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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


San Diego Gopher Snake - Pituophis catenifer annectens

Baird and Girard, 1853
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Gopher Snakes California Range Map
Range in California: Orange & Gold

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hissing defensively




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San Diego Gopher Snake
Adult, 3,000 ft., San Diego County
San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake
Adult, 3,000 ft., San Diego County Adult, San Bernardino Mountains, San Bernardino County
San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake
Adult, Riverside County Adult, Riverside County
San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake
Sub-adult, San Diego County Underside of adult, San Diego County Adult, Riverside County
San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake
Sub-adult, Riverside County Captive adult, Santa Barbara County Adult, Santa Barbara County
© Jen Castle
Adult, Riverside County
© Jeff Ahrens
San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake
Adult, Riverside County
© Jeff Ahrens
Young adult, San Diego County. Its tracks on a sandy road show how it slipped from side to side to get traction in the sand.
San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake    
Tracks of a large adult across a harder surface are almost in a straight line,
San Diego County
   
     
Interesting or Unusual Patterns
San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake  
Albino adult, San Diego County. © Richard E. Brewer
San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake    
Aberrant adult, Los Angeles County © 2006 John Michels    
San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake
Adult from near Chino, San Bernardino County © Jeff Ahrens Adult from near Chino, San Bernardino County © Jeff Ahrens
Both of the snakes above show some similiarities in appearance to the subspecies P. c. affinis, but they were found at least 50 miles from the range of that subspecies.
They were also found within close proximity at the same time which tends to rule out the likelihood they were both transported and released to the area.
 
Feeding and Predation
San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake Kingsnake Eating Gopher Snake  
Matt Maxon and Johanna Turner were hiking in Big Tujunga Canyon in Los Angeles County when they discovered a large dead rodent that appeared to have been partially swallowed and spit out. (Left) On returning to the same spot about two hours later, they noticed the rodent was gone, and soon discovered a gopher snake swallowing it. (Right) Did the snake kill the rodent, attempt to eat it, then spit it out and return later to try again, or was more than one predator involved? We'll never know, but that sure is more than a mouthful.
© Matt Maxon and Johanna Turner.
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

 
     
Breeding
Kingsnake Eating Gopher Snake Kingsnake Eating Gopher Snake Kingsnake Eating Gopher Snake  
Two mating adults all twisted up in Los Angeles County © Chris Mowry  
       
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

   
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
San Diego Gopher Snake Habitat San Diego Gopher Snake Habitat Two-striped Gartersnake Habitat San Diego Gopher Snake Habitat
Coastal San Diego County grassland habitat that is rapidly disappearing due to development. © Brian Hinds Habitat, Riverside County Habitat, small creek,
San Diego County
Habitat, San Diego County

San Diego Gopher Snake Habitat San Diego Gopher Snake Habitat San Diego Gopher Snake Habitat california kingsnake habitat
Habitat,6,200 ft.
San Bernardino County
Habitat, Riverside County Habitat, 3,000 ft., San Diego County Habitat, coastal San Diego County grassland
california kingsnake habitat Red Diamond Rattlesnake Habitat southern pacific rattlesnake habitat southern pacific rattlesnake habitat
Coastal scrub habitat,
San Diego County
Habitat, hill next to suburbs,
San Diego County
Habitat, San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles County Habitat, San Diego County coastal scrub
southern pacific rattlesnake habitat southern pacific rattlesnake habitat    
Habitat, Santa Monica Mountains, Los Angeles County © Colin Byrne Habitat, riparian canyon,
Los Angeles County
   
       
Short Videos
San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake Gopher Snake Tail Buzz  
A San Diego Gopher Snake flicks its tongue and crawls across a dirt road. A San Diego Gopher Snake is discovered on a dirt road in the morning. It becomes defensive when I follow it, hissing and striking out to warn me to back off. 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.) San Diego Gophersnakes are most commonly 4 - 5 ft. long (122 -152 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 that is bluntly rounded.
Color and Pattern
Ground color is tan, light brown or yellowish, with large brown or blackish rounded blotches along the back and smaller markings on the sides. The dorsal blotches can fuse together producing a very dark color. The underside is cream to yellow with dark spots. The back of the neck is often a dull orange.

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.
Mating and egg laying will occur later at higher elevations in the mountains.

Geographical Range
This subspecies,Pituophis catenifer annectens - San Diego Gopher Snake, occurs in southern California south of the range of P. c. catenifer from the south coast in Santa Barbara County south on the inland side of the mountain ranges to Baja California.  It also occurs on Catalina Island. Sympatric with P. c. affinis in a narrow range, but no intergrades have been found. Apparently intergrades with P. c. catenifer, and P. c. deserticola.

The species Pituophis catenifer - Gopher Snake, occurs from the southern edge of Canada in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, south to the tip of Baja California and northern mainland 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 several islands off the west coast of Baja California.

Habitat
Found in a variety of habitats - grassland, coastal sage scrub, agricultural lands, riparian areas, woodlands, and desert, from sea level to the mountains. Especially common in coastal areas.

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 a rattlesnake due to a similarity in appearance 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

annectens San Diego Gopher Snake Baird and Girard, 1853
Original Description
Pituophis catenifer - (Blainville, 1835) - Nouv. Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, Vol. 4, p. 290, pl. 26, figs. 2-2b
Pituophis catenifer annectens - Baird and Girard, 1853 - Cat. N. Amer. Rept., Pt. 1, p. 72

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
annectens - Latin - joining or connecting

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Alternate Names
Formerly Pituophis melanoleucus annectens

Related or Similar California Snakes
P. c. affinis -Sonoran 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
A. e. occidentalis - California 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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