Hognose snakes aren’t constrictors like most of the snakes you’re familiar with, which means they’re not typically strong enough to wrestle with a live feeder rodent and win. For convenience and the safety of your snake, it’s best to offer frozen/thawed prey.
- Hatchlings: Pinky mouse every 3-4 days
- Adults: 2-3 rat fuzzies/pups every 4-5 days
Hognose snakes don’t seem to “expand” as well as other snakes, possibly because they’re not constrictors and had to adapt to smaller, slower prey. Prey items should be the same diameter as the snake’s head, no larger. As the snake grows, gradually increase the size of the prey.
If it is too large, your snake may regurgitate, which is extremely stressful for the snake and can compromise their health. For this reason, it’s better to offer multiple small meals rather than one big meal. Simply wait until the hognose has finished swallowing one prey item, then offer another. If the snake is hungry, it will take it.
- PRO TIP: It is better to feed your hognose hairless rodents than those that are old enough to grow hair. It is said that hair can cause digestive problems, especially with Easterns. We can safely assume that Southerns will also experience trouble, since they are also amphibian specialists.
Preparing the prey
Unlike ball pythons, which rely on warm prey as well as scent to locate and identify prey, hognoses rely on their sense of smell. (“Strong response to anuran chemical cues by an extreme dietary specialist, the eastern hog-nosed snake (Heterodon platirhinos)” by William Cooper and Stephen Secor, 2007). However, it has been observed that hognoses seem to respond better to warm prey items, so it’s possible that the warmth disperses the scent better.
Hognose snakes are also more visually-dependent than other snakes, so you may need to simulate “livelike movement” (just wiggling it around will do) before the snake will strike.
Hognose snakes will strike at prey from any direction, so offer prey from silicone-tipped tongs or tweezers. Using your hands puts you at risk of getting bitten by your snake — not a big deal with hognoses, but not pleasant, either. Don’t handle your hognose for 24-48 hours after feeding, or else it may regurgitate.
Adding variety to your snake’s diet
Wild Western hognoses eat primarily toads, but stomach contents studies reveal that they also eat frogs, salamanders, snakes, lizards, reptile eggs, birds, mammals, and insects on occasion. Birds and mammals, however, are extremely rare. (“Ontogenetic shifts in the diet of plains hog-nosed snakes (Heterodon nasicus) revealed by stable isotope analysis,” by Andrew M. Durso and Stephen J. Mullin)
Here are some non-rodent ideas for feeding your hognose:
- African clawed frogs
- Cane toads
- Cuban tree frogs
- Redback salamanders
- Gray treefrogs
- Quail eggs
- Frozen/thawed anoles
- Dropped gecko tails
If you choose to catch wild amphibians to use as prey, beware of harvesting in areas where they may have been exposed to pesticides or herbicides, as these can poison your snake. Harvest in more woodsy, “natural” areas if possible. If you’re concerned about your snake getting parasites from wild-caught amphibians, freeze them before feeding.
Human-grade cuts of meat or bits of cooked egg can make a nice treat, but they should never be offered regularly because they’re simply not nutritious enough.
- PRO TIP: Buy frozen/thawed feeders in bulk if you can, because you’re more likely to get quality prey from online suppliers and reptile expos than from your local pet store. Also, buying in bulk saves on shipping fees, which are expensive.
What if your hognose doesn’t want to eat?
Lack of appetite is a common problem with hognoses, especially Easterns and Southerns. Refer to the Health section of this guide for tips on getting a reluctant hognose to eat.
A Quick Note About Water
All living things need water, and hognose snakes are no exception.
All three species need a large, heavy water dish large enough to accommodate their entire body if they feel in the mood for a soak. This water dish can also be helpful for increasing humidity if placed on the warm side of the enclosure. Change the water 1x/week and scrub the bowl with mild soap before replacing.
- NOTE: Snakes like to poo in their water sometimes. If this happens, disinfect the bowl with an animal-safe cleaner like chlorhexidine or F-10, rinse thoroughly, and replace with fresh water.
There is a belief that distilled, filtered, or softened water is better for reptiles than tap (hard) water. This is not true, as the lack of minerals creates osmotic imbalance within the snake’s body after ingestion. As a result, the body has to give away its own minerals and electrolytes to restore balance. Over time, this can actually lead to dehydration and malnutrition disorders, even when the snake is eating and drinking regularly. For more information, read Water Treatment Precautions: Hard vs Soft (Filtered) Water.
Use tap water for your snake (if the water in your area is safe), treated with Reptisafe drops if you prefer.