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Canadian Herpetological Society

Société d'herpétologie du Canada

Pituophis catenifer
Couleuvre à Nez Mince / Gophersnake

This is a large, heavy bodied snake which may reach 2 m in total length. It is light coloured with dark black, brown or reddish rectagular blotches down the back alternating with blotches on the sides to form a checkered pattern. In the Alberta subspecies, commonly called the Bullsnake , individuals are yellowish in background colour. In the British Columbia subspecies the blotches on the back may be fused to those on the sides. The scales on the belly may be checkered as well, generally brown and cream colours. Three subspecies are known from Canada, the Pacific Gophersnake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer) of southwestern British Columbia (now extirpated), the Great Basin Gophersnake (P. c. deserticola) of southern BC, and the Bullsnake (P. c. sayi) of the prairies.

Confusing Species
There are three other western blotched snakes. The Western Hog-nosed has a characteristic upturned snout. The Prairie Rattlesnake has a distinctly triangular head, a rattle at the tip of the tail and more rounded or hexagonal blotches. The Night Snake is a small slender snake with a vertical pupil in the eye.

Gophersnakes are found in southern Saskatchewan, Alberta and interior British Columbia. They are widely distributed throughout much of the western and southeastern US and south into Mexico.

The species is found in desert, short grass prairie and dry open scrubland. It is often seen near rock piles or boulders in areas with sandy soil but may also be found near farms and fields.

Gophersnakes mate in the spring and from 2-24 eggs are laid once or twice during the summer. These are often laid in small mammal burrows. Hatchlings are 20-40 cm total length and appear in late summer or early fall.

Natural History
Gophersnakes eat small mammals, especially rodents, for which they are prized by farmers. They also eat birds, birds' eggs, lizards and invertebrates. They are primarily active during the day but may burrow underground during very hot weather and become more active at night. They are often mistaken for Rattlesnakes for a number of reasons. They are found in the same habitats, tend to hibernate in the same dens and when frightened they hiss loudly and vibrate their tails. Although they do not have a rattle, in dry grass the vibrating tail may sound similar to a rattle. Although not poisonous they do have a painful bite.

Conservation Concerns
Like many snakes, Gophersnakes are often killed maliciously by people who either think they are dangerous or simply don't like snakes. The Pacific Gophersnake has been designated Extirpated by COSEWIC. The Great Basin Gophersnake has been designated Threatened by COSEWIC because of the significant loss of habitat as a result of agricultural development and the increasing risk of traffic mortality with a growing road network. There is insufficient data to determine the status of the Bullsnake.