Nagabaskaran, G., Skinner, M., Miller, N. 2022. Western hognose snakes (Heterodon nasicus) prefer environmental enrichment. Animals 12(23), 3347.
The environmental enrichment needs of snakes are often disregarded. Using preference testing, we aimed to shed light on the enrichment preferences of a popular pet species, the western hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus). Snakes’ enclosures were divided into enriched and standard sides. The enriched half had substrate for burrowing, interactive stimuli, and a large water dish. The standard half had paper towel substrate and a small water dish. Each side also contained a single shelter. We provided belly heat to create a thermal gradient on one side of the cage. Snakes were observed for 6 days, four times daily. We predicted a preference for enriched conditions and, as snakes are ectothermic, a preference for the warmer side. Snakes were additionally given an exploration assay, to explore whether differences in preference for environmental enrichment interact with boldness levels. We found that hognose snakes preferred enrichment, and the strength of this preference increased over time. Preference for enrichment was stronger when the enriched side was cooler. This may be due to the burrowing tendencies of these snakes. We found no relationship between preference and boldness. These findings emphasise the importance of preference testing in establishing research-informed enrichment opportunities for reptiles.