“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. In particular, this burrowing behavior helps them thermoregulate by providing a means to escape uncomfortably hot or cold conditions. 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 peat moss can help it retain more moisture for Eastern and Southern species.
- The BioDude Terra Sahara bioactive kit: Bioactive-ready substrate that holds tunnels well and controls odors. Works best for Western hognoses.
- The BioDude Terra Firma bioactive kit: Bioactive-ready substrate that holds tunnels well, controls odors, and holds humidity well for Eastern and Southern hognoses.
- Josh’s Frogs BioBedding DESERT Bioactive Substrate: Bioactive-ready substrate suitable for western hognoses.
- Lugarti Natural Reptile Bedding: NRB holds moisture well and has odor control properties. Unpacked it may be able to hold burrows.
- Aspen shavings: Cheap and easy to clean. 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 shavings (source)
- Coconut fiber
- 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.
What about bioactive?
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 Bioactive Reptile & Amphibian Setups USA, as well as in my blog posts on the subject.
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 F10SC or Rescue 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.
Keep reading about hognose snake care:
- Introduction to Hognose Snakes
- Hognose Shopping List
- Species of the Heterodon Genus
- Terrarium Size Guidelines
- Lighting, Temperature & Humidity Requirements
- Substrate Options for Hognose Snakes
- Environmental Enrichment: Decorating the Terrarium
- Feeding Your Hognose Snake
- Handling Tips & Body Language Info
- Common Diseases & Hognose Health Questions
- Additional Resources