Hognose Temperature, Lighting & Humidity Requirements

Lighting

If you take a close look at a North American hognose snake, you will notice that it has round pupils rather than the typical slitted pupils most people expect from snakes. No, this doesn’t mean that they are nonvenomous. Round pupils actually indicate that hognose snakes are diurnal, meaning that they are awake during the day.

Because hognose snakes are diurnal, providing a source of light in the enclosure during the day is good for their mental health. Use full-spectrum lighting like the Exo Terra Reptile Vision bulb (this is not a heat source). For best results, use a timer to automatically turn them on and off. Standard practice is to create a day/night cycle of 12 hours on, 12 off.

If you would like to stimulate more natural behaviors, however, you can program your timer to mimic seasonal daylight as occurs in North America:

  • Spring — 14 hours on, 10 hours off
  • Summer — 16 hours on, 8 hours off
  • Autumn — 10 hours on, 14 hours off
  • Winter — 8 hour on, 16 hours off

Do not place the enclosure directly in front of a window! The natural light may be tempting as a way to save electricity, but sunlight is well known to overheat reptile enclosures.

Do hognose snakes need UVB?

UVB lighting is not *technically* necessary, but it is beneficial, as snakes can and do synthesize vitamin D3 from exposure to UVB wavelengths.

What is UVB?

The sun produces 3 types of ultraviolet radiation: UVA, UVB, and UVC. Collectively these are referred to as “UV rays.” You are probably familiar with UV rays — those are what cause skin cancer, right? Yes…but there’s more to it. UVB is the primary culprit behind sunburns and skin cancer, but it also plays a critical role in helping humans’ and animals’ bodies make vitamin D3.

How is UVB good for hognose snakes?

Like humans, snakes get most of their vitamin D3 from the animals that they eat. So technically they don’t need UVB lighting to help them make more. But it is still possible for a snake not to get enough D3 from their food, especially if their food is vitamin D deficient. Providing UVB helps prevent potential D3 deficiency if the food doesn’t provide enough.

Also, did you know that reptiles have better vision than humans? While UVA and UVB are invisible to us, reptiles can see them like an extra color in the rainbow. Many keepers have observed more activity and overall better health in their snakes after adding UV lighting.

What UVB should you use for hognose snakes?

Hognoses are fossorial, which means they don’t get a whole lot of sun exposure in the wild. Use a 6% T5 Arcadia Forest bulb or a 10% T8 Zoo Med Reptisun fluorescent tube no more than ½ the terrarium’s length. If your enclosure has a screen lid, install the light over the lid. Then make sure to provide lots of hiding places and potential basking spots so your snake can choose how much UVB it wants at the moment.

Hognose Temperatures, Lighting & Humidity — Western hognose enjoying some natural sunlight

Photo contributed by Krista Childers.

Temperatures

Snakes are cold-blooded, which means that they don’t produce their own body heat like humans do. Instead, they rely on the temperature of their environment for the heat they need to move, digest, etc.

There is no one “ideal” hognose temperature. Instead, they need a range of temperatures inside the enclosure so that they can warm up and cool down when they feel like it.

Eastern and Southern hognoses —

  • Basking zone: 86-88°F (30-31°C)
  • Mid-range: 75-85°F (24-29°C)
  • Nighttime temps: no colder than 70°F (21°C)

Western hognoses —

  • Basking zone: 90-95°F (32-35°C)
  • Mid-range: 75-85°F (24-29°C)
  • Nighttime temps: no colder than 70°F (21°C)

The temperatures listed above reflect the ideal range of surface temperatures throughout the enclosure, and what matters most to the snake. The most accurate way to measure surface temperature is with an infrared temperature gun like the Etekcity Lasergrip 774.

Heating your hognose snake enclosure

Conventional wisdom for achieving the right hognose temperature is to use a heat mat, and some people will argue in favor of heat mats until the day they die. But nature doesn’t have heat mats, and temperatures underground tend to be *cooler* than temperatures on the surface, not warmer. Heat mats also have trouble penetrating the thick layer of bedding required for hognoses and often don’t affect air temperature.

Instead of using a heat mat, use a ceramic-socket heat lamp or radiant heat panel to create the temperatures that your snake needs. To best create a temperature gradient, place it on the far end of the enclosure — temperatures will naturally get cooler farther from the heat source. Many reptile keepers use halogen floodlight bulbs instead of reptile-specific bulbs because they last much longer than the ones you get at the pet store. Go figure!

  • PRO TIP: If your heat bulb is installed inside of the enclosure rather than behind a screen lid, install a mesh guard to create a barrier between your snake and the super-hot heat bulb. Hognose snakes may be fossorial, but they still like to climb!

What wattage of heat bulb will you need?

I wish I could give you a direct answer, but it depends on the size of your enclosure and how far away the light is installed from the basking surface. Generally speaking, a 70w halogen flood light is a good place to start. But be aware that you may need to increase or decrease the wattage in order to get the right temps. Using a lamp dimmer with a higher-wattage heat bulb can help save some frustration by giving you more control over how much heat is produced.

Hognose snakes have also been observed basking on rocks in the wild, so placing a flat stone underneath the heat source may help them warm up more efficiently.

  • PRO TIP: If you live in Europe, heat your enclosure with the Arcadia Deep Heat Projector bulb. Instead of only producing IR-C infrared wavelengths (heat), it emits IR-A and IR-B to warm your reptile more effectively. I pray that these will become available in the US soon!

Hognose snakes don’t need any kind of “night bulb” to keep them warm at night. These products were developed back in the day when we believed that reptiles needed to stay warm when their normal heat lamps were turned off. At best, a heatless black light can simulate moonlight, which may or may not stimulate natural behaviors (this is still being researched). At worst providing a nighttime heat bulb can prevent a diurnal reptile from sleeping well, and can even weaken their immune system.

DO NOT USE HEAT ROCKS!

Heat rocks (also known as hot rocks/rock heaters/etc.) are manufactured and distributed under the same premise as an electric blanket — convenient heat whenever your reptile needs it. Sounds like a great idea, right? However, heat rocks are notoriously unreliable, and many a reptile has lost its life due to severe burns caused by these devices. They’re also not a good choice for heating your enclosure, as it only warms the rock’s surface, not the surrounding air.

Hognose Temperatures, Lighting & Humidity — Eastern hognose in its natural environment

Eastern hognose. Photo contributed by Krista Childers.

Don’t forget the thermostat!

A thermostat is a device that regulates the electricity which goes to your heating equipment, thereby regulating how hot that equipment can get. Without a thermostat, your snake is in danger of getting burned or overheating. It’s essential for reptile heating products like heat mats and radiant heat panels, but is also a good idea for new reptile keepers to use with heat lamps and ceramic heat emitters, with the probe placed directly under the heat source on the basking surface.

Trusted thermostats on today’s market include:

While thermostats are not optional for heat mats and radiant heat panels, more experienced reptile owners can use a lamp dimmer (whether separate or built into the lamp) and the previously-mentioned temp gun to achieve the desired surface temperature in the basking area. I repeat: this should only be attempted by experienced keepers!

Humidity

Western hognoses need relatively dry conditions — 30% minimum, 50% maximum. Usually a large water dish will produce all the humidity your snake needs. Keep the bowl on the unheated side of the enclosure to prevent excess humidity.

Eastern and Southern hognoses prefer slightly higher humidity — 50-60%, especially when they’re about to shed. Place the water dish on the warm side of the enclosure for a humidity boost. Offering a humid hide (hide stuffed with moist sphagnum moss) and mixing water directly into the bedding is a good way to help accommodate this need.


Next → What kind of bedding is best for your hognose?