Then I inform them that there
is no need to worry. To get one to
bite, you first would have to either
make the snake believe you are a
lizard, as that is its natural prey, or
scare it so badly that it would bite
as a last resort—they’d rather flee.
In 40 years, I have never seen a
human manage to imitate a lizard
For the sake of argument,
let’s say that you did manage
to convince the snake to bite
you. Rear-fanged snakes need
to work their jaws forward to
get the fangs into position to
envenomate, and this takes some
time. Once the fangs are in
position, the snake would need to
chew for a few minutes to work
a substantial amount of venom
into the wound.
I find it hard to imagine
anyone willing to put up with
this behavior long enough
to become envenomated, but let’s say you did. The
toxicity of the bite might be something on the order of
a bee sting. Now, in all fairness, some people die from
bee stings, as there is always the remote possibility of
an allergic reaction. However, at this point you are
looking at odds so remote one might more reasonably
fear a lightning strike—which is more likely—while
holding that snake.
It turns out that both the vines and the hognoses are
some of the most charming snakes in the hobby. Now
that we’ve conquered the nonsensical terror they invoke,
let’s talk about care.
Vine snakes are tropical and arboreal, so a warm,
moist and tall cage is in order. They have the same sort
of lifestyle as our native green snakes. They spend their
days foraging for lizards high in the brush and descend
at night to the floor to sleep. Give them an 80-90 degree
temperature span, strong UV light and spray down the
cage with water every morning and evening.
They readily feed on house geckoes and anoles. This
can be problematic for potential customers. It is hard
to guarantee a year-round supply of live food and I
have never seen one willing to take pre-killed. Even if
you feel confident in providing food, their predilection
is expensive relative to mouse eaters. The only good solution
is to feed them as frequently as possible when food is readily
available and hope they will have enough stores to tide them
through the winter.
The vine snake is a thing of real beauty—a long,
impossibly slender and elegant body with a forest green
topside and yellow to cream belly. Their heads are designed
to look like a leaf, so their noses are long and pointed. They
can extend their bodies forward without a brace for gravity
defying lengths. Like chameleons, they have binocular
vision, a necessity for arboreal hunting. Because their eyes
can focus forward and they have unusual horizontal pupils,
they can stare directly at you with what looks like an air of
Equally charming is the hognose. Their stout bodies are
patterned with caramel to brown coloring against a cream
background. Their eyes have a permanently stern expression—
much like that of a rattler—but this is offset with an adorable
upturned nose. The truth is that the nose is designed to help
them root though leaf litter in search of prey, but the visual
effect is pure cute.
Note that there are three species of hogs native to the U.S.
and a few unrelated others from around the world. There are
Southerns, Westerns—including a Mexican subspecies—and
Easterns. All three are primarily toad-eaters in the wild, but
only the Westerns—distinguished by their black ventral scales—will readily switch over
to mice. As small toads are even harder and more expensive to provide year-round, I
recommend sticking to the Westerns.
Care for hognoses is pretty basic; treat them like any colubrid—think corn or king
snakes. Keep the temperature around 75-85 degrees, and make sure there’s a hiding
space, water bowl and shavings. I prefer Aspen bedding with hognoses, as it tends to
hold form so that, as they move through it, it retains tunnels for their repeated use. Feed
them with mice once or twice a week.
Should you happen across a toad, it might be a temptation to try it out on your hog.
DO NOT DO THIS! When confronted with a new food, snakes sometimes decide
that this is their new preference and getting them to eat mice again can be a struggle.
The headache is not worth the free meal!
I know that many of my peers in this industry operate in states with little to no
supervision of venomous snakes—including front-fanged species—and for them this
article might seem laughable. I am pleased to be in a state with strict controls against
private ownership of truly dangerous snakes. I think that the inevitable accidents
and escapes with cobras, vipers, etc. will shine a rather poor light on our hobby and
business, and I am happy to not be a part of that.
These snakes, on the other hand, are worthy ambassadors sent to disarm those
predisposed to fear and hostility. Let them work their magic! PB
Owen Maercks has enjoyed being immersed in the world of professional herpetoculture for nearly 40
years. His store, the East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley, Calif., is one of the oldest and largest herptile
specialty stores in the U.S.
It turns out
that both the
of the most
snakes in the