CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Pacific Gophersnake - Pituophis catenifer catenifer

(Blainville, 1835)

(= Pacific Gopher Snake)
Click on a picture for a larger view



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

Click the map for a key to the other subspecies




sound
Listen to a Gophersnake
hissing defensively




observation link





Pacific Gopher Snake
Sub-adult, San Luis Obispo County
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. Adult, Alameda 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
Adult, San Luis Obispo County Adult, San Luis Obiso County Adult, El Dorado County
© Richard Porter
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult with a pale face, Santa Clara County © Holly Lane Adult, San Francisco County
© Luke Talltree
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, Clear Lake, Lake County    Adult, Kings County © Patrick Briggs 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, Butte County
© Jackson Shedd
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 Pacific Gopher Snake
This large adult was seen swimming on a lake in Sacramento County. Adult, Solano County © Lou Silva Adult from the Berkeley Marina, Alameda County © Martin Nicolaus
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, Fresno County © Patrick Briggs Adult, Kings County © Patrick Briggs Adult, Kings County © Patrick Briggs
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, Kern County © Ryan Sikola Adult, Kern County © Ryan Sikola Adult, Bernal Heights, San Francisco County © Laurel Rose.
(It's nice to see that gophersnakes still inhabit some of the islands of open space in the city.)
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Adult, Yolo County © Belinda Sikes Adult, Santa Clara County © Clay Foster This dead snake was found on a hiking trail in Santa Clara County where several other dead snakes were found in a similar condition - they appeared to have eaten a very large meal then died. What happened is a mystery that has not yet been solved. © James Hewitt Adult, Kings County © Patrick Briggs
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake    
Adult, Monterey County
© Benjamin German
Adult, Santa Clara County
© Zachary Lim
   
       
Gophersnakes From Intergrade Areas
Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
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
Adult from Lassen County intergrade area where  P. c. catenifer intergrades with P. c. deserticola. © Debra Frost
Adult from Kern County intergrade area where  P. c. catenifer intergrades with
P. c. deserticola
© Patrick Briggs
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 Gophersnakes in Defensive Poses
(Showing why they are often confused with 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
     
Juveniles
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Juvenile, Kern Plateau, Kern County Juvenile, East Bay Hills,
Contra Costa County
Juvenile, Alameda County
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Sub-adult, San Luis Obispo County Juvenile, Contra Costa County
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake    
Juvenile, San Benito County
© Judith Ogus
Merced County Juvenile in a defensive position, with a flattened, triangular head © Tim Iddings    
       
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 Striped Gopher Snake
Solano County © Mike Spencer Adult, Napa County © Edgar Ortega Adult, Yolo County © Zachary Lim Striped adult, Solano County © Lou Silva
Pacific Gopher Snake Albino Gopher Snake Albino Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Hybrid
An adult which is missing black pigment and might be albino. Placer County
© Terrence Howe
Albino adult, Solano County © Lou Silva A probable cross between a California Kingsnake and a Pacific Gophersnake, found in the wild in Yolo County by Steven Hinds. Photo © 2005 Brian Hubbs
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake  
A patternless adult found in Santa Cruz County © Luke Talltree  
       
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.
   
     
Gophersnakes Feeding
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake
Juvenile Pacific Gophersnake, Mariposa County, eating a Western Fence Lizard
© Daniel Harris
This dead juvenile Pacific Gophersnake 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 Pacific Gophersnake, Kings County, preparing to eat its namesake mammal - a gopher. © Patrick Briggs
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific gopher snake eating lizard San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake
Adult Pacific Gophersnake in a bird's nest eating a duck egg, Kings County,
© Patrick Briggs
A juvenile Pacific Gophersnake eating a Coast Range Fence Lizard in Sonoma County © Gérard Menut Matt Maxon and Johanna Turner were hiking in Big Tujunga Canyon in Los Angeles County when they discovered a large dead rodent that appeared to have been partially swallowed and spit out. (Left) On returning to the same spot about two hours later, they noticed the rodent was gone, and soon discovered a San Diego Gophersnake swallowing it. (Right) Did the snake kill the rodent, attempt to eat it, then spit it out and return later to try again, or was more than one predator involved? We'll never know, but that sure is more than a mouthful.
© Matt Maxon and Johanna Turner.
Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake
Great Basin Gopher Snake      
Debbie Frost saw a Great Basin Gophersnake that had just bred in Lassen County crawl down a hole, and 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.
       
Gophersnake Predation
california kingsnake california kingsnake Kingsnake Eating Gopher Snake Kingsnake Eating Gopher Snake
A California Kingsnake killing a Pacific Gophersnake
for dinner in Contra Costa County. © Tim Dayton
Gophersnakes are sometimes preyed upon by birds of prey, or raptors. Here, a San Diego Gophersnake is carried off by a Red-tailed Hawk in San Luis Obispo County. © Joel A. Germond
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 Gophersnake. © Patrick Brigg
   
       
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 Gophersnake emerging
from its egg. © Patrick Briggs
 
       
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 San Diego Gophersnake in an apricot tree which it had climbed probably trying to raid a Mockingbird nest. The snake was entangled in synthetic 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 San Diego Gophersnake was found entangled in synthetic "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

San Diego Gopher Snake San Diego Gopher Snake    
This San Diego Gophersnake found in Orange County, was rescued after it was trapped in a tarp with small mesh that was used to cover backyard stuff. Snakes will try to crawl through any open mesh, not just that used in plastic netting.
© Stacy Schenkel
   
     
How to Tell the Difference Between Gophersnakes and Rattlesnakes
Gopher Snake Rattlesnake Comparison Sign sign Gopher Snake Rattlesnake Comparison Sign  
Harmless and beneficial gophersnakes 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.

 
   
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
     
       
Short Videos
Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Pacific Gopher Snake Tail Buzzing Pacific Gopher Snake
A Pacific Gophersnake, 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 Gophersnake 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 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 gopher snake. A juvenile Pacific Gophersnake is found under a log in early spring in Conta Costa County.
Roadcruising Pacific Gopher Snake Here's a YouTube video of a striped gophersnake in Yolo County striking at the camera from Dave Feliz. Pacific Gopher Snake
Here's a little taste of roadcruising - driving, driving, driving, then finally a snake is spotted on the road. This one is an intergrade gophersnake from  the sagebrush desert of eastern Siskiyou County. A large Pacific Gophersnake is discovered under a small rock on a sunny late winter afternoon in Kern Canyon.   This short video shows two adult male Pacific Gophersnake wrestling for dominance during the May breeding season in Napa County. © Woody Davis
     
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).
The average size of adults of this subspecies, Pituophis catenifer catenifer, is from 4.5 - 5 ft. long (137 - 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 bluntly rounded.

Snakes with longitudinal stripes with and without blotches are occasionally found in central and west-central California, often in Solano, Yolo, and Napa Counties.

Key to California gophersnake subspecies.

Color and Pattern
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.
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.
Juveniles tend to have a darker and more compact pattern than adults.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
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.
Defense
When threatened, a gophersnake will do several things, sometimes one after the other, including: crawling away quickly to escape or hide; freezing up - making the body rigid and kinked up so it won't be noticed or perceived as a snake; and striking at the threat to scare it off. Gophersnakes also use a more dramatic defensive behavior - sometimes a snake will elevate its body and inflate it with air while flattening its head into a triangular shape, hissing loudly, and quickly shaking its tail back and forth to make a buzzing sound.

(This head-flattening and tail-rattling is usually considered to be a mimic of a rattlesnake, but the tail shaking could be a behavior similar to that of the rattlesnake that helps to warn off an animal that could be a threat to the snake by alerting it of the snake's presence.)

Gophersnakes 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 gophersnake hissing here, and watch short movies of a gophersnake 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.
Mating and egg laying will occur later in more northern climates or at higher elevations.

Females lay one to 2 clutches of 2-24 eggs from June - August. (Stebbins, 2003)
Eggs hatch in 2 - 2.5 months.


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.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Pituophis catenifer catenifer - Pacific Gophersnake, occurs north of roughly Santa Barbara County east to the Sierra Nevada mountains and north through much of California, excluding the northeast corner, and north west of the Cascades Mountains in Oregon to the Colombia River. There is a wide range of intergradation with P. c. deserticola in eastern California and Oregon.

The species Pituophis catenifer - Gophersnake, 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
Gophersnakes 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 catenifer - Sonoran Gopher Snake (Stebbins 2003, Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
Pituophis melanoleucus catenifer - Sonoran Gopher Snake (Stebbins 1985)
Pituophis melanoleucus catenifer - Sonora Gopher Snake (Stebbins 1966)
Pituophis catenifer catenifer (Stebbins 1954)
Pituophis catenifer catenifer - Coast gopher snake (Van Denburgh1897)
Pituophis catenifer catenifer - Pacific Gopher Snake (Blainville, 1835)

Pacific gopher snake
Adder
(Bellona) bull snake
Churchill's bull snake
Gopher snake
Oregon bull snake
Pacific bull snake
Pacific pine snake
Western bull snake
Western gopher snake
Western pine snake
Yellow gopher 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, Gophersnakes, and Pinesnakes Holbrook, 1842
Species catenifer Gophersnake (Blainville, 1835)
Subspecies

catenifer Pacific Gophersnake (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

Related or Similar California Snakes
P. c. affinis - Sonoran Gophersnake
P. c. annectens - San Diego Gophersnake
P. c. deserticola - Great Basin Gophersnake
P. c. pumilus - Santa Cruz Island Gophersnake
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, 1957.

Conservation Status

The following status listings are copied from the April 2018 Special Animals List and the 2017 Endangered and Threatened Animals List, both of which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status, you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

Check here to see the most current complete lists.


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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