Scientific Name: Pituophis catenifer annectens
Gopher snakes are mainly active during the day, except in extremely hot weather when they hunt at night.
These non-venomous snakes are popular with farmers because they consume crop-damaging rodents.
STATUS: Gopher snakes are common and not endangered.
HABITAT: One of the most widespread snakes in North America, the gopher snake’s range extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, and into southern Canada and Mexico. These snakes are found in deserts, prairies, brushlands, woodlands, coniferous forests, and farmlands. Habitats vary from below sea level to over 9,000 feet.
DIET: Gopher snakes hunt rodents, rabbits, lizards, birds, eggs, and occasionally other snakes, usually locating prey with their sense of smell. They kill their meals by constriction and suffocation. This slow-moving snake investigates burrows and rocky crevices and even climbs trees in search of food.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Gopher snakes average three to six feet in length, and are heavy-bodied. Their backs have brown or reddish blotches on a background of yellow, tan, or cream. Most have a dark stripe flowing from the eye along the jaw and a dark line between the eyes. The underside is creamy or yellow, often with dark spots.
During the spring mating season, male gopher snakes “wrestle” on the ground, entwined from neck to tail, hissing frequently. These bouts, which may last up to an hour, have been mistaken for courtship displays between male and female. The wrestling matches seem to be a means of determining which snake will mate afterward. The male is also aggressive during courtship with the female, biting her by the neck. Six weeks after mating, females lay two to 24 eggs, which are stuck together with a glue-like substance. Fully-developed hatchlings, large enough to eat small mice, emerge within 10 weeks.
When threatened, the snake will rise up, flatten its head into a triangular shape, shake its tail, and hiss loudly. The hiss is produced by an organ in its mouth, the glottis, which opens and closes rapidly, producing a sound like the rattle of a rattlesnake. In turn, the gopher snake is often mistaken for a rattlesnake by a predator that then retreats.
Life span averages 16 years in the wild.