NatureMapping Animal Facts for Kids

Gopher Snake

distribution map

Gopher Snake (Pituophis melanoleucus )
Other common name: bullsnake
Víbora Roedor - en Español
Species Code: PIME

What they look like: Gopher Snakes are large reptiles - reported to reach 9 feet (275 cm) in length, but 4 feet (120 cm) is more common. On its back are 33 to 66 light- to dark-brown or reddish blotches on a ground color of yellow, straw, tan or cream. Smaller blotches are located on the animal’s sides. A dark stripe runs from in front of the eye to the angle of the jaw (see photo below). The underside is creamy or yellow, often with dark spots.

Gopher Snake by Chris Brown, USGS

Where they live: The gopher snake is one of the most widespread snakes in North America. Its range extends from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans, as far north as southern Canada, and as far south as Veracruz and southern Sinaloa, Mexico, including Baja California.

This species occurs in a lot of different habitats, including prairies, conifer forests and deserts, but it seems most common in semi-arid brushy areas adjacent to farms.

Click the map for information about the habitat and range of the Gopher Snake in Washington.

What they eat: A constrictor, the gopher snake eats mostly mammals, although birds and eggs are also eaten.

Reproduction: The Gopher Snake life cycle begins in spring, when snakes emerge from their over-wintering hibernacula (dens) to mate. In order to stimulate females to mate, male gohpher snakes line their bodies up with the females, and may even bite them on the back of the neck.  The pregnant females lay between 2 and 8 eggs in late June or early July. The female must first find a good egg-laying site for the eggs to develop, since she does not actually incubate the eggs. These sites are often shared with other gopher snakes, and even with other species of snakes.

Behavior: Gopher Snake video The non-venomous Gopher Snake is commonly misidentified as a Rattlesnake because of its similar coloration and its defensive behavior when feeling threatened.  A scared Gopher Snake will flatten its head, hiss loudly, and shake its tail rapidly, doing a very convincing Rattlesnake imitation (see video clip).  The best reaction when you encounter a snake is to back off, give it some space, and walk away!

Click here to see a video clip of a Gopher Snake defensive display. (7.6 MB)

Did you know?

  • The gopher snake is commonly misidentified as a Rattlesnake because of its markings and defensive behavior.
  • It may hiss loudly, flatten its head, vibrate the tail, and strike when annoyed.
  • A male sometimes will bite a female on the back of her neck when mating. 
  • The gopher snake usually lays between 2 and 8 eggs.

Gopher Snake by Chris Brown, USGS
Gopher Snake    (photo by Chris Brown)

More Information:
Gopher Snake - Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Great Basin Gopher Snake - Reptiles of British Columbia

Animal silhouettes available to purchase »

Photo Credit: Chris Brown, USGS

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