Gopher Snake

July 30, 2011 · 1 comment

Gopher snakes or bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer) are the largest reptiles around these parts. I’m not afraid of snakes, but a few years back, I was standing in a field while working at Hemphill Angus and looked down to find a three-foot-long snake within inches of my shoes. I jumped higher than I thought was possible and almost had a heart attack. I wasn’t actually in any danger because gopher snakes are really harmless, helpful creatures, but I didn’t appreciate the surprise.

Gopher snakes are common throughout the Northwest, preferring open, dry areas. They can grow to be 72″ in length and have large brownish splotches down the middle of their backs with smaller blotches of color along their sides. After this one got tired of the photo shoot, it started shaking the tip of its tail, imitating a rattlesnake. I was pretty sure it was a gopher snake, but there have been verified rattlesnake sightings in our neighborhood, so I took that behavior as a sign to give it some space. According to Reptiles of the Northwest by Alan St. John, gopher snakes can be distinguished from rattlesnakes by the fact that they have round pupils instead of vertical ones (as you can see in the above photo).

Gopher snakes eat gophers, mice, rats, moles, squirrels, small rabbits, and occasionally bird eggs. They are generally not aggressive but may hiss or strike when they’re feeling defensive.

I found this one sunning itself in the middle of our country road. It was at least two feet long and pretty fat, too. The piece of gravel in the above photo was about an inch across.

When I drive home in the evenings, it’s not uncommon for me to have to stop and get out of my car two or three times along the last half mile of gravel lane in order to chase snakes off the road. It’s a good thing that there are hardly any cars that pass through that corridor.

I’m pretty happy to know that these snakes are lurking around our place, but I’d rather approach one on my own terms than find one underfoot.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

abby July 30, 2011 at 8:56 pm

I am not particularly scared of snakes either, but even a little garter snake will make me jump if it catches me by surprise. We don’t see too many snakes here, aside from an occasional garter snake. I was really happy to find one in the garden last week.


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