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What is a Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer)

What is a Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer)

What is a Gopher Snake

What is a Gopher Snake Overview

The Gopher Snake is a large, relatively common snake that lives throughout a majority of the United States.

While they can be intimidating due to their size, they are a nonvenomous species of snake which means if you get bitten by one, the worst thing you’ll hopefully have to worry about is the pain and finding something to cover the wound with.

When threatened, the snake can inflate its body to appear bigger while also flatting its head to resemble a rattlesnake to scare off would-be predators.


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Squamata
  • Suborder: Serpentes
  • Family: Colubridae
  • Genus: Pituophis
  • Species: P. catenifer

Bullsnake [P. c. sayi]

Subscpecies of Pituophis catenifer:

  • Sonoran gopher snake [P. c. affinis]– Southwest USA including extreme southeast California, Arizona, New Mexico, Trans-Pecos Texas, and northwest Mexico including extreme northeast Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, northwest Nuevo León, Sinaloa, eastern Durango, north Zacatecas, and extreme west San Luis Potosi (the Chihuahuan Desert and Sonora Desert).
  • San Diego gopher snake [P. c. annectens] – Southwest California and northwest Baja California
  • Pacific gopher snake [P. c. catenifer] – The United States, from Oregon west of the Cascade Range, south into California, west of the Sierra Nevada to northern Santa Barbara County and the Tehachapi Mountains.
  • Great Basin gopher snake [P. c. deserticola] – South-central British Columbia, Canada, east Washington, eastern Oregon, southwest Idaho, southwest Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, western Colorado, parts of southeast California, northern Arizona, and extreme northwest New Mexico (Great Basin and the Mojave Desert) 
  • San Martin Island gopher snake [P. c. fulginatus] – San Martin Island, Baja California
  • Santa Cruz Island gopher snake [P. c. pumilis] – Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa Island, and San Miguel Island, California
  • Bullsnake [P. c. sayi] – Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, the central USA including east Colorado, Illinois, extreme northwest Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, east New Mexico, southwest North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, southwest Wisconsin, eastern Wyoming, and northern Mexico including northeast Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, extreme southeast San Luis Potosi, and extreme northern Veracruz (Great Plains and the Midwestern United States). 

Size and Body Description

They are large snakes that can often be mistaken for a rattlesnake at a glance but an easy way to tell that it’s not a rattlesnake, besides the lack of rattle, is the size and shape of its head. They have a narrow head whereas the rattlesnake has a more rounded triangular shape.

Their coloring and patterns differ depending on which subspecies you find but for the most part, they will be a combination of different shades of browns, yellows, tans, and reds with the occasional white coloration showing up from time to time.

They tend to follow a pretty general pattern of dark rectangular splotches on their back with smaller spots running down the length of their body.


They typically grow anywhere from 4 feet all the way up to 9 feet in length.


Like most snakes that live in the Southwest, they are carnivorous which means that their diet is only, or mostly, meat and like to eat a variety of small animals including birds, lizards, a variety of bugs, pocket gophers, and even eggs laid by birds.


They lay eggs during the warmer months of the year from June to August with the eggs taking about 60 to 80 days to hatch.


They live throughout the United States from the Midwest all the way to the west coast. Even though the species lives all over the United States, only certain subspecies can be found in certain states.

For example, the Pacific Gopher Snake lives primarily on the west coast in California and Oregon where as the Bullsnake lives more in the central states like Nebraska, Oklahoma, and even Montana.

Because there are 7 subspecies, we will not be putting everywhere each can live specifically in this section but we will include it in the subspecies category.


There are currently no protections as of this writing.

References Used

  • California Herps

What is a Gopher Snake