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Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) caresheet and bioactive terrarium maintenance

Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) caresheet and bioactive terrarium maintenance

Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)

Difficulty: Advanced

Eastern hognose snakes are small fossorial snakes native to forests and grasslands of the eastern US and southeastern Canada — anywhere with sandy, well-drained soil that they can burrow in. As a fossorial species, hognoses spend a lot of time underground, but they can still be found above ground while basking or hunting. Aside from their comical “play dead” behavior, eastern hognose snakes can also flatten their neck and head impressively as part of their defense display.

Eastern hognoses grow 28-46” long, although females can grow beyond this range. They have a blunt triangular head, a shovel-like flattened rostral scale, and keeled scales along the body. They have a pattern of dark spots and blotches with a lighter background. As the most colorful type of North American hognose, their pattern can be a combination of red, orange, yellow, green, brown, and/or black. Some individuals are so dark they look like they have no pattern at all!

Hognose snakes are generally fairly easy to care for, but eastern hognoses are amphibian specialists, which can make finding suitable food for them challenging. Furthermore, their mild venom creates certain special considerations for their care. With good care, a pet eastern hognose should live at least 10-15 years.

What You Need for a Bioactive Eastern Hognose Snake Enclosure

Terrarium Size

The minimum enclosure size recommended for housing an average-sized single eastern hognose is 36”L x 18”W x 18”H. However, when it comes to choosing a terrarium for pet reptiles, keep in mind that larger is always better! Particularly large females will need to be housed in no smaller than 48”L x 24”W x 24”H.

Multiple hognose snakes should not be housed together in the same enclosure.


Although technically hognose snakes can survive without UVB lighting, it’s best practice to provide UVB to them. UVB provides benefits beyond just vitamin D3 synthesis, such as: preventing illness, improving nervous and digestive function, and improving mental health.

In other words, we recommend installing appropriate UVB lighting as part of your snake’s setup. The 22” Arcadia 6% or Zoo Med T5 HO Reptisun 5.0 is likely to work the best for a hognose snake in an 18-24” tall enclosure. UVB strength varies with fixture and distance from the source, so if you are using the Arcadia ProT5 or Bio Dude T5 HO light fixture, the basking surface should be positioned so the snake’s back is 10-14” below the lamp if the fixture is placed over mesh, or 14-18” away if the fixture is inside the enclosure (unobstructed).

Your UVB bulb must be replaced every 12 months to maintain its output. Also resist the temptation to use other brands — when it comes to UVB, brand matters!

Because this is a bioactive setup, you will also need a plant light to encourage healthy plant growth. We recommend the Bio Dude Grow & Glo LED light strip for this purpose, long enough to span most of the enclosure’s length.

Both lighting and heating should be on for 12 hours/day.


Like other reptiles, eastern hognoses are poikilothermic, which means that they need a range of temperatures within their enclosure so they can regulate their own body temperature as needed. Areas of heat speed up their metabolism and promote activities like digestion and healing. Cool areas slow the metabolism and promote activities like rest and energy conservation.

Eastern hognose snake temperature gradient:

  • Basking surface temperature: 86-88°F
  • Cool zone temperature: 75-85°F
  • Nighttime: 60-75°F

To create a basking area for your hognose, you will need a halogen flood heat bulb like the 50w Arcadia Halogen Heat Lamp (optimum wattage may vary) and a 5.5” ceramic-socket dome lamp fixture. If the basking area gets too warm, you can plug the lamp into a lamp dimmer like the Lutron Credenza and reduce the heat that way. If the basking area is too cool, you will need a higher-wattage bulb.

Use a temperature gun like the Etekcity 774 to keep track of the temperatures in your enclosure.


Eastern hognose snakes need a moderate to high humidity environment. To be specific, they need an average of 50-60% daytime humidity, with higher levels at night. Keep track of your humidity levels with a digital hygrometer like the Bio Dude Digital Thermometer / Hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the enclosure.

To raise the humidity in your snake’s enclosure and moisten the substrate, use an Exo Terra 2qt Mister to wet things down once a week or as needed. Eastern hognose snakes use their substrate as a retreat, so make sure there’s a patch of substrate on the cool half of the enclosure that is kept moistened at all times.

Don’t forget to water your plants!


A thick layer of bioactive-compatible substrate is essential to creating a bioactive hognose snake enclosure. Aside from providing plenty of soil for the plants’ roots, your hognose also needs a thick substrate layer to burrow around in!

Because this is a temperate setup, no drainage layer is needed. Instead, you can jump right to the dirt. You will need a soil-like mix that mimics the function of fertile forest soil. If you want to make your own, you will need a mixture of 40% organic topsoil, 40% fine sand, and 20% coconut fiber or peat moss. Mix that with leaf litter, sphagnum moss, and 1 dose of 36qt Bio Shot to inoculate your soil with beneficial microfauna. This layer of soil should be at least 4” deep, preferably more.

Alternatively, you can let The Bio Dude do the work for you with The Bio Dude’s Terra Firma 40 Breeder bioactive substrate kit!

To make the substrate functional, make sure to add CUC organisms like powder blue/orange isopods, dwarf white isopods, and springtails. You can also add other species like superworms, earthworms, and even a small millipede or two.

Decorating the Enclosure

Enclosure décor is more than just making your setup look good. It’s also an important part of providing environmental enrichment to your hognose, which enhances your pet’s quality of life by providing opportunities to express natural behaviors. Although hognose snakes are fossorial, it’s still important to give them things to slither around on and explore. Use things like logs, cork flats/hollows, caves, and plants to fulfill that need. Don’t be afraid to clutter it up!

Live plants in particular are critical to helping your mini-ecosystem function properly. Make sure the plants that you choose are tolerant of temperate conditons and are hardy enough not to be too bothered if their roots get disturbed. Candidates for consideration include pothos, philodendron, croton, dieffenbachia, and dracaena.

Remember: the larger the plant, the better! This will help it better withstand your snake’s shenanigans.

Feeding Your Eastern Hognose

Like other snakes, eastern hognoses are carnivorous. Established juveniles should be fed every 4-5 days, and adults should be fed once per week. Prey should be roughly the same diameter as the snake’s head, as hognose snakes generally don’t do well with large prey.

In the wild they prefer to eat toads. Some captive-bred individuals have been successfully raised on hairless rodents, but if you want an eastern hognose, be prepared to keep a steady supply of amphibian and even reptile feeders on hand. That said, the key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for any reptile is still VARIETY! Here’s a quick list of options that are appropriate for an eastern hognose:

Prey item ideas: hairless mice, hairless rats, quail eggs, small reptile eggs, green anoles, captive-bred frogs/toads, Reptilinks

If your snake doesn’t seem interested in its food, scent it with some frog or lizard “flavored” scenting liquid to get their attention. To reduce the risk of accidentally getting bitten by your snake, offer prey with a soft-tipped pair of feeding tongs.


Keep a shallow bowl of fresh water in the enclosure at all times, roughly the same size as your snake’s coiled body. The water should be changed at least twice weekly or whenever it gets soiled. Scrub the bowl with an animal-safe disinfectant before replacing.


Handling Tips

After bringing your new pet home, do not handle it until it is eating regularly. This can take anywhere from two weeks to two months, so be patient and use this time to make sure your husbandry is on point. Once your snake is ready for handling, handle it at least 1-2x weekly to keep it accustomed to you, but no more than once daily.

Wash Your Hands First

Before you pick up your hognose snake, first wash your hands with soap or hand sanitizer. This removes potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites from your hands, as well as makes your hands smell distinctly inedible. Hognose snakes find prey via smell. If your hands smell like anything remotely appetizing, your pet may confuse you for food.

How to Pick Up a Snake

Next, use a paper towel roll to tap its head (gently). This sets expectations by letting the snake know that it’s time for handling, not food. Pick it up with two hands, one behind the head and one supporting the rest of the body. NEVER pick up a snake by its tail — this can really hurt their spine!

Safety with Hognose Snakes

Hognose snakes are mildly venomous. Their venom is not considered medically significant, but it can cause localized swelling and discomfort. If this is something you’re worried about, wear a pair of thick leather gloves while handling.

DO NOT Handle If…

Don’t handle your snake within 48 hours of a meal, as this can stress them out and lead to regurgitation, which is a traumatic experience that can actually lead to death. Also do not handle if your pet’s eyes have turned opaque or cloudy. This means that the snake is preparing to shed and can’t see well, which makes them jumpy and defensive.


Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.

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  • Josh Halter


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