CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake -
Pituophis catenifer pumilis

Klauber, 1946
Click on a picture for a larger view



Gopher Snakes California Range Map
Range in California: Light Green

Click the map for a key to the other subspecies




Listen to a Gopher Snake
hissing defensively





observation link





Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake
Adult, Santa Barbara County. © Gary Nafis. Specimen courtesy of Krista Fahy, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake
Juvenile, Santa Cruz Island © Dick Bartlett Adult, Santa Cruz Island
© Oscar Johnson
Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake
Adults, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Barbara County. Photos © Patrick H. Briggs,
Specimen courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake
Adult, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Barbara County. Photos © Patrick H. Briggs, Specimen courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Adult, Santa Cruz Island
© Oscar Johnson
   
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
Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake Habitat Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake Habitat Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake Habitat
Habitat - Santa Cruz Island, Santa Barbara County
 
Short Videos of other Subspecies of Gopher Snakes
San Diego Gopher Snake Gopher Snake Tail Buzz Sonoran Gopher Snake
A San Diego Gopher Snake flicks its tongue and crawls across a dirt road. 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 Sonoran Gopher Snake crawls around in Imperial County.
Great Basin Gopher Snake Movie Sonoran Gopher Snake  
A large Great Basin Gopher Snake crawls off a road in a Mojave desert canyon. A huge Sonoran Gopher Snake puts on an impressive defensive display of hissing and blowing.  
   
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 this subspecies is a small or "dwarf" subspecies which only grows to just over 3 feet long ( 91 cm.) Hatchlings of P. catenifer are fairly long, generally around 15 inches in length (38 cm) but those of this subspecies have been recorded at 6.5 - 9 inches.

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 olive, grayish, or brownish with small discrete dark blotches along the back and smaller markings on the sides. The underside is pale and lightly speckled. The back of the neck is dark.

Key to California gopher snake subspecies.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Gophersnakes are generally active in the daytime, and at night in hot weather, and especially at dusk and dawn.
They are good burrowers, climbers, and swimmers.
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
Due to the more limited fauna of the islands, Santa Cruz Island Gophersnakes have a less varied diet than other subspecies of gophersnakes. Their diet probably includes mice, lizards, birds eggs and nestlings. Juveniles probably take small lizards, mice, and possibly 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 pumilis - Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake, occurs only on two (possibly three) of the Channel Islands south of the Santa Barbara coast - Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands. There is also an unverified sight record from San Miguel Island.

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

Elevational Range
From near sea level to 2,100 feet (640 m) on Santa Cruz Island.

Habitat
Occurs in all types of vegetation found on the islands. Most common in open grassland, dry streambeds, and oak and chaparral woodlands.

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)
The proliferation of feral livestock such as sheep and pigs may have had an impact on populations of this snake by altering the vegetation and landscape. Pigs have also been known to eat snakes. Attempts have been made to remove or eradicate these introduced species.
Taxonomy
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Pituophis Bullsnakes, Gopher Snakes, and Pinesnakes Holbrook, 1842
Species catenifer Gopher Snake (Blainville, 1835)
Subspecies

pumilis Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake Klauber, 1946
Original Description
Pituophis catenifer - (Blainville, 1835) - Nouv. Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, Vol. 4, p. 290, pl. 26, figs. 2-2b
Pituophis catenifer pumilis - Klauber, 1946 - Trans. San Diego Soc. Nat. Hist., Vol. 11, p. 41, pl. 3

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
pumilis - Latin - diminuitive or dwarfish

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

Alternate Names
Santa Cruz Gopher Snake

Formerly Pituophis melanoleucus

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

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Patrick Briggs' World Pituophis Site

The Pituophis Page: P. c. pumilis

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.

Schoenherr, Allan A. Natural History of the Islands of California. The University of California Press, 2003.

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.



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

 

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