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Telos Vivaria: A Plains Hognose Setup

Medli is our wild type hognose! It has been incredible watching him become more outgoing and explorative in his naturalistic, bioactive enclosure.


The Species: Heterodon nasicus

Cat gecko on cork bark

Plains hognose snakes (commonly called Western hognoses in the herp world) are stupendously cute, small snakes that have explosively grown in popularity in the past decade.

These snakes are technically produce "venom" (an enzyme that is effective against amphibians) which they secrete from their upper back teeth, but they very unlikely to bite and envenomate someone. Because they are "rear fanged" and essentially need to chew on their prey in order to secrete the venom, significant bites are very rare - normally the worst that happens is localized swelling.

Plains hognoses use their upturned snouts to seek through the damp soil for their main food items, which as adults are turtle eggs, as well as toads and other amphibians.

Hognoses have the delightful behavior of "playing dead" when feeling threatened. We haven't seen Medli do this as he hasn't been sufficiently spooked, but it's a very interesting behavior to see!


Our Husbandry Goals:

In order to support the welfare of our snake inhabitant, our goal is to provide an excellent setup that allows for:

  • Seeking varied food items in a natural "riparian" zone

  • Basking and thermoregulation via a heat gradient

  • Multiple hides with varying substrate humidity

  • Interacting with natural textures via substrate, plants, branches, rocks, bark, etc.


Plains Hognose Natural Habitat:

Heterodon nasicus is found over a range of the central United States, including Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota, with some individuals living as far north as southern "central" Canada and as far east as Chicago - though as you go east across the United States, you will primarily find Eastern hognose snakes instead. Most Plains hognoses in the wild are spotted around streams/rivers/ponds where their primary food items are found.

Climate: The central US is quite seasonal - with winter temps dipping below freezing, and hot, humid summers. Considering the cold winter months, plains hognoses will brumate until weather warms and their food items are more accessible.

Example Locations: *source:,

Midland, Texas, USA

Pueblo, Colorado, USA

Fargo, North Dakota, USA

Annual high temps




Annual low temps




Annual humidity




Annual hours of daylight




Typical Vegetation: Lots of grasses out in the plains, with sandy soil. Perennial shrubs, lots of small annual and perennial plants. Larger trees and shrubs closer to water sources. They have a large range, so the types of plants vary!


The Setup:


We're using an Exo-Terra "Large Low" front opening enclosure, 36x18x12."

Substrate & Drainage Layer

No drainage layer! A mix of sand, top soil, leaf litter, and peat moss. We want it burrow-able but also able to support the plants.

Cleanup Crew (CUC)

Assorted springtails (silver and white), and Porcellio scaber 'Calico' isopods because they naturally occur in plains hognose range. Rathke's isopods are also native to their range and would have been a good choice!


Large rotting "log" piece, branches, rocks, a hollow faux-rock hide, and the "watering hole."


Currently testing out these plants to see what thrives long term: Mondo grass, dandelions, broad-leaf plantain, blue violets, phlox subulata, Ficus benjamina as a faux "tree," creeping thyme, and clover. We want to add a grass or two as well but have not added any yet!

Temps, Lighting, and Humidity

Ambient room temp is 65-75* year round. Full spectrum lighting for plants, basking light on warm side, natural daylight in later afternoon through window. Humidity maintained by watering the plants, the large "water feature" and ambient room humidity 30% or higher.


We know from field research that wild plains hognose snakes eat primarily lizards and lizard eggs, frogs and toads, and turtle eggs in particular as adults. To mimic more natural feeding behaviors, we feed around the water feature where he would naturally look for food. We hope to source some lizard/turtle eggs in particular to bury in the damp soil to see if he will excavate them! He didn't have a great appetite for the first several months with us, but has completely changed since moving into this bioactive setup. He has a good appetite (we've also improved our feeding strategy) and is so much more active! So far we have fed frogs/toads, and small fuzzy mice that have been dunked in one of our freshwater aquariums to add a "pond smell." He is much more excited to eat if we spray down the right side of the enclosure as if it had rained!

Build Progress:

Final Results:

Here's a link to an Instagram Reel of Medli exploring his setup once it was complete!

Additional reading:


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