CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Pacific Gopher Snake - Pituophis catenifer catenifer

(Blainville, 1835)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Gopher Snakes California Range Map
Range in California: Red

Click the map for a key to the other subspecies



Listen to a Gopher Snake
hissing defensively




observation link



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Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, Alameda County, eastern foothills of Coast Range. Adult in defensive posture, coastal San Mateo County Juvenile, Contra Costa County Adult, Marin County
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, Yuba County, Sierra Nevada foothills. Sub-adult, East Bay Hills,
Contra Costa County
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, Central Valley, Western Kern County Adult, San Benito County mountains.
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, San Luis Obispo County Adult, San Luis Obiso County Juvenile, Kern Plateau, Kern County
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, Clear Lake, Lake County    Adult, Butte County
© Jackson Shedd
Adult, El Dorado County
© Tyler Young
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, Marin County Adult, Merced County.
© Jennifer Rycenga
Adult, Kings County © Patrick Briggs
Pacific Gopher Snake
This adult was found tightly squeezed into a small space beneath a rock in lower Kern Canyon, Kern County. Adult, Del Norte County © Alan Barron
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, El Dorado County
© Richard Porter
Juvenile, Alameda County Adult, Alameda County
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Sub-adult, San Luis Obispo County Adult from the Berkeley Marina, Alameda County © Martin Nicolaus Juvenile, San Benito County
© Judith Ogus
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake  
This large adult was seen swimming on a lake in Sacramento County. Adult, Solano County © Lou Silva  
       
Adult Gophersnakes in Defensive Poses
(Note that these are Not Rattlesnakes)
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, El Dorado County
© Tyler Young
Adult, Tulare County © Donna Noce Defensive adult, El Dorado County. Notice the head flattened into a triangular shape.
© Tyler Young
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult in defensive pose with head enlarged in a triangular shape, San Benito County © Judith Ogus
Adult in defensive pose, El Dorado County
© Tyler Young
Adult in defensive pose, Kings County
© Patrick Briggs
     
Striped Morphs and Other Unusual Patterns
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Striped adult, Yolo County.
© Dave Feliz
Striped juvenile, Yolo County
© Dave Feliz
Adult, striped phase, Sonoma County © Edgar Ortega
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, striped phase, Solano County, © Gary Nafis Specimen courtesy of Rick Staub Juvenile, striped phase, Solano County
© John Stephenson
Pale, striped Adult, Yolo County
© Michael Sutcliffe
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Hybrid
Solano County © Mike Spencer Adult, Napa County © Edgar Ortega An adult which appears to be amelanistic, or missing black pigment, Placer County © Terrence Howe A probable cross between a California Kingsnake and a Pacific Gopher snake, found in the wild in Yolo County by Steven Hinds. Photo © 2005 Brian Hubbs
Striped Gopher Snake Albino Gopher Snake Albino Gopher Snake  
Striped adult, Solano County © Lou Silva Albino adult, Solano County © Lou Silva  
       
Intergrades
Gopher Snake Gopher Snake Gopher Snake  
Adult, from Tule Lake, Siskiyou county, where  P. c. catenifer intergrades with P. c. deserticola.  
Gopher Snake Gopher Snake    
Adult, from Tule Lake, Siskiyou county, where
P. c. catenifer
intergrades with P. c. deserticola.
   
     
Feeding
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Juvenile, Mariposa County, eating a Western Fence Lizard © Daniel Harris This dead juvenile was found in Sutter County. It appears to have a leg, but on closer inspection, it is the leg of what is probably an alligator lizard that broke through the snake's side after the snake swallowed it.
© Kevin Bryant
Adult, Kings County, preparing to eat its namesake mammal - a gopher.
© Patrick Briggs
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific gopher snake eating lizard    
Adult in a bird's nest eating a duck egg,
Kings County, © Patrick Briggs
A juveile Pacific Gopher Snake eating a Coast Range Fence Lizard in Sonoma County © Gérard Menut    
       
Breeding and Young
Pacific Gopher Snakes Pacific Gopher Snakes Pacific Gopher Snake  
Adults breeding, San Benito County
© Judith Ogus

Adults breeding, Marin County 
© Natalie McNear
A Pacific Gopher Snake emerging
from its egg. © Patrick Briggs
 
Predation
Kingsnake Eating Gopher Snake california kingsnake california kingsnake  
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 Brigg
A California Kingsnake killing a Pacific Gophersnake
for dinner in Contra Costa County. © Tim Dayton
 
       
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
Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Coast Horned Lizard Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat
Habitat, Contra Costa County Habitat, Alameda County Habitat, San Mateo County Habitat, Yuba County
Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat
Habitat, Lake County
Habitat, Napa County Habitat, Santa Cruz County Habitat, Kings County
Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat
Habitat, San Luis Obispo County
Habitat, San Benito County Habitat, Butte County Habitat, Contra Costa County
Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat
Habitat, Alameda County Habitat, Siskiyou County Creekside habitat, 1,450 ft., Kern County Habitat, Kern County
Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat Pacific Gopher Snake Habitat
Habitat, Alameda County Habitat, San Joaquin County Habitat, Alameda County Habitat, Kern County
Coast Gartersnake Habitat      
Coastal habitat,
Monterey County
     
       
The Danger of Plastic Netting to Snakes
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
 
  San Diego Gopher Snake    
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
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Tail Buzzing Pacific Gopher Snake
A Pacific Gopher snake, not happy to be picked up off the road by a crazy human, curls up in a defensive stance, investigates the camera, then crawls away. This movie contains no sound. The same Pacific Gopher snake as the one to the left shows its defensive arsenal, which includes coiling, puffing up, and elevating the body, flattening the head into a triangular shape, hissing loudly, shaking the tail, and striking repeatedly. When its tormentor (and photographer) backs off, the snake crawls away, keeping its head and neck defensively arched, ready to quickly coil and strike if needed. 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. A juvenile Pacific Gopher Snake is found under a log in early spring in Conta Costa County.
Roadcruising Pacific Gopher Snake Here's a YouTube video of a striped gopher snake in Yolo County striking at the camera from Dave Feliz.  
Here's a little taste of roadcruising - driving, driving, driving, then finally a snake is spotted on the road. This one is an intergrade gopher snake from  the sagebrush desert of eastern Siskiyou County. A large Pacific Gopher Snake is discovered under a small rock on a sunny late winter afternoon in Kern Canyon.    
Description

Not Dangerous to Humans
Size
Adults of this species can be 2.5 - 7 feet long (76 - 213 cm) but most of this subspecies are from 4.5 - 5 ft. (137 - 152 cm.) Hatchlings are fairly long, and may exceed 20 inches in length (51 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. Ground color is straw or tan, with large square dark chocolate blotches or saddles along the back and smaller gray spots on the sides. The back of the neck is dark brown. The underside is cream to yellowish with dark spots. Often there is a reddish color on the top, especially near the tail.

A striped morph is also found, often in Solano and Yolo Counties around the Davis Area.

Key to California gopher snake subspecies.
Behavior
Active in the daytime, and at night in hot weather. 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. A powerful constrictor; kills prey by suffocating them in body coils or by pressing the animal against the walls of their underground burrows.

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
Small mammals, especially pocket gophers, birds and their eggs, and occasionally lizards and insects.
Reproduction
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 in more northern climates or at higher elevations.
Range
This subspecies, Pituophis catenifer catenifer - Pacific Gopher Snake, occurs north of roughly Santa Barbara County west of the Sierra Nevada mountains into Oregon. It is absent from the far northeast corner of California.

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 -open grassland and brushland, mixed woodlands, coniferous forest, agricultural farmland, chaparral, marshes, around suburban homes and garden sheds, and and riparian zones, from lowlands to the mountains.
Taxonomic Notes
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


catenifer Pacific Gopher Snake (Blainville, 1835)
Original Description

Pituophis catenifer - (Blainville, 1835) - Nouv. Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, Vol. 4, p. 290, pl. 26, figs. 2-2b

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

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. affinis - Sonoran Gopher Snake
P. c. annectens - San Diego Gopher Snake
P. c. deserticola - Great Basin Gopher Snake
P. c. pumilis - Santa Cruz Island Gopher 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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