Gopher Snake

Gopher Snake

Pacific gopher snake, Henry snake, Coast gopher snake, bullsnake, Churchill's bullsnake, Oregon bullsnake, Pacific pine snake, Western bullsnake, Western gopher snake, Sonoran gopher snake, Western pine snake, Blow snake, Yellow gopher snake

Pituophis catenifer
Population size
Life Span
12-33 yrs
91-213 cm

Gopher snakes are large nonvenomous snakes endemic to North America. Dorsally, they are yellowish or pale brown, with a series of large, dark brown or black blotches, and smaller, dark spots on the sides. Ventrally, they are yellowish, either uniform or with brown markings. These snakes are often mistaken for the Prairie rattlesnake but can be easily distinguished from a rattlesnake by the lack of black and white banding on their tail and by the shape of their head, which is narrower than a rattlesnake's.


Gopher snakes are found from southern British Columbia south through all of western North America to Northern Mexico. These snakes live in a wide range of habitats including deserts, prairies, grasslands, savannahs, shrublands and thickets, woodlands and forests, open coniferous forests, agricultural areas, and marshes.


Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Gopher snakes are primarily diurnal creatures but sometimes may be active at night during warm weather. They are solitary and live alone in their burrows which they dig themselves or in abandoned burrows of other mammals. They are ground-dwelling snakes but can climb well; they are very good swimmers and can hunt frogs in ponds. During the cold months of late fall and winter Gopher snakes hibernate underground. They have a unique defensive mechanism, in which they puff up their body and curl themselves into the classic strike pose of a pit viper. However, rather than delivering an open-mouthed strike, Gopher snakes may strike with a closed mouth, using their blunt nose to "warn off" possible predators. Also, they often shake their tail, confusing predators into thinking it is a rattlesnake. This works best when the snake is in dry leaves or on gravel. Gopher snakes can also produce a loud hiss when agitated or fearful. However, they are nonvenomous, generally good-natured, and not harmful to humans.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Gopher snakes are carnivorous. Their diet consists of small mammals, such as gophers, rabbits, ground squirrels, and voles but also birds and their eggs. They will occasionally hunt lizards, frogs, insects, and even bats.

Mating Habits

65-75 days
at birth
2-24 eggs

Gopher snakes are polygynandrous (promiscuous) and both males and females mate with multiple partners. They usually breed from June to August. Females lay 2-24 eggs in burrows which they excavate in the soil beneath large rocks or logs, or they may use small mammal burrows. Eggs are incubated around 65-75 days. The young are completely independent at hatching and don't need parental care. Females usually become reproductively mature between 3 and 5 years of age while males reach maturity when they are 1-2 years old.


Population threats

There are no major threats to Gopher snakes at present.

Population number

According to IUCN, the Gopher snake is locally common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Ecological niche

Gopher snakes are important to the ecosystem they live in as due to their diet habits they act as important predators of small mammals including pest rodents.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The specific name of these snakes, catenifer, is Latin for "chain-bearing" which refers to their dorsal color pattern.
  • The Gopher snake has nine subspecies which include Pacific gopher snake, Sonoran gopher snake, San Diego gopher snake, Central Baja California gopher snake, Coronado Island gopher snake, Great Basin gopher snake, San Martin Island gopher snake, Santa Cruz gopher snake and Bullsnake.
  • Although Gopher snakes spend 90% of their time underground, they enjoy to warm themselves up in the sun. They even often bask on the roads.
  • Gopher snakes are often mistaken for rattlesnakes but there are some differences between these two species. Gopher snakes have round eyes while the shape of rattlesnakes' eyes is diamond-shaped, and Gopher snakes don't have a rattle at the end of their tail which gives rattlesnakes their name.


1. Gopher Snake on Wikipedia -
2. Gopher Snake on The IUCN Red List site -

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