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The Western Hognose Snake – a Toad Specialist That Can do without Toads

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. It’s hard for snake enthusiasts not to be taken in by the Eastern hognose snake, Heterodon platyrhinos. It puts on an incredible defensive display, it’s stout, viper-like body is variably patterned in many hues and its natural history is quite unique. However, a preferred diet of toads precludes it from becoming well-established in captivity. The Western hognose snake (H. nasicus), however, shares many of its eastern cousin’s outstanding qualities, yet has a wide appetite that is easily satisfied in captivity.

Physical Characteristics

Stoutly built with strongly keeled scales and an upturned snout; tan, brownish-yellow or grayish-yellow in color, with dark blotches; reaches 16-36 inches in length.

Range

Central and western North America, from southern Canada through Arizona and Illinois to northern Mexico (San Luis Potosi).

Habitat

Prairies, farms, sparsely wooded fields and semi-deserts, usually in areas of sandy soil suitable for burrowing. Western hog nose snakes spend much time below ground.

Reproduction

Mating occurs from March to May, with 9-25 eggs being laid in June –August. The young, 6-7 inches in length, hatch after an incubation period of 45-54 days.

Diet

In the wild, Western hog nose snakes take young ground nesting birds, mice, shrews, toads, lizards, snakes and reptile eggs. In one study, they were found to be a major predator on Pacific pond turtle nests.

Those I’ve kept have done very well on small mice and quail eggs.

Other Interesting Facts

This snake’s upturned snout (modified rostral scale) assists in digging for fossorial prey such as toads and the buried eggs of turtles and lizards. Specially modified teeth allow the hognose snake to puncture toads and defeat their defense mechanism of inflating themselves with air.

The western hognose puts on a less elaborate display when threatened than does its eastern relative. It will, however, spread the head in hood-like fashion and strike, and will sometimes play dead when this bluff fails. Animals feigning death roll onto their backs with the tongue lolling out, and will flip onto their backs if righted during the process!

Eastern Hog Nose Snake Conservation

I have been involved in a re-introduction program for the eastern hognose snake at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in NYC. In this area, it inhabits open beaches and sand dunes…please see the accompanying photo. I’ll write about this interesting program in the future.

Read more about Western hog nose snake care and natural history.

Please write in with your questions and comments.

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

Western Hognose Snake image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Dawson

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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