CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Great Basin Gopher Snake - Pituophis catenifer deserticola

Stejneger, 1893
Click on a picture for a larger view



Gopher Snakes California Range Map
Range in California: Blue & Gray

Click the map for a key to the other subspecies


sound
Listen to a Gopher Snake
hissing defensively


observation link





Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
  Adult, Inyo County   Juvenile, Inyo County
Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
Adult, Inyo County Adult, Inyo County
Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
Adult, San Bernardino County
© John Worden
Adult, San Bernardino County
© Michael Clarkson
Adult, Kern County
© Patrick Briggs
Adult, Kern County
© Brad Alexander
Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
Adult, San Bernardino County © Guntram Deichsel Adult, Kern County © Todd Battey Adult, Victorville, San Bernardino County © 2004 Roxanne Ward
Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
Adult, Inyo County © Patrick Briggs Adult, Inyo County © Patrick Briggs Adult, Inyo County © Patrick Briggs Adult, Inyo County © Patrick Briggs
Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
Adult, Inyo County © Patrick Briggs Underside of adult, Inyo County Adult, Kern County © Patrick Briggs Adult, Kern County © Patrick Briggs
Great Basin Gopher Snake      
Underside of adult,
Kittitas County, Washington
     
       
Snakes From Intergrade Areas
Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
Adult from Kern County intergrade area where  P. c. catenifer intergrades with
P. c. deserticola
© Patrick Briggs
Adult from Kern County intergrade area where  P. c. catenifer intergrades with
P. c. deserticola © Patrick Briggs
Adult from Kern County intergrade area where  P. c. catenifer intergrades with
P. c. deserticola
© Patrick Briggs
Adult from Lassen County intergrade area where  P. c. catenifer intergrades with P. c. deserticola. © Debra Frost
Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
Adult from Los Angeles County intergrade area where P. c. annectens intergrades with P. c. deserticola. © Patrick Briggs Adult from Lassen County intergrade area where  P. c. catenifer intergrades with P. c. deserticola. © Debra Frost
Adult from Lassen County intergrade area where  P. c. catenifer intergrades with P. c. deserticola. © Debra Frost
Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
Adult, from Tule Lake, Siskiyou county, where P. c. deserticola intergrades with P. c. catenifer. Adult, from Tule Lake, Siskiyou county, where  P. c. catenifer intergrades with P. c. deserticola.
Great Basin Gopher Snake      
Adult, from Tule Lake, Siskiyou county, where P. c. catenifer intergrades with P. c. deserticola.      
     
Breeding
Great Basin Gopher Snakes Great Basin Gopher Snakes    
A pair of mating adults from Lassen County © Debbie Frost    
     
Feeding
Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
Great Basin Gopher Snake      
Debbie Frost relocated the breeding pair shown above, and one of them crawled down a hole, quickly coming back up with a kangaroo rat. The snake then crawled into the shade made by Debbie's shadow and ate while she watched.
 
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 sign Gopher Snake Rattlesnake Comparison Sign  
Harmless and beneficial gopher snakes are sometimes mistaken for dangerous rattlesnakes. They are often killed unnecessarily because of this confusion.
It is easy to avoid this mistake by learning to tell the difference between the two families of snakes. The informational signs shown above can help to educate you about these differences. (Click to enlarge).
If you can't see enough detail on a snake to be sure it is not a rattlesnake or if you have any doubt that it is harmless, leave it alone. You should never handle a snake unless you are absolutely sure that it is not dangerous.

 

Follow these links to see more pictures of this subspecies from the Northwest and from the Southwest.

Habitat
Great Basin Gopher Snake Habitat Southern Desert Horned Lizard Habitat Great Basin Gopher Snake Habitat Great Basin Gopher Snake Habitat
Habitat, 6,000 ft. Inyo County mountains Habitat, San Bernardino County desert Habitat, Siskiyou County Habitat, San Bernardino County desert
Panamint Alligator Lizard Habitat Great Basin Gopher Snake Habitat Southern Desert Horned Lizard Habitat Mohave Glossy Snake Habitat
Habitat, 6,000 ft. Inyo County mountains
Habitat, Lassen County desert Habitat, San Bernardino County desert Habitat, Inyo County desert
       
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
Great Basin Gopher Snake Movie Great Basin Gopher Snake Movie Great Basin Gopher Snake Movie Great Basin Gopher Snake Movie
A Great Basin Gopher Snake crawls across a road and into the grass in the Owens Valley. A large gopher snake crawls off a road in a Mojave desert canyon. 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 Great Basin Gopher Snake crawls across a dirt road in Okanagan County, Washington.
Great Basin Gopher Snake Movie      
Here's a little taste of roadcruising (edited down from a much longer drive) - 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.      
     
Description

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

Size
Adults of the species Pituophis catenifer can be 2.5 - 9 feet long (76 - 279 cm). (Stebbins, 2003)
Hatchlings are fairly long, generally around 15 inches in length (38 cm).
Adults of this subspecies, Pituophis catenifer deserticola, have been recorded up to 6 feet long (183 cm) but are most often under 5 ft. long (152 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 slightly rounded.
Color and Pattern
Ground color is cream to yellowish, with large quadrangular brown, blackish, and reddish brown blotches along the back and smaller markings on the sides.
Often the blotches form a dark band on the sides of the neck.
The back of the neck is pale in the southern part of the range, but mottled with dark coloring in the northern part of the range.
This subspecies typically has black or dark blotches on the neck and the tail and lighter brown or reddish blotches inbetween.
The underside is pale with some dark markings.
There is usually a dark stripe across the head in front of the eyes and a dark stripe from behind each eye to the angle of the jaw.

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
Eats mostly small mammals, especially pocket gophers, moles, rabbits, and mice, along with birds and their eggs and nestlings. Occasionally eats 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.
Females lay one to 2 clutches of 2-24 eggs from June - August. (Stebbins, 2003)
Eggs hatch in 2 - 2.5 months.
Mating and egg laying will occur later in more northern climates or at higher elevations.

Habitat
Found in a wide variety of habitats - sagegrush, grassland, riparian areas, forests, and the Mohave desert.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Pituophis catenifer deserticola - Great Basin Gopher Snake, occurs in southeastern California north of approximately the Riverside county line through the Mojave Desert and east of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It ranges farther north through Nevada, eastern Oregon and Washington into British Columbia, and is also found in parts of Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, and new Mexico.

There is a wide range of integration with P. c. catenifer in northeastern California and eastern Oregon. Also intergrades with P. c. annectans in the south.

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
Elevational Range
Gopher snakes range from below sea level to around 9,186 ft. (2,800 m). (Stebbins, 2003)

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.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Pituophis catenifer deserticola - Sonoran Gopher Snake (Stebbins 2003, Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
Pituophis melanoleucus deserticola - Sonoran Gopher Snake (Stebbins 1985)
Pituophis melanoleucus deserticola - Sonora Gopher Snake (Stebbins 1966)
Pituophis catenifer deserticola (Stebbins 1954)
Pituophis catenifer deserticola - Great Basin Gopher Snake (Stejneger, 1893)
Pituophis catenifer deserticola - Desert gopher snake (Van Denburgh 1897)

Desert bull snake
Arizona bull snake
Gopher snake
(Great Basin) blow snake
(Great Basin) gopher snake
Sage brush gopher snake
Southern bull snake
Utah blow snake
Utah gopher snake
Western bull snake

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

deserticola Great Basin Gopher Snake Stejneger, 1893
Original Description
Pituophis catenifer - (Blainville, 1835) - Nouv. Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, Vol. 4, p. 290, pl. 26, figs. 2-2b
Pituophis catenifer deserticola - Stejneger, 1893 - N. Amer. Fauna, No. 7, p. 206

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
deserticola - Latin - desert dry place and -icola - inhabitant of - refers to its habitat

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

Related or Similar California Snakes
P. c. affinis - Sonoran Gopher Snake
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. candida - Mohave Glossy 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, 1957.

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
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
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
IUCN

 

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