A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Gopher Snakes found in California


observation link


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

Gopher Snakes 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 gopher snake.

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 gopher snake subspecies.

San Diego Gopher Snake
Sonoran Gopher Snake gopher snake San Diego Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
Sonoran Gopher Snake -
Pituophis catenifer affinis

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

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.
Short Videos
Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Movie
A Sonoran Gopher Snake crawls around in Imperial County. A Sonoran Gopher Snake races across a road just after sunset. A San Diego Gopher Snake flicks its tongue and crawls across a dirt road. A large gopher snake 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 Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Movie Pacific Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake
A huge Sonoran Gopher Snake puts on an impressive defensive display of hissing and blowing. 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 Pacific Gopher snake 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 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.
gopher snakes CA range map

P urple: Pituophis catenifer affinis -  
Sonoran Gopher Snake

Orange: Pituophis catenifer annectens -  
San Diego Gopher Snake

Red: Pituophis catenifer catenifer -  
Pacific Gopher Snake

Blue: Pituophis catenifer deserticola -  
Great Basin Gopher Snake

Light Green: Pituophis catenifer pumilus -  
Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake

Gray: General area of intergradation

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