The gopher snake has a secret.
It is not a rattlesnake.
I know that may sound obvious, but many gopher snakes are mistaken for rattlesnakes and killed as a result.
And it’s largely their own fault.
You see, the gopher snake does a great rattlesnake imitation. It does this to appear more dangerous to scare off potential predators.
It works well. Too well. As mentioned, many are killed. And that is a shame.
This snake is incredibly useful, since it keeps rodent populations in check. It is important to better understand it, so that fewer of them are mistakenly killed. Let’s take a look at some gopher snake facts to learn more about this helpful serpent.
Table of Contents
- 1 Gopher Snake
- 1.1 Gopher Snakes Make Great Pets
- 1.2 Gopher Snakes Live A Long Time
- 1.3 Gopher Snakes Are Aggressive Breeders
- 1.4 Gopher Snake Hatchlings Are Independent From Birth
- 1.5 Gopher Snakes Are Harmless And Helpful
- 1.6 They Love Eating Gophers (Imagine That!)
- 1.7 The Sonoran Is One Of Several Subspecies
- 1.8 Often Mistaken For A Rattlesnake
- 1.9 Does The Gopher Snake Bite?
- 2 Gopher Snakes: Final Thoughts
The Gopher snake is found throughout western North America, occurring in lots of different habitats – deserts, forests, and prairies. What is interesting with this particular snake is its loud hissing.
There is a small filament in the snake’s mouth and this is what makes it hiss more loudly than any other snake in the United States. The snake hisses like this when it feels threatened by humans in its territory.
Let’s take a look at some more interesting facts about this gopher snake.
Gopher Snakes Make Great Pets
Snakes are fascinating creature and, while they have a reputation for being dangerous, they are not and many species are tame as pets. The gopher snake is one of those species.
It is a hardy reptile with minimal requirements, making it a popular snake with hobbyists. It can thrive in captivity with the right set-up.
All snakes have unique requirements, so you need to do your research on the breed you want. This fairly thick-set, ground-dwelling constrictor is no exception.
The gopher snake is generally bigger than the kingsnake or the corn snake, so it requires a more spacious enclosure. One type of gopher snake is the bull snake, which is known for getting very large. Read our comparison of bull snakes and gopher snakes for more details.
A 30-gallon aquarium equipped with a hiding place such as a ‘rock cave’ is adequate for smaller gopher snakes, but a somewhat larger enclosure is even better. Bull snakes need much more space.
It is important that your snake enclosure seals shut completely, because the Gopher is adept at escaping.
Gopher Snakes Live A Long Time
In the wild, gopher snakes live between 12 and 15 years, but they can live up to 33 years of age in captivity. It is important to be aware that these snakes are very long-term commitments.
Of course, they only live that long if you provide them the right environment. Since these snakes are native to north America, this should not be too difficult.
The ideal temperature for you Gopher snake is in the mid-70s to the mid-80s Fahrenheit. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature and ensure it is always comfortable for your snake.
Snakes are cold-blooded, so you’ll need to provide a thermal gradient so it can choose the temperature it needs to adjust its body temperature to the ideal level. You create a thermal gradient by having one side of the enclosure at room temperature and heating the other side using a heat bulb or a heating mat.
Gopher Snakes Are Aggressive Breeders
Male Gopher snakes are between 1 and 2 years of age when they reach sexual maturity, while the females take a while longer – they’re 3 to 5 years of age before reaching sexual maturity.
Gopher snakes are aggressive breeders, and much like the African lion, you may see your male gopher biting the female’s neck to subdue her. He was attracted to her in the first place because of chemicals emitted through her skin to attract males.
The mating season is usually July and August. Apart from coming together for the mating period, the gopher snake is a solitary creature for the rest of the year. For breeding purposes, if you have a gopher as a pet, you will need to provide your snakes with a satisfactory nesting area.
Your female gopher is oviparous, meaning she is an egg-laying snake. She will lay up to 24 eggs, with the fertile eggs being large, white and leathery.
In the wild, the eggs are incubated in nests for a period of 65 to 75 days. In captivity, you can incubate at a temperature between 78° and 84° F. After about 55 to 75 days, the would-be hatchlings start pipping away at the eggs before they slither out.
Gopher Snake Hatchlings Are Independent From Birth
From word go, the tiny snakes are independent. In fact, they start displaying adult characteristics right way and you may even witness them hissing and rattling their tails right after emerging from the eggs. The small snakes are about 12 to 18 inches long and can grow to 3 feet after a year.
In the wild, the gopher snake commonly reaches 4 feet in length, but there have been quite a few reports of the reptile reaching 9 feet.
Because of the serpent’s wide range, you’ll find quite a bit of variation in their appearance. Generally, the belly of the snake is a cream color with brown-to-black blotches which form a chain-like pattern.
Gopher Snakes Are Harmless And Helpful
The gopher snake may look pretty intimidating to people with an aversion to serpents, but these long serpents are not venomous and pose no danger.
They’ve got an important role to play in nature, keeping the rodent population in check. Kill them or remove them and nature becomes unbalanced.
They Love Eating Gophers (Imagine That!)
The gopher, a squirrel-type rodent which hails from North America, is the gopher snake’s primary food source. That should come as no surprise, given the snake’s name.
These rodents are hoarding mammals, collecting and storing food in their cheek pouches and then storing it in their burrows. In effect, the gopher snake, on catching one of these rodents, is getting a double helping of food.
Because the gopher snake’s diet consists of these and other small rodents, farmers appreciate these snakes, because they keep rodent populations under control. Left to run amok, rodents can harm crops.
The gopher snake is a constrictor. It wraps its body around its live prey, constricting it until death mercifully comes for the rodent. It then swallows the rodent whole.
If its favorite meal isn’t available, the gopher snake will eat birds, eggs, lizards and some larger animals, as long as they’re able to swallow them. Our article on what bull snakes eat has more on this. Once it has had a meal, it is not likely to eat again for a week.
The Sonoran Is One Of Several Subspecies
There are a number of subspecies of the gopher snake. Some of their common names are are bull or pine snakes, Pacific gopher snakes, Pacific pine snakes, Oregon bull snakes, and Sonoran gopher snakes, among others.
The Sonoran’s habitat ranges from west Texas to southeastern California and Mexico—more specifically the Sonoran Desert, from which the snake gets its name.
This desert covers approximately 100,000 square miles and has quite a bit of plant life, compared to most other deserts. In fact, from July to September, the Summer monsoon brings wet, tropical air to the desert. It also has mild winters.
Sonoran gopher snakes can be somewhat aggressive, but in captivity, they can become tame and gentle. If you are considering getting one, you should do your research beforehand.
You can find tons on info online on how to care for this wonderful snake. You’ll find information on their enclosures, how to set up a humid hide for extra humidity, putting in a tree branch or two, what kind of lighting and heat to include, what its feeding habits are, its breeding habits, information on the hatchlings and what the snake’s general temperament is.
Often Mistaken For A Rattlesnake
Many people mistake gopher snakes for rattlesnakes. Let’s take a look at some of the differences and similarities.
- Like most non-venomous snakes in the United States, the gopher snake has rounded pupils as opposed to the vertical pupils of rattlesnakes.
- The gopher snake lays up to 24 eggs while the rattlesnake gives birth to live young.
- The gopher snake is slimmer than the rattlesnake, although if you only met one in the wild, you wouldn’t have the other snake to measure it by.
- The gopher snake doesn’t have rattles on the end of its tail, but this may be hard to notice, since it also rapidly vibrates its tail.
- Apart from the eyes, both snakes have similar looks, with dark markings on their backs, large heads that flatten when they are threatened and they both hiss loudly.
- As a defense tactic, both snakes vibrate their tails when threatened.
- Gopher snakes hibernate in winter, and interestingly, sometimes share their den with rattlesnakes.
- During breeding season, gopher snake males defend their territories against any competing males, doing a combat dance. Some people are inclined to think it’s a courtship dance, when it fact its an aggressive wrestling between males for mating and breeding rights.
- The gopher snake’s imitation of the rattlesnake’s actions, and they way it puffs up and rises to a striking position, looks very convincing as a rattlesnake.
- Vipers like the rattlesnake strike with an open mouth, while the gopher strikes with its mouth closed.
Does The Gopher Snake Bite?
Every snake tries to avoid humans as much as possible, and even rattlesnakes won’t bite unless they feel threatened. The non-poisonous gopher, when threatened, can inflict a nasty bite, but that by no means labels it an aggressive snake. A bite is unlikely.
The best advice when out in nature is to avoid snakes and steer clear of them when you come across one. Bites can be avoided if people will just learn not to antagonize animals.
You can’t blame a snake biting a person because of the person’s bad behavior and bad choices. Always wear high-cut boots in the wild to protect your ankles. Also watch where you’re walking and where you put your hands; more-so when walking over rocky terrain.
Gopher Snakes: Final Thoughts
Snakes, like sharks, are misunderstood animals. They are wonderfully fascinating, ecologically important creatures, but in the absence of information, people abuse and kill them.
Gopher snakes may look venomous, but they aren’t and it’s why they make splendid pets. They’re hardy, they feed nicely and they’re attractive.
By inviting a Gopher into your home and your life, you’ll begin to understand why World Wildlife Day is such an important day – because a world without plants and animals such as this awesome snake species is a world doomed.