the genus Heterodon posses a pair of enlarged fangs near the rear of the mouth and a irritating saliva that, while harmless to humans, may assist in subduing its prey. Hognose are a sexually dimorphic species, females grow considerably larger than males and can top out at a very stocky 26-32 inches. Males are typically thinner, with less mass and measure 18-24 inches. All of the north american hognose have elaborate defensive behaviors that include audible hissing, flattening of the neck to appear larger, quick closed mouth strikes and in some cases, they will even roll onto their back, open their mouth and play dead.
Care in Captivity: Western Hognose are certainly the easiest species of hognose to obtain and keep. They reproduce readily in captivity and generally feed on widely available frozen thawed feeder rodents with few issues. My hognose are kept in spacious tubs on a rack system, I provide deep layers of aspen shavings as bedding and a secure hide box. Most hognose ignore hides in preference for burrows and tunnels they create by traversing the substrate. I provide heat via thermostatically controlled heat pads with the warm end reaching temperatures in the mid to high 80's and the low end in the mid to high 70's. Western hognose are hardy snakes and tolerate a broad spectrum of temperatures, but for the best growth and uninterrupted feeding responses I recommend keeping them on the warmer end. Most westerns will readily take unaltered size appropriate frozen thawed rodents without issues, occasionally a hatchling or two just doesn't recognize this prey offering as a food source and you are forced to get creative. I've used everything from live amphibian scenting, tuna juice, flake fish food, chicken broth, and even uncooked shrimp exoskeleton to transfer scent and texture differences onto the pinky mouse. Once you have discovered something that triggers predation behavior in the neonate hognose it doesn't take long before they are feeding on unaltered prey. Hognose feeding and behavior reactions are highly dependant on temperature, if they are kept to cool, even for just a few days you may see a reduction in activity and refusals of food. These animals react very quickly to what they perceive as the approach of colder weather in anticipation of brumation. Western Hognose will rarely offer defensive bites, but I keep more than a few specimens with very strong feed responses and often emerge from their tub with mouth agape looking for something to put in it, so exercise caution.
Captive Reproduction: Like most north american snake species Western Hognose reproduce easily in captivity, especially when exposed to a temperature drop during the cooler months of the year. Like almost all my colubrids I begin by fasting the animals for 15 days or so around the beginning of November. During the last few days of the fast I start reducing the temperature by a few degrees every day until the hot end has been reduced from the mid eighties to the low-mid seventies. I then remove the snakes from their rack system and place them in secure tubs with a deep layer of substrate, a hide box and a water bowl. All brumating snakes are then moved to my 'cold' room. This is an area where the ambient temperature is allowed to drop into the high forties to low fifties during the November-February winter weather we experience here in NC. After brumation the snakes are returned to their rack system around the middle of February and over the period of several days returned to normal temperatures. After the first week out of brumation I begin offering food and ensure that females I intend to breed that season are offered plenty of food and return to pre-brumation weight before breeding. After the females first shed of the season, usually around 2-3 weeks post brumation I begin pairing. Male hognose are much smaller than most females, you need to observe their behavior and ensure the female is well fed before pairings. Some mature male hogs will exit brumation, accept a couple meals and then cease eating. This is a result of the animals instinctive biological prerogative to reproduce and is only increased if housed near mature females that he can detect. Most males that behave this way will return to normal feeding after being allowed to breed or after several weeks fast. Pairing is usually quick with the animals separating after a few minutes, I continue to pair my animals every few days until I begin to see the female swelling as egg follicles begin to form. I offer my females size appropriate rubbermaid tubs filled with slightly damp sphagnum moss. The compact dark space, increased humidity and smell will attract her to this are as a laying location. After approximately 30-45 days she will deposit a clutch of as few as six to as many as twenty eggs. If at all possible you should remove the ova as soon as they are detected, it is not uncommon for female hognose to eat eggs. I will usually leave unfertilized or unviable eggs in the laying box, this is a nutritious food source that can help return some much needed calories to an exhausted female, if she shows no interest in them dispose before they become moldy and begin to stink.
Our Animals: Western Hognose are one of my favorite species of snake, and here at Asheville Wildside we maintain numerous animals in our breeding projects. Amels, twinspots, blondes, and anaconda are a few of the mutations and selectively bred animals we produce yearly.