CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Sonoran Gopher Snake - Pituophis catenifer affinis

(Hallowell, 1852)
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Gopher Snakes California Range Map
Range in California: Purple

Click the map for a key to the other subspecies





Listen to a Gopher Snake
hissing defensively



observation link





Sonoran Gopher Snake
Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake
Adult, Imperial County
Sonoran Gopher Snake
Sonoran Gopher Snake
Sonoran Gopher Snake
Sonoran Gopher Snake
Adult, Riverside County Adult, Riverside County
© William Flaxington
Adult, Riverside County
© William Flaxington
Adult, Riverside County © Patrick Briggs
Sonoran Gopher Snake      
Adult, swimming across the Colorado River, Imperial County, California.

     
Sonoran Gopher Snakes From Outside California
Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake
Adult, Pima County, Arizona Juvenile, Jeff Davis County, Texas
Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake
Large old adult, Cochise County, Arizona Adult in defensive position, Cochise County, Arizona Young Adult, Yavapai County,
Arizona
Sonoran Gopher Snake      
Adult, Yavapai County, Arizona

     
Predation
Kingsnake Eating Gopher Snake      
California Kingsnakes are powerful predators capable of eating other snakes almost as large as they are. Here you can see one eating a Pacific Gopher Snake. © Patrick Briggs
   
     
How to Tell the Difference Between Gopher Snakes and Rattlesnakes
Gopher Snake Rattlesnake Comparison Sign Gopher Snake Rattlesnake Comparison Sign sign  
Harmless and beneficial Gopher Snakes are often mistaken for the more dangerous rattlesnakes and killed unnecessarily. It is easy to avoid this mistake by learning to tell the difference between the two families of snakes as shown in these signs.

Unless you have experience handling venomous snakes, you should never handle a snake unless you are absolutely sure that it is not dangerous.
 
   
Habitat
Sonoran Gopher Snake Habitat Sonoran Gopher Snake Habitat Sonoran Gopher Snake Habitat Sonoran Gopher Snake Habitat
Habitat, Imperial County desert Habitat, Colorado River, Imperial County Habitat, Imperial County desert Habitat, San Diego County desert
Sonoran Gopher Snake Habitat      
A Sonoran Gopher Snake was found in this agricultural habitat in Imperial County.      
       
The Danger of Plastic Netting to Snakes
San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake
Suzanne Camejo found this gopher snake in an apricot tree which it had climbed probably trying to raid a Mockingbird nest. The snake was entangled in nylon netting used to protect the fruit from birds. Suzanne and her friends cut the netting, which had dug into the snake's skin, to free the snake. They were repaid with the hissing and striking of a very stressed-out snake, but one that was now free to crawl away and continue to rid the garden of rodents and rabbits.

Although netting is used as a natural method to deter agricultural pests, as well as for erosion control, it can be a great hazard to some animals, especially snakes.

Photos © Suzanne Camejo
This snake was found entangled in plastic "wildlife netting" used as a barrier to rodents and other pests. After freeing two snakes that were found entangled in the netting, the property owner removed the netting to protect the snakes.

© Osa Barbani
   
Short Videos
Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake
A Sonoran Gopher Snake crawls around in Imperial County. A huge Sonoran Gopher Snake puts on an impressive defensive display of hissing and blowing. Gopher snakes in the wild often take a defensive stance when threatened; they hiss, rear up, and sometimes even strike at the threat in order to protect themselves from harm. In this video, a newly-hatched juvenile Sonoran Gopher Snake trying to cross a road at night is threatened by the bright light and the video camera stuck in its face so it hisses loudly and strikes at the camera before crawling away. A Sonoran Gopher Snake races across a road just after sunset.
gopher snake tail shake      
A distressed Pacific Gopher Snake shakes its tail rapidly, which makes a buzzing sound as the tail touches the ground. This behavior might be a mimic of a rattlesnake's rattlng, or it could be a similar behavior that helps to warn off an animal that could be a threat to the gopher snake.      
     
Description

Not Dangerous (Non-poisonous)  -  This snake does not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

Size
Adults of this species can be 2.5 - 7 feet long (76 - 213 cm) but most individuals of this subspecies are from 5 - 6 ft. (152 - 183 cm.)
Hatchlings of P. catenifer are fairly long, generally around 15 inches in length (38 cm.)

Appearance
A large snake with heavily keeled scales, a narrow head that is slightly wider than the neck, and a protruding rostral scale on the tip of the snout which is rounded sharply in the front and not raised or only slightly raised above adjacent scales.
Color and Pattern
Ground color is straw, light brown or tan, with large brown or reddish blotches or saddles along the back and smaller markings on the sides. The back of the neck is yellowish or tan with small black spots. The underside is cream to yellowish with dark spots.

Key to California gopher snake subspecies.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Active in the daytime, and at night in hot weather, and especially at dusk and dawn.
One of the most commonly seen snakes on roads and trails, especially in the spring when males are actively seeking a mate, and in the fall when hatchlings emerge.
A good burrower, climber, and swimmer.
Defense
When threatened, a gopher snake willl elevate and inflate its body, flatten its head into a triangular shape, hiss loudly, and quickly shake its tail back and forth to make a buzzing sound which may be a mimic of a rattlesnake rattleor it could be a similar behavior that helps to warn off an animal that could be a threat to the gopher snake. Gopher snakes have a specially-developed epiglottis which increases the sound of their hiss when air is forced through the glottis.

You can listen to a recording of a gopher snake hissing here, and watch short movies of a gopher snake hissing and striking here, and shaking its tail here.
Diet and Feeding
Small mammals, especially pocket gophers, birds and their eggs, and occasionally lizards and insects.

A powerful constrictor; kills prey by suffocating them in body coils or by pressing the animal against the walls of their underground burrows.
Breeding
Mating occurs in spring after emergence from winter hibernation, with eggs laid June - August, hatching in 2 to 2.5 months.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Pituophis catenifer affinis - Sonoran Gopher Snake, occurs in southeast California, from the Imperial Valley north to roughly the San Bernardino County line, and east to the Colorado river. The subspecies' range extends south into the northeast tip of Baja California, and east into Arizona and New Mexico, then south through West Texas and far into Mexico.

The species Pituophis catenifer - Gopher Snake, occurs from southern Canada in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, south into Mexico, and east to Indiana and east Texas, excluding most of Arkansas, Minnesota, and North Dakota, and much of Illinois and Wisconsin. It is also found in the Channel Islands and on islands off the west coast of Baja California.

Full Species Range Map
Red = Approximate Range of Pituophis catenifer - Gopher Snake

Habitat
Found in a variety of habitats - desert flats, agricultural land, riparian areas including below sea level in the Imperial Valley.

Notes on Taxonomy
8 subspecies of Pituophis catenifer are recognized - 2 occur in Baja California, and 6 occur in the United States. It has been proposed that the snakes from Baja California are a new species. 5 of these 8 subspecies occur in California, with one endemic, and one that only occurs in California and Baja California.

Gophersnakes are related to Ratsnakes and Kingsnakes, and they have been known to interbreed with these species.

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
A very common snake, but often mistaken for the similar rattlesnake and killed unnecessarily. Frequently killed by traffic when crossing roads.
Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Pituophis Bullsnakes, Gopher Snakes, and Pinesnakes Holbrook, 1842
Species catenifer Gopher Snake (Blainville, 1835)
Subspecies

affinis Sonoran Gopher Snake (Hallowell, 1852)
Original Description
Pituophis catenifer - (Blainville, 1835) - Nouv. Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, Vol. 4, p. 290, pl. 26, figs. 2-2b
Pituophis catenifer affinis - Hallowell, 1852 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 181

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Pituophis - Greek - pitys- pine and ophis - snake - possibly referring to habitat of nominate subspecies on U.S. east coast (the Pine Snake)
catenifer
- Latin - catena - chain and -ifera - bearing - referring to the dorsal pattern
affinis - Latin - related or adjacent

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz
|
Alternate Names
Formerly Pituophis melanoleucus

Related or Similar California Snakes
P. c. annectens - San Diego Gopher Snake
P. c. catenifer - Pacific Gopher Snake
P. c. deserticola - Great Basin Gopher Snake
P. c. pumilis - Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake
A. e. eburnata -Desert Glossy Snake

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Patrick Briggs' World Pituophis Site

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Bartlett, R. D. & Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America - Western Region. Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.

Brown, Philip R. A Field Guide to Snakes of California. Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.

Ernst, Carl H., Evelyn M. Ernst, & Robert M. Corker. Snakes of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.

Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press.

Conservation Status

The following status listings come from the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.


This snake is not included on the Special Animals List, which indicates that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California.

Organization
Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
 

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