Everything You Need to Know About Gopher Snakes

Posted by Samantha Bubar

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Gopher snakes, Pituophis catenifer, are commonly found in most parts of North America, from Mexico to Canada and the United States, making them a highly adaptable and hardy reptile. They are ground dwelling and nonvenomous, and spend most of their time slowly searching burrows, rocks, and cracks for prey. Their common names include Pacific gopher snake or western gopher snake. Subspecies of the genus are sometimes called bull snakes or pine snakes and include the Sonoran gopher snake and the Great Basin gopher snake. These are all of the colubrid or colubridae snake family, which are the largest, “typical” snake genus.

Gopher snakes subdue their prey by constriction and make bold and curious pets. Precautions must be taken to ensure their enclosure is escape-proof! They have minimal requirements and live for 15-plus years. These snakes do not give birth to live young; instead they lay eggs.

Gopher snakes are often mistaken for rattlesnakes and vipers due to their dark brown coloration with red blotches and dark spots on their backs, and similar defense mechanisms. When threatened, gopher snakes puff up and curl into a strike pose, much like a pit viper. But instead of striking with an open mouth, like a viper, they strike with a closed mouth, warning the predator to back off.

These snakes also mimic the tail shaking of a rattlesnake and make a noise with their mouth that sounds almost identical to the rattle of a rattlesnake. Both of these tactics are to trick predators into thinking they are a bigger threat than they are.

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Head

They have a narrow head, which is one way to differentiate them from diamond back rattlesnakes, which they are often mistaken as.

Mouth

When threatened, they hiss loudly, as well as make a rattling sound to mimic the rattlesnake.

Eyes

Gopher snakes have round eyes with round pupils, which is another way to tell them apart from the snakes they try to imitate.

Coloration

The back of these snakes range from yellow to tan with dark brownish patches and their belly is a light yellow color, sometimes with light brown markings.

Length

Around one foot is typical for hatchlings, while adults grow to a heavy-bodied 4-5 feet.

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Everything You Need to Know About Gopher Snakes