CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Santa Cruz Island Gophersnake -
Pituophis catenifer pumilus

Klauber, 1946
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(= Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake)

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



sound
Listen to a Gophersnake
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 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
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 Gophersnakes
San Diego Gopher Snake Gopher Snake Tail Buzz Sonoran Gopher Snake
A San Diego Gophersnake flicks its tongue and crawls across a dirt road. 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 Sonoran Gophersnake crawls around in Imperial County.
Great Basin Gopher Snake Movie Sonoran Gopher Snake  
A large Great Basin Gophersnake crawls off a road in a Mojave desert canyon. A huge Sonoran Gophersnake 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 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), but hatchlings of this subspecies have been recorded at only 6.5 - 9 inches in length.
This subspecies, Pituophis catenifer pumilus, is a small or "dwarf" subspecies. Adults only grow to just over 3 feet long
(91 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 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.
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.

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

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

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Pituophis catenifer pumilus - Santa Cruz Island Gophersnake, 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 - 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)

This subspecies ranges from near sea level to 2,100 feet (640 m) on Santa Cruz Island.

Notes on Taxonomy

8 subspecies of Gophersnake - Pituophis catenifer - are recognized. Two occur in Baja California, and six occur in the United States. It has been proposed that the snakes from Baja California are a new species. Five of these eight subspecies occur in California, with one endemic, and one that only occurs in California and Baja California.

The species name was originally spelled "pumilus" by Klauber in 1946 but it was changed to "pumilis" sometime shortly after that (possibly by mistake) and "pumilis" was used by many, including this site.

Gophersnakes are related to Ratsnakes and Kingsnakes, and they have been known to interbreed with these species.


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Pituophis catenifer pumilus - Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake (Stebbins 2003, Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
Pituophis melanoleucus pumilus - Santa Cruz Gopher Snake (CA Dept. of Fish and Game)
Pituophis melanoleucus pumilis - Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake (Stebbins 1985)
Pituophis melanoleucus pumilis - Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake (Stebbins 1966)
Pituophis catenifer pumilis (Stebbins 1954)

Channel Island Gopher Snake
Santa Cruz Gopher Snake

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, Gophersnakes, and Pinesnakes Holbrook, 1842
Species catenifer Gophersnake (Blainville, 1835)
Subspecies

pumilus Santa Cruz Island Gophersnake 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 pumilus - 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
pumilus - Latin - diminuitive or dwarfish

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. catenifer - Pacific Gophersnake
P. c. deserticola - Great Basin Gophersnake

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, 1957.

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

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.



Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking G5T1T2 The species is: Apparently Secure—Uncommon but not rare in the state; some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors.

This subspecies is: Critically Imperiled - Imperiled
NatureServe State Ranking S1?

Critically imperiled in the state because of extreme rarity (often 5 or fewer populations) orbecause of factor(s) such as very steep declines making it especially vulnerable to extirpation from the state.

U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife WL Watch List
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN Not listed

 

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