Pituophis Catenifer – Pacific Gopher Snake

Pituophis Catenifer - Pacific Gopher Snake information bullsnake, western gopher snake

The Pacific gopher snake, Pituophis catenifer, is a nonvenomous snake found in the Western United States, Canada and Mexico. It is commonly called the Pacific gopher snake, Western gopher snake or coast gopher snake. The bullsnake is one of its five subspecies. This nonvenomous and harmless constrictor snake mimicks the behavior and appearance of venomous rattlesnakes to deter attackers.

Description

The base coloration of the Pacific gopher snake is sand or beige. Then have several very dark, often black geometric blotches on their back. On the sides, these blotches are broken up into a number of dark, irregular spots.

Within its geographic range, the harmless Pacific gopher snake is often mistaken for the venomous western rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis). The blotches of the gopher snake are generally more rectangular while the western rattlesnake has rounder blotches. Also, the head of the rattlesnake is triangle-shaped while the Pacific gopher snake has a narrow and straight head.

Bullsnake - Pituophis catenifer sayi in forest in illinois
A dark bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) found in Illinois. Photo: Peter Paplanus

Juvenile Pacific gopher snakes are very light in color, sometimes even white. The light colored scales allow them to hide in the sand without being seen by predators.

Size

An adult Pacific gopher snake reaches a size of 40-80 inches (100-200 cm).

Pituophis Catenifer - Pacific Gopher Snake information bullsnake, western gopher snake
A young Sonoran gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer affinis) found in New Mexico. Photo: Patrick Alexander

Hunting Behavior and Habitat

Pacific gopher snakes are constrictor snakes. That means that they use their body to soffocating their prey by wrapping themselves around it. Their preferred prey are small mammals, especially gophers. Their dietary preference have also given them their common name. Gopher snakes are great swimmers as well as great climbers and have adapted to live in a wide range of habitats. The snakes like to bury in ground and therefore prefer areas with loose soil or desert areas.

Bite and Defense

The Pacific gopher snake is a nonveomous snake. When the snake feels threatened, it rolls up its body and raises its head, ready to strike. This is the same defensive position that rattlesnakes also use. In addition to the position, the gopher snake also mimics the tail rattling of the rattlesnake. This mimicked rattling can sound quite convincing on the right surface, even though the gopher snake does not have a rattle on its tail. In addition, the snake makes hissing noises with its throat.

When an attacker gets too close, the gopher snake will strike. However, it does usually not open its mouth an bite but rather punch the intruder with a quick movement. For humans, they pose no danger.

Pituophis catenifer sayi bullsnake in New Mexico
A bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) found in New Mexico. Photo: Patrick Alexander

Pacific Gopher Snake range in the USA

In the USA, the Pacific gohper snake can be found in the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Subspecies of Pituophis catenifer and their common name

  • Pituophis catenifer affinis – Sonoran gopher snake    
  • Pituophis catenifer annectens – San Diego gopher snake    
  • Pituophis catenifer bimaris – Central Baja California gopher snake  
  • Pituophis catenifer catenifer – Pacific gopher snake   
  • Pituophis catenifer coronalis – Coronado Island gopher snake       
  • Pituophis catenifer deserticola – Great Basin gopher snake 
  • Pituophis catenifer fulginatus – San Martin Island gopher snake
  • Pituophis catenifer pumilis – Santa Cruz gopher snake        
  • Pituophis catenifer sayi – Bullsnake

Scientific classification of Pituophis catenifer

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Squamata
  • Suborder: Serpentes
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Genus: Pituophis
  • Species: Pituophis catenifer
Pituophis Catenifer – Pacific Gopher Snake

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