Description: Many people confuse Tricolor Hognose Snakes (Xenodon pulcher) with their cousins, Western Hognose Snakes (Heterodon nasicus), which are common in the hobby. Though they superficially resemble each other in body shape, there are notable differences between the two species.
The first difference is their size; Tricolor Hognose snakes are somewhat smaller than their North American cousins, attaining a maximum length of about 24 inches. Additionally, they are not quite as stout-bodied as Western Hognoses.
The other, and most obvious, difference that I will mention is X. pulcher’s striking coloration. With alternating bands of red, black and white, it is likely that Tricolor Hognose Snakes are Coral Snake mimics. This kind of coloration is common amongst South American colubrids, and serves as a defense mechanism to warn off predators by tricking their would-be attackers into thinking that their prey is more dangerous than it actually is. That said, X. pulcher is technically venomous, though not in the same way as their coral snake look-alikes or the infamous family Viperidae, and not nearly as dangerous. This is because Tricolor Hognoses, and all Hognose Snakes for that matter, are what is called “rear-fanged venomous.” This means that unlike vipers and other venomous snakes who have their venom-injecting fangs at the front of their mouths, hognoses have them in the back. This actually makes it much more difficult for them to envenomate a target, as well as the fact that their fangs are much shorter than those of most other venomous snakes. Tricolor Hognoses and their relatives actually have to make a kind of chewing motion in order for their fangs to pierce skin. In addition to this, hognose snakes have very weak venom that is almost exclusively used for subduing prey, and not for defense. Taken together, this means that you are very unlikely to be bitten and envenomated by a Tricolor Hognose, and if you are you needn’t worry as their bite is roughly equivalent to a bee sting. Still though, if you are bitten, it is prudent to monitor the bite for the next few hours for swelling. If you experience swelling or other indications of an allergic reaction a trip to the hospital may be warranted as a precaution. As a rule, it is a good idea to treat any animal with respect and care, and to understand that most of them will bite you when they feel threatened or injured. Finally, it is worth noting that Tricolor Hognoses are somewhat prone to making “false strikes,” lunging at you without the intent to bite, but this is just a bluff they use to scare off predators. They often do this if they are being handled and are not accustomed to it, so keep this in mind so that you don’t startle and drop them. Typically, this behavior lessens or goes away entirely with regular handling.
One thing X. pulcher shares in common with H. nasicus, however, is their adorable upturned noses! This is actually an adaptation for burrowing through the ground where they spend much of their time, and it’s what has earned them the moniker of “hognose.” They use their upturned noses like a shovel to push through their substrate, and I personally find it an interesting behavior to observe.
Native Range: Tricolor Hognose Snakes are native to tropical forests in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia.
Lifespan: Approximately 8 years
Diet: In the wild Tricolor Hognoses likely subsist on a diet of small lizards, frogs and invertebrates, however they readily take mice of an appropriate size in captivity. Our store associates can assist you with selecting an appropriately sized mouse.
Housing: A 10-gallon tank is considered the bare minimum recommended size for one adult Tricolor Hognose, however my personal recommendation would be to go with a 20-gallon Long. This will afford your snake with more space for burrowing and exploring, and for selecting an optimal compromise between heat, humidity, and security when looking for a hiding spot.
Because Tricolor Hognoses are a terrestrial, burrowing species, horizontal space is more important than vertical space, and there is little need to provide a lot of things for them to climb on. Instead, furnish your enclosure with at least 4 inches of substrate, and lots of pieces of flat bark and leaf litter to hide under and burrow through. By providing your snake with many different places to hide you will make them feel more secure in their new home, and they will therefore be more likely to come out an explore. You should also choose a substrate that will hold humidity to facilitate shedding and replicate their natural habitat. Live or fake plants may also be added to make things look more natural for them, and to provide another type of hiding area.
Lastly, you should provide your snake with a water bowl large enough to soak their whole body in.
Temperature and Lighting: As they spend their lives living on the forest floor, it is unlikely that Tricolor Hognoses require UV. I do recommend providing a small basking spot, however too much bright light will likely discourage them from coming out during the day. To accomplish this, I recommend using a low-wattage halogen bulb on one end of the cage.
Temperatures inside the cage should not exceed 80 degrees F (27 degrees C) and they should not be allowed to fall below 70 degrees F (21 degrees C). If you require more supplemental heating in addition to your basking light, I recommend using and under-tank heating cable on the same side as the basking spot. You should allow one side of the tank to remain cooler than the other, however, as snakes are ectothermic and regulate their body temperatures by moving to hotter or cooler parts of their surroundings.
Additional Notes: Tricolor Hognoses are certainly an attractive, and adorable species, and can be handleable if treated with patience and care. They have very specific needs, however, and I urge you to consider this before purchasing one. Always make sure you are appropriately prepared to provide for the care of any animal you intend to acquire.
-Zilla Critter Cage 20-gallon Long
-Exo Terra Plantation Soil
-Zoo Med Cork Bark
-Exo Terra Equatorial Forest Floor
-Exo Terra Jungle Plants
-Exo Terra Med/Lg Water Dish
-Exo Terra 75W Halogen Basking Bulb
-Exo Terra 14 cm Light Dome
by Andrew Cumming