A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Gophersnake - Pituophis catenifer

Sonoran Gophersnake - Pituophis catenifer affinis

(Hallowell, 1852)

(= Sonoran Gopher Snake)

Click on a picture for a larger view
Gopher Snakes California Range Map
Purple: Range of this subspecies in California
Pituophis catenifer affinis -
Sonoran Gophersnake

Range of other subspecies in California:

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

Click on the map for a topographical view

Map with California County Names

Listen to a Gophersnake
hissing defensively

observation link

Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake
Adult, eastern Imperial County desert
Sonoran Gopher Snake
Sonoran Gopher Snake
Sonoran Gopher Snake
Sonoran Gopher Snake
Adult, south of Coachella,
Riverside County
Adult, Riverside County
© William Flaxington
Adult, Riverside County
© William Flaxington
Adult, Riverside County
© Patrick Briggs
Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake
Adult, swimming across the Colorado River, Imperial County, California.
Adult from Palm Desert, Riverside County. 
© Brody Trent
Adult in defensive stance with mouth slighly opened to make a hissing sound, Riverside County.  © Brody Trent
Snakes From Intergrade Areas
Great Basin Gopher Snake Great Basin Gopher Snake    
This adult snake from the desert in Riverside County near San Gorgonio pass where the two subspecies meet shows a dark pattern towards the head characteristic of P. c. annectens and a yellow-orange coloration at the tail end characteristic of P. c. affinis. © Dave Zeldin    
Sonoran Gophersnakes From Outside California
Sonoran Gopher Snake
Adult, Cochise County, Arizona
Sonoran Gopher Snake
Adult, Cochise County, Arizona
Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake
Adult, Pima County, Arizona Juvenile, Jeff Davis County, Texas
Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake
Large old adult, Cochise County, Arizona Adult in defensive position, Cochise County, Arizona Young Adult, Yavapai County,
Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake    
Adult, Yavapai County, Arizona

Adult crossing the road defensively with elevated head and neck while hissing, Cochise County, Arizona    
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 Gophesnake. © 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 Gopher Snake Rattlesnake Comparison Sign
Harmless and beneficial gophersnakes are sometimes mistaken for dangerous rattlesnakes. Gophersnakes are often killed unnecessarily because of this confusion.
(It's also not necessary to kill every rattlesnake.)

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.

Sonoran Gopher Snake Habitat Sonoran Gopher Snake Habitat Sonoran Gopher Snake Habitat Sonoran Gopher Snake Habitat
Habitat, Imperial County desert Habitat, Colorado River, Imperial County Habitat, Imperial County desert Habitat, San Diego County desert
Sonoran Gopher Snake Habitat      
A Sonoran Gopher Snake was found in this agricultural habitat in Imperial County.      
Short Videos
Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake Sonoran Gopher Snake
A Sonoran Gophersnake crawls around in the desert in Imperial County. A huge Sonoran Gophersnake puts on an impressive defensive display of hissing and blowing in Arizona. Gophersnakes in the wild often take a defensive stance when threatened; they hiss, rear up, and sometimes even strike at the threat in order to protect themselves from harm. In this video, a newly-hatched juvenile Sonoran Gopher Snake trying to cross a road at night is threatened by the bright light and the video camera stuck in its face so it hisses loudly and strikes at the camera before crawling away. A Sonoran Gophersnake races across a road just after sunset in eastern Arizona.
gopher snake tail shake      
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.      

Not Dangerous - This snake does not have venom that can cause death or serious illness or injury in most humans.

Commonly described as "harmless" or "not poisonous" to indicate that its bite is not dangerous, but "not venomous" is more accurate. (A poisonous snake can hurt you if you eat it. A venomous snake can hurt you if it bites you.)

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).
Most adults of this subspecies, Pituophis catenifer affinis, are from 5 - 6 ft. long (152 - 183 cm.)

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 which is rounded sharply in the front and not raised or only slightly raised above adjacent scales.
Color and Pattern
Ground color is straw, light brown or tan, with large brown or reddish blotches or saddles along the back and smaller markings on the sides.
The back of the neck is yellowish or tan with small black spots.
The underside is cream to yellowish with dark spots.
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 gopher snake subspecies.

Life History and Behavior

Active in the daytime, and at night in hot weather, and especially at dusk and dawn.
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.
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.
Mating occurs in spring after emergence from winter hibernation.
Females are oviparous, laying one to 2 clutches of 2-24 eggs from June - August. (Stebbins, 2003)
Eggs hatch in 2 - 2.5 months.

Found in a variety of habitats - desert flats, agricultural land, riparian areas including below sea level in the Imperial Valley.

Geographical Range
This subspecies, Pituophis catenifer affinis - Sonoran Gophersnake, occurs in southeast California, from the Imperial Valley north to roughly the San Bernardino County line, and east to the Colorado river. The subspecies' range extends out of California south into the northeast tip of Baja California, and east into Arizona and New Mexico, then south through West Texas and farther south into Mexico.

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 Rat Snakes and Kingsnakes, and they have been known to interbreed with these species.

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Pituophis catenifer affinis - Sonoran Gopher Snake (Stebbins 2003, Stebbins & McGinnis 2012)
Pituophis melanoleucus affinis - Sonoran Gopher Snake (Stebbins 1985)
Pituophis melanoleucus affinis - Sonora Gopher Snake (Stebbins 1966)
Pituophis catenifer affinis (Stebbins 1954)
Pituophis catenifer deserticola - Desert Gopher Snake (Pityophis sayi bellona, part; Pityophis catenifer, part; Pityophis bellona, part. Western Bull Snake, part; Southern Bull Snake; Arizona Bull Snake; Gopher Snake, part) (Grinnell and Camp 1917)
Pituophis catenifer affinis - Sonoran Gopher Snake (Hallowell, 1852)
Pituophis catenifer affinis - (Van Denburgh 1922)

Sonora gopher snake
Arizona gopher snake
Arizona bull snake
Bull snake
Blow snake
Eastern bull snake
Gopher snake
Prairie bull snake
Western bull 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.
Family Colubridae Colubrids Oppel, 1811
Genus Pituophis Bullsnakes, Gophersnakes, and Pinesnakes Holbrook, 1842
Species catenifer Gophersnake (Blainville, 1835)

affinis Sonoran Gophersnake (Hallowell, 1852)
Original Description
Pituophis catenifer - (Blainville, 1835) - Nouv. Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, Vol. 4, p. 290, pl. 26, figs. 2-2b
Pituophis catenifer affinis - Hallowell, 1852 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 181

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)
- Latin - catena - chain and -ifera - bearing - referring to the dorsal pattern
affinis - Latin - related or adjacent

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz
Related or Similar California Snakes
P. c. annectens - San Diego Gophersnake
P. c. catenifer - Pacific Gophersnake
P. c. deserticola - Great Basin Gophersnake
P. c. pumilus - Santa Cruz Island Gophersnake
A. e. eburnata -Desert 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.

Flaxington, William C. Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Field Observations, Distribution, and Natural History. Fieldnotes Press, Anaheim, California, 2021.

Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.

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.

Taylor, Emily. California Snakes and How to Find Them. Heyday, Berkeley, California. 2024.

Wright, Albert Hazen & Anna Allen Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1957.

Joseph Grinnell and Charles Lewis Camp. A Distributional List of the Amphibians and Reptiles of California. University of California Publications in Zoology Vol. 17, No. 10, pp. 127-208. July 11, 1917.

Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the April 2024 State of California Special Animals List and the April 2024 Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California list (unless indicated otherwise below.) Both lists are produced by multiple agencies every year, and sometimes more than once per year, so the conservation status listing information found below might not be from the most recent lists. To make sure you are seeing the most recent listings, go to this California Department of Fish and Wildlife web page where you can search for and download both lists:

A detailed explanation of the meaning of the status listing symbols can be found at the beginning of the two lists. For quick reference, I have included them on my Special Status Information page.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either 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 also go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

Check the current California Department of Fish and Wildlife sport fishing regulations to find out if this animal can be legally pursued and handled or collected with possession of a current fishing license. You can also look at the summary of the sport fishing regulations as they apply only to reptiles and amphibians that has been made for this website.

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  Notes
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

Home Site Map About Us Identification Lists Maps Photos More Lists CA Snakes CA Lizards CA Turtles CA Salamanders CA Frogs
Contact Us Usage Resources Rattlesnakes Sounds Videos FieldHerping Yard Herps Behavior Herp Fun CA Regulations
Beyond CA All Herps

Return to the Top

 © 2000 -