There are many species of snakes in America, but gopher snakes are fascinating. Despite being found all over the country, gopher snakes have some really interesting characteristics and traits.
Gopher snakes (Pituophis catenifer) are active during daylight hours, so they’re less likely to be asleep when you’re awake. They are docile pets and do not object to being handled. They are also non-venomous, so your life won’t be in danger if you get bitten by your snake.
Gopher Snake Facts
We will look at some interesting facts about gopher snakes. It’s likely that you will meet a gopher snake at some point, so it’s worth improving your knowledge of these snakes in advance.
1) Gopher Snakes are All Over the Country
Gopher snakes are among the most common snakes found in the United States. Almost any state will host these snakes, which are not on the US Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species list. The only territory that gopher snakes avoid is cold areas, like Alaska.
Just about the only place that you will not find a gopher snake is in the city center. These reptiles love to burrow and prefer to stay underground.
Gopher snakes are usually found living in burrows, which are also where they hunt their meals. This is how they obtained their name; this species of snake has a taste for gophers.
Gopher snakes have a particular preference for rural territory. Once a gopher snake feels comfortable in a territory, they will rarely leave.
If you live close to farmland or prairies, you may find gopher snakes in your backyard. This will usually be because the snake has followed prey.
2) Gopher Snakes are Great for the Environment
Gopher snakes play an essential role in managing the rodent population. In addition to gophers, they will hunt rats, mice, voles, and squirrels.
A gopher snake will also eat birds and its eggs, and occasionally other reptiles. Farmers, in particular, find gopher snakes useful, as they eat the smaller animals that destroy crops.
Gopher snakes belong to the constrictor family, so they do not kill their prey with fangs. Instead, they wrap themselves around an animal and asphyxiate them. A gopher snake will usually eat around every ten days, hunting their prey during daylight hours.
Of course, gopher snakes also need to be careful of predators that hunt them. Foxes, birds of prey, larger snakes, and coyotes are the primary enemies.
3) Varieties of Gopher Snake in the United States
The different subspecies of gopher snake native to the country are as follows:
- The Pacific Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer)
- The Santa Cruz Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer pumilis)
- The Sonoran Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer affinis)
- The San Diego Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer annectens)
- The Great Basin Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola)
- The Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi)
The latter is often considered to a separate and unique breed. This snake is, in fact, a subspecies of the gopher snake. The primary difference between these snakes is their coloring and markings.
However, some of them have taken their names from a preferred habitat. The Sonoran gopher snake, for example, will often be found in the Sonoran desert.
4) Gopher Snakes are Chameleonic
Gopher snakes are usually cream or brown, with dark spots and blotches along their back.
However, this color may change depending on the snake’s surroundings. This snake will often change shade to blend into the environment that they are living in.
5) Gopher Snakes are Gentle Giants
People are often frightened of gopher snakes due to their size. These snakes are often around six feet in length, though they can be as long as eight feet. Even a newborn gopher snake will be over a foot long, and they could be three feet before they reach a year old.
There is no difference in size between male or female gopher snakes. This needs to be considered by anybody thinking about making one of these snakes as a pet.
If you want to keep a gopher snake, they will need a substantial terrarium. Not only will they have to stretch out, but these snakes also love to burrow and climb.
6) Gopher Snakes are Often Mistaken for Rattlesnakes
Despite being non-venomous, many people mistake gopher snakes for rattlesnakes.
This is mainly due to similarities in appearance between the breeds. Also, a gopher snake may imitate a rattlesnake’s behavior as a defense mechanism. This is known as Batesian mimicry.
There are a handful of physical differences between these two species:
- Gopher snakes have round eyes, while those of a rattlesnake is diamond-shaped
- Gopher snakes are longer and slimmer than rattlesnakes
- A gopher snake’s head is flatter and narrower than that of a rattlesnake
- Gopher snakes lack the appendage at the end of their tail that gives rattlesnakes their name
Never approach a snake if you do not know its species. Gopher snakes may be harmless and non-venomous, but rattlesnakes are lethal. Walk away if you’re in any doubt.
7) Gopher Snakes Have a Unique Defense Mechanism
Gopher snakes mimic rattlesnakes by curling into an ‘s’ shape and hissing. This is designed to warn away a potential predator, buying the snake time to escape.
In addition to this, gopher snakes strike at predators with their mouths firmly closed. This is designed to frighten the predator, without revealing that the gopher snake has no fangs.
This means the snake will bounce off their target. They will hope to have done enough to frighten the predator and encourage them to flee.
8) Gopher Snakes are Sun Worshippers
Even though gopher snakes love to burrow and live underground, they cannot resist the sun. This species loves to bask, drinking in enough sun by day to stay warm at night. Unfortunately, this can also be detrimental to their health.
A gopher snake that attempts to absorb the sun’s rays will have three safety concerns:
- Predators. If a gopher snake is lying still, potentially dozing, they will be defenseless. This could make them easy prey for a swooping hawk, or a hunting coyote.
- Cars. Some gopher snakes doze in the road. As they blend into their surroundings, many drivers will not see the snake until it’s too late. The snake’s instinct will also be to rear up and try to scare a car, rather than move.
- Skin Cancer. A snake that exposes itself to the sun for too long is at risk of skin cancer.
It’s unlikely that you will encounter a gopher snake soaking up the sun, as they do spend 90% of their time underground. If you do find this snake on a rock, remember they are harmless.
This snake will not attack, even if they start to demonstrate what looks like aggressive behavior. The gopher snake is just afraid of you and is trying to scare you away.
This passion for the sun also means that gopher snakes hibernate throughout the winter months. They will typically find a cave or cavern for this period. They may even share this space with other species of snakes, such as rattlers or whipsnakes.
9) Gopher Snakes are Reclusive Unless it’s Mating Season
Gopher snakes are mostly solitary reptiles, preferring their own company. This is partly due to their size, and the fact that they live in comparatively small surroundings.
When the summer comes, gopher snakes become much more sociable. Mating season for this species is during July and August. Sexual maturity for female gopher snake is usually reached between 3-5 years old.
During the mating season, a female releases a unique pheromone that attracts males. These males may fight in a ritual designed to win the favor of a mate.
Once a female gopher snake has been impregnated, anything from 2 to 24 eggs will incubate for 60–75 days. These eggs may be left in a communal nest with those of other gopher snakes. Once they hatch, the parental involvement ends.
10) A Captive Gopher Snake Can Live for a Long Time
If you have decided to get a gopher snake, you should be prepared for a lengthy commitment. A happy and contented gopher snake in captivity can be expected to live for over 30 years.
This lifespan is typically halved to around 12 to 15 years in the wild. This is primarily due to the presence of predators and the harsh environment in which they live.
You’ve learned some fun gopher snake facts, so why not get your own pet? If you’re considering getting a gopher snake as a pet, please read our in-depth care guide.