“Substrate” is another word for hognose snake bedding — the material used to cover the floor of your pet’s enclosure. Hognose snakes are fossorial, which means that they prefer to burrow and live underground. Providing a thick layer of substrate is critical to helping this species feel comfortable in their enclosure, as well as encourage natural burrowing behaviors.
Hognose snakes need at least 3” (8 cm) of substrate for burrowing, although larger snakes will need deeper. 4-5” (10-13 cm) is an acceptable minimum for large adult females.
Good hognose substrates
Wild hognose snakes are found in areas with loose, sandy soil, so the best hognose substrate would be loose and burrowable:
- Sand/soil mix: Composed of 30% play sand and 70% organic (untreated) topsoil, or 3 cups of sand for every 7 cups of soil. This mixture holds burrows that don’t collapse, and closely mimics their natural environment. Replacing some of the topsoil in this ratio with coconut fiber can help it retain more moisture for Eastern and Southern species.
- Lugarti Natural Reptile Bedding: NRB holds moisture well and has odor control properties. Unpacked it may be able to hold burrows. Definitely one of the most expensive options, though.
- Coconut fiber: Cheap and holds moisture well. However it has a reputation for attracting fruit flies and getting quite dusty when dry. Does not hold burrows.
- Aspen chips/shavings: Cheap and attractive. Does not hold moisture or burrows.
- Beech wood chips: Cheap and attractive, but does not hold moisture or burrows.
Impaction should not be a danger with these substrates as long as correct temperatures are provided and the snake is well hydrated. Don’t be alarmed if you never see your snake outside of mealtime — hognoses just really love to burrow!
Bad hognose substrates
- Cedar/pine/fir bark or shavings
- Paper towels
Some would argue that paper towels and newspaper are suitable for hognose snakes, but I disagree. Hognoses are literally built to burrow, and they will try to burrow into any surface they’re on (video example). It’s best for their mental health to keep them on a loose substrate that accommodates this behavior. Paper towels and newspaper are best used for snakes in quarantine.
On bioactive substrate
Bioactive substrates are designed to mimic the animal’s natural environment by creating a micro-habitat that includes detritivore insects and live plants. The result is more or less a self-cleaning enclosure! More information can be found in the files in the Facebook group Reptile & Amphibian Bioactive Setups. Bioactive kits can be found at TheBioDude.com.
Cleaning your hognose snake’s substrate
Spot clean as needed, removing feces immediately. Substrate should be completely removed and replaced ~1x/quarter because urine soaks into it. As mentioned, bioactive substrates don’t need much maintenance, and some can go years without replacement.
If you don’t have a bioactive, the enclosure should be deep-cleaned with a disinfectant like F10 or chlorhexidine once or twice a year. It’s okay for your snake to be exposed to germs — this strengthens their immune system and can help them live longer.