How to Identify Types of Gopher Snakes
There are several different subspecies of gopher snakes found in the United States. Keep reading to learn more about five of those species of gopher snakes, and how you might be able to identify them.
Gopher snake traits
In the United States, most gopher snakes are found primarily in the West, from the Pacific coast to Western Texas. Gopher snakes are highly adaptable and able to live in a wide variety of environments, from the desert to woodlands to prairies. Before we detail some specific characteristics of distinct gopher snake subspecies, let’s look at the physical and behavioral traits shared across the species.
- Size: Gopher snakes average between three feet to over six feet in length. Their tails taper off into thin ends, lacking rattles.
- Head and eyes: Gopher snakes usually have round pupils compared to the diagonal the elongated pupils of the rattlesnake.
- Color and markings: Gopher snakes are usually a lighter color of tan or brown, covered in darker splotches of mostly brown or black—however the colors can vary in individual snakes. Often these markings will mimic the coloring of the primary vegetation from the area the snake is in.
- Behavior: While gopher snakes can appear alarming because of their resemblance to rattlesnakes, they don’t have venom. If gopher snakes feel threatened or alarmed, they’ll make hissing noises or vibrate their tail. Gopher snakes (like all snakes) are usually most active during the day.
- Diet: Gopher snakes eat mostly mammals and birds. Instead of using venom, they kill their prey by constricting. Depending on the location, pocket gophers can comprise a large portion of their diet, which is how the snake got its common name. And also depending on the location, gopher snakes might also eat lizards.
Species of gopher snakes
Pacific gopher snake, Pituophis catenifer catenifer; Family Colubridae
Pacific gopher snakes are large and can grow between 48 and 66 inches in length. Ranging throughout the United States, southern Canada, and Mexico, the Pacific gopher snake is one of the most widespread snake species in North America. In fact, the Pacific gopher snake is the largest snake found in California. It can also easily adapt to a wide variety of habitats as well, including deserts, prairies, brushlands, woodlands, coniferous forests, and even land altered for agriculture
Sonoran gopher snake, Pituophis catenife affinis
The Sonoran gopher snake has the telltale blotches of the gopher snake covering its body; unlike other subspecies that may have variation in coloring, it will usually have the same colored blotches across the length of its back. Interestingly, the Sonoran gopher snake is one of two subspecies found in the Grand Canyon National Park. It is primarily found in the North Rim.
Great basin gopher snake, Pituophis catenifer deserticola
Unlike the Sonoran gopher snake above, the Great Basin gopher snake can have variation in the splotches across its back: On its neck, the splotches are black and then will change into a red or brown color across the rest of its body. The Great Basin gopher snake can also be found in the Grand Canyon National Park, and across the western United States.
Santa Cruz gopher snake Pituophis catenifer pumilio
The is the smallest subspecies of gopher snake—in fact, it is the only dwarf form. It rarely grows longer than three feet in length. The Santa Cruz gopher snake is found on both Santa Cruz Island and Santa Rosa Island. It is usually a light green or gray-white color, covered in black blotches.
Bullsnake, Pituophis catenifer sayi
Though gopher snakes are often referred to as bullsnakes, which are actually considered to be a subspecies of the gopher snake species. Unlike the Santa Cruz gopher snake, bullsnakes are not small by any means. One distinguishing feature of this gopher snake subspecies, besides its large size, is the dark band it can have on its head, which can extend from the top of the head through the lower jaw.