There’s no doubt about it: Hognose snakes are some of the most endearing serpents available to hobbyists. Their upturned rostral scales make them undeniably cute, their size is nearly perfect for captive maintenance, and they’re generally pretty well-mannered critters, who don’t usually mind gentle handling.
They do occasionally present some feeding challenges, and you’ll want to exercise care thanks to the fangs they possess in the rear portion of their mouths, but many hobbyists are happy to overlook these drawbacks and keep these glorious animals as pets.
But there’s also one interesting fact that makes these snakes even more popular than they’ve ever been: Hognose snakes are available in a litany of color and pattern mutations. This means you’re not limited to “normal looking” (often called “wild-type”) hognose snakes; you can purchase one in any number of mind-blowing colors and patterns.
In fact, because there are so many hognose snake mutations (also called “morphs”) on the market, fledgling hognose snake enthusiasts can often feel overwhelmed. But don’t worry! We’re here to help.
Below, we’ll run down some of the most common hognose snake morphs, describe the way they look, and explain the pattern of inheritance the mutation exhibits. This should help you decide what hognose snake mutation seems most appealing to you.
24 Common Hognose Snake Morphs
Strange-looking hognose snakes hatch all the time, but it takes a while for breeders and hobbyists to confirm that the odd appearance of these individuals is the result of a heritable condition. Those that are will typically end up being considered a morph, while those that are not will usually be considered the result of natural, random variation.
Point being, the hognose snake morphs available on the market can change over time. But currently, there are approximately 24 recognized morphs from which hobbyists can choose. We’ll discuss the basics of each below.
Note for clarity: We’re focusing on morphs of the western hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus) below. There may be other morphs available for eastern or southern hognose snakes, but because western hognose snakes undoubtedly dominate the marketplace, those are the ones on which we’ll concentrate.
Wild type (also known as “normal”) hognose snakes have evolved colors and patterns that help them to survive in their natural habitat. This typically manifests in a khaki to brown ground color, with a single row of darker brown blotches or spots down the back. On the sides, wild type hognose snakes typically exhibit two rows of staggered, smaller, and even darker spots.
Most of the genes associated with the wild type “morph,” are dominant, but there are exceptions.
Albino hognose snakes produce no melanin – the darkest of the three primary pigments snakes produce. Technically, the term “amelanistic” would be more accurate, but most keepers use the term albino in colloquial contexts.
Deprived of the ability to produce melanin, albino hognose snakes have typical patterns, but they’re clad in red, yellows and orange hues. They also exhibit bright red eyes, as their eyes also lack dark pigment (thereby allowing you to see the blood in their eyes).
The albino mutation is simple recessive in hognose snakes.
The term “hypo” is actually an abbreviation of the term hypomelanistic – and this helps to explain the morph. Whereas amelanistic (albino) hognose snakes produce no melanin, hypomelanistic hognose snakes simply produce less melanin than normal-looking animals.
This normally results in animals that feature purple or grey tones where they’d normally be dark brown, and the light pattern elements are often much brighter than normal.
However, it is important to note that there are three different hognose snake hypo morphs on the market.
These snakes exhibit true hypomelanism, and they typically have extraordinarily bright color patterns. Their dorsal splotches, for example, are usually orange rather than brown. The gene associated with true hypo hognose snakes is passed on in simple recessive fashion.
Most breeders agree that the Dutch Hypo morph is not an example of true hypomelanism, but that’s the name often applied to these snakes. Passed on in a simple-recessive fashion, these snakes are very light in color, and the areas that are normally dark brown are grey to lavender in color.
Much remains to be learned about the green hypo mutation – including its pattern of inheritance. It may be a dominant trait, but some breeders suspect that it is a polygenetic trait. In either case, it results in a reduced dorsal pattern and a mottled belly, which becomes darker with age.
As an incomplete-dominant / co-dominant trait, the anaconda morph comes in two forms. The “conda” version features only a single copy of the gene and displays a faded/reduced dorsal pattern with a nearly all-black belly. By contrast, the “superconda” version – snakes with two copies of the mutated gene – are almost completely patternless and appear as a uniform khaki or greenish-brown snake (most retain the head markings of normal hognose snakes).
The arctic trait is another example of an incomplete-dominant / co-dominant trait, so there are two forms. “Arctic” hognose snakes possess only a single copy of the mutated gene and display a high-contrast color pattern. The appearance of these animals is sometimes tricky to distinguish from some other morphs, so look for flecking all over the body and black outlines around dark pattern elements. “Superarctic” hognose snakes have two copies of the gene, and exhibit a more extreme version of the morph. These animals are darker, appearing almost black at the time of hatching. But, they change color over their lives, eventually becoming nearly black and white in general appearance.
Axanthism refers to snakes who do not produce yellow pigments. In hognose snakes, this results in animals who appear nearly grey, though they still exhibit the typical, “wild-type” pattern. The axanthic mutation is passed on in simple recessive fashion among hognose snakes.
The term “caramel” is usually applied to a type of amelanism found in many snake species (technically called tyrosinase-positive amelanism). It isn’t 100% clear that this is what is occurring in hognose snakes who exhibit the caramel morph, but they do exhibit the same general appearance. Essentially, caramel hognose snakes are clad in peach to pink hues, and they exhibit a drastically reduced head pattern. The caramel trait is inherited in a simple recessive fashion.
Extreme red hognose snakes are the result of a polygenetic trait – they were essentially produced by selectively breeding hognose snakes with more red coloration over many generations. Accordingly, most snakes from extreme red lineages exhibit very pronounced red coloration. Occasionally, breeders incorporate the extreme red morph with other color morphs to create spectacular-looking animals.
The granite mutation is a bit strange and varies quite a bit in living animals. It is thought to be a dominant trait, though some breeders suspect that there are also polygenetic factors involved with the specific appearance of individual animals. Granite hognose snakes bear aberrant patterns and black lines around the dorsal blotches, but once again, individuals with the trait vary pretty significantly.
The jaguar trait is dominant and appears to manifest in the same type of appearance, whether the snake has one copy of the gene or two. However, some breeders suspect that other genes influence this morph and alter the appearance of individuals exhibiting the morph. This trait results in an aberrant pattern with dark outlines around the dorsal saddles. The saddles themselves are often described as having a “blushed” or “faded” appearance.
The lavender trait – which is inherited in simple recessive fashion – is likely some type of hypomelanistic trait. The end result is a very light-colored animal that exhibits a distinct lavender to pink hue. Unlike true amelanistic animals, the lavender hognose snake displays a dark tongue and dark eyes. The lavender morph can produce very interesting results when combined with other morphs.
Unlike many other hognose snake morphs, the lemon ghost morph is associated with a lifelong change in appearance. As these snakes age, they’ll begin developing more and more obvious yellow coloration, and the contrast between the ground color and saddle markings will begin to decrease. These snakes also exhibit reduced belly patterns and an overall hazy or faded appearance.
The leucistic morph creates some of the most striking hognose snakes in the world. As a simple recessive trait, a single copy of the associated gene will not change the appearance of these animals. However, individuals that have two copies of this recessive gene will appear all white. But, unlike amelanistic (“albino”) hognose snakes, they’ll exhibit no pattern at all and possess black to dark blue eyes.
The mocha trait results in very handsome animals, with larger, darker dorsal blotches than normal and a base color that is closer to cream than brown. Some individuals may exhibit a tiger-like banding, but others have blotches that are nearly square in shape. It isn’t completely clear how this trait is passed on, or if there is a true “super” form (meaning that the trait appears different when an animal possesses two copies of the mutated gene and exhibit a different appearance than those with only a single copy). Nevertheless, the mutation appears to be passed on in some form of dominant fashion.
The pink pastel trait is essentially a form of amelanism, but it yields a slightly different appearance than a typical amelanistic animal. Pink pastels feature no melanin, very bright coloration, and an overall pink hue. Over time, animals exhibiting this simple recessive trait tend to lose their contrast, as they slowly become covered in a diffuse pink wash.
The pistachio morph is somewhat challenging to describe. The product of a simple recessive trait, pistachio hognose snakes typically exhibit a very light (nearly white) ground color, while their dorsal blotches are light brown; virtually no melanin is present on the dorsal surface. Ventrally, these snakes often bear purple-tinted hues.
Purple hognose snakes are essentially extreme red animals whose color tends to be closer to maroon than pure red. A polygenetic trait, purple-line hognose snakes are often used in amelanistic projects to help create higher-contrast albino animals.
As occurs in many other snake species, the pastel mutation usually triggers relatively subtle differences in color when compared to normal animals. Individuals exhibiting this dominant mutation are typically very “clean” with high-contrast markings and a slightly lighter-colored appearance. As with some other mutations, this morph is often used to make other morphs appear more extreme.
Likely a form of hypomelanism, the sable morph results in very distinct-looking animals. Typically, these snakes appear much darker than normal, as though the melanin production of the animal has been increased. Oddly, these snakes may exhibit translucent scales on portions of their body too, particularly among the ventral scales. This trait is inherited in simple recessive fashion.
The shadow morph is very interesting, even though the overall appearance it causes is a bit subtle. Shadow hognose snakes typically have darker markings than normal, and their blotches are often distinctly square in shape. However, these snakes derive their name from the grey to blue colored scales that often outline their blotches. These markings give the appearance of shadows, hence the name for this dominant mutation.
The Swiss chocolate morph is one of the most interesting and attractive hognose snake mutations available on the modern market. In fact, the Swiss chocolate mutation makes hognose snakes look very different than wild-type animals, and it frequently turns heads.
The Swiss chocolate mutation is essentially a hypermelanistic morph, meaning that it results in more melanin than usual. The result is a very dark brown snake, who’s overall color may vary from nearly black to a rich, russet brown. The head pattern is usually greatly reduced and darkened, and the ventral scales are often black or light brown.
This is a fairly new color mutation, which isn’t common in the marketplace. However, it will undoubtedly become more common and widespread in coming years.
A polygenetic pattern mutation, the tiger morph results in animals that have more of a banded (rather than blotched) pattern. Like most other polygenetic morphs, the degree of banding varies from one individual to the next. This morph does not appear to alter the color of the animals displaying it, which makes it an interesting ingredient for multi-morph projects.
The toffee morph is quite interesting. It is essentially a different type of albino often referred to in other species as “paradox albino.” It derives this name from the fact that these animals are predominately amelanistic (they display albino-like colors), but they also feature varying amounts of jet-black markings. Different individuals exhibit different amounts of black coloration, and the number of black scales will often vary over time. This is a simple recessive mutation.
The twinspot morph is a pattern mutation that doesn’t affect the animal’s color. Instead, it results in a disruption of the snake’s pattern; rather than bearing a single row of square to round blotches down the back, twinspot hognose snakes exhibit a paired row of spots. This is a polygenetic trait, so it can be tricky to reliably reproduce and it varies significantly.
Patterns of Inheritance: A Quick Review
Before delving into specific hognose snake mutations available to hobbyists, we need to take a step back and review the major patterns of inheritance – the ways in which these mutations are passed on from parent to offspring. Understanding these patterns will help you understand the economics behind hognose snake morphs and their availability.
Don’t worry, we’ll keep things straightforward.
To begin, understand that morphs and the genetic mutations associated with them are passed from parent to offspring in one of several ways. We’ll discuss four of the most common such patterns below.
Dominant traits are expressed (change the look of an animal) whenever they’re present. Even if a snake has only a single copy of a dominant gene, it will display the appearance that gene causes. Most genes associated with the wild or normal appearance of hognose snakes are dominant.
Because only one copy of a dominant gene is required to alter the appearance of a snake, and it is easy to determine that a snake is in possession of the gene in question (if they possess the visual traits associated with the gene, they obviously possess the gene), dominant traits multiply quickly and become common in the marketplace in a short period of time.
Simple Recessive Traits
Simple recessive traits are – essentially – the opposite of dominant traits. If they occur alongside a dominant gene, their expression is repressed, and they don’t alter the appearance of the animal in question. However, if both copies of a given gene are recessive, then the genes will be expressed, and the snake’s appearance will usually change.
Because snakes must have two copies of a recessive gene to display the morph associated with the mutation, it takes much longer for recessive morphs to become common in the marketplace. Additionally, it is impossible to tell if a snake possesses a copy of the mutated gene by simply looking at it.
Co-Dominant / Incomplete Dominant Traits
Technically speaking, there are differences between co-dominant and incomplete dominant traits. However, in the case of snakes, they typically manifest in very similar ways. Co-dominant and incomplete dominant traits will typically change the appearance of a snake when a single copy is present. In this way, they function somewhat similarly to dominant traits.
However, when two copies of the gene are present, they often exhibit a more extreme version of the morph or a different visual appearance entirely. Because you can tell whether or not an animal is in possession of a co-dominant or incomplete dominant mutation by looking at it, co-dominant and incomplete dominant mutations tend to become common at the same rate as dominant traits.
It is important to note that not all morphs or hognose snake appearances are controlled by a single gene. Many are instead caused by collections of genes, acting in concert with one another. These types of morphs are termed polygenetic.
Polygenetic morphs are passed on and inherited in much more complicated manners than the three other patterns of inheritance discussed above. It is often nearly impossible to predict how often they’re likely to occur in a given clutch of snakes, and in some cases, they don’t manifest in offspring at all.
Accordingly, polygenetic traits can become very widespread very quickly, or – more commonly – they can prove frustrating to recreate.
How Do You Care for Hognose Snake Morphs?
If you’re a fledgling snake keeper you may be wondering how the care and maintenance of hognose snake morphs differs from that of normal, wild-type individuals. Although there may be occasional exceptions, the vast majority will require the exact same care that their normal-looking counterparts require.
This means you’ll need to provide them with:
- A suitable habitat that provides at least 20 gallons of space (and preferably more)
- A safe substrate, such as cypress mulch
- A heat lamp and thermometer to help provide and monitor the temperatures inside your pet’s habitat
- At least one hiding space (though several hiding places will provide even greater security for your pet)
You’ll also need to feed your snake as you would any other hognose snake and maintain his habitat on a regular basis.
Note that some hobbyists worry that albino snakes (those with red eyes) may be more sensitive to bright lights than normal hognose snakes. It isn’t clear if this is true or not, but just be sure to provide plenty of shaded retreats your pet can use if desired.
Hognose snakes – even unspectacular individuals crawling through their natural habitats — are inherently attractive animals. In fact, that’s part of the reason they’ve been so popular with hobbyists for decades. However, if you’d like a hognose snake with a little bit different appearance, consider giving morphs a try.
They don’t exhibit any significant husbandry challenges when compared to normal-looking individuals, and although some are very expensive, many are available for very reasonable prices that are within the range of the average snake hobbyist.