A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

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Gophersnakes found in California

observation link


Not Dangerous
Gophersnakes do not have venom that is dangerous to most humans.

Gophersnakes are one of the most commonly seen snakes in California. Primarily active during the day, they are also active after sundown on hot days. They are often observed crawling across trails and roads, especially in the morning and evenings when daytime temperatures are high. They are frequently seen around human dwellings, including suburban backyards, attracted to the rodents which thrive in such areas. Unfortunately, this harmless and beneficial species is very often killed out of fear that it is dangerous or that it is a rattlesnake. Take a look at some of the links and information here to help you learn how to know if a snake is a rattlesnake or a Gophersnake.

Several similar subspecies occur in California. Look at the map below to determine which one is found in your area.

You can also use this key to California Gophersnake subspecies.

San Diego Gophersnake
Sonoran Gophersnake Gophersnake San Diego Gophersnake Great Basin Gophersnake
Sonoran Gophersnake -
Pituophis catenifer affinis

Pacific Gophersnake -
Pituophis catenifer catenifer
San Diego Gophersnake -
 Pituophis catenifer annectens
Great Basin Gophersnake -
Pituophis catenifer deserticola
Santa Cruz Island Gophersnake Great Basin Gophersnake Pacific Gophersnake Great Basin Gophersnake
Santa Cruz Island Gophersnake -
Pituophis catenifer pumilus

Gophersnake Rattlesnake Comparison Sign Gophersnake Rattlesnake Comparison Sign sign Gopher Snake Rattlesnake Comparison Sign
Harmless and beneficial Gophersnakes 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.

Short Videos
Sonoran Gophersnake Sonoran Gophersnake San Diego Gophersnake Great Basin Gophersnake Movie
A Sonoran Gophersnake crawls around in Imperial County. A Sonoran Gophersnake races across a road just after sunset. A San Diego Gophersnake flicks its tongue and crawls across a dirt road. A large Gophersnake crawls off a road in a Mojave desert canyon.
The videos below show the feisty side of this species and some of its rattlesnake mimicry.
Sonoran Gophersnake Great Basin Gophersnake Movie Pacific Gophersnake San Diego Gophersnake
A huge Sonoran Gophersnake puts on an impressive defensive display of hissing and blowing. A distressed Pacific Gophersnake 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 Gophersnake. A Pacific Gophersnake 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 San Diego Gophersnake 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.
Gophersnakes CA range map

Purple: Pituophis catenifer affinis -  
Sonoran Gophersnake

Orange: Pituophis catenifer annectens -  
San Diego Gophersnake

Red: Pituophis catenifer catenifer -  
Pacific Gophersnake

Dark Blue: Pituophis catenifer deserticola -  
Great Basin Gophersnake

Light Green: Pituophis catenifer pumilus -  
Santa Cruz Island Gophersnake

Gray: General area of intergradation

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