Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer deserticola)

Pituophis catenifer deserticola, commonly known as the Great Basin gopher snake, is a subspecies of nonvenomous colubrid endemic to the western part of the United States and adjacent southwestern Canada.

Geographic range

This serpent can be found in the United States in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, and in Canada in British Columbia.

Description

Adults of P. c. deserticola are usually about 4.5 feet (137 cm) in total length. The maximum recorded total length is 5.75 feet (175 cm).

The Great Basin gopher snake has dorsal spots that are dark brown or black, and they are connected to each other by very narrow lines that run along each side of the anterior part of the body. On each side of the neck there usually is a dark longitudinal stripe that is surrounded by some lighter coloring, which eventually breaks up towards the posterior end of the snake and turns into dashes or small spots. The body scales are keeled, and the head has a pointed shape. The underbelly has a creamy color with small, dark, irregular blotches. There is some discrepancy over their average lifespan, the Utah Hogle Zoo reports the average lifespan is 7 years, while others report that the average lifespan for the Great Basin gopher snake as being 12–15 years with the record age being 33 years and 10 months.

 

Habitat

The Great Basin gopher snake can be found throughout the western United States in grasslands, woodlands, deserts, coastal sage scrub, agriculture land, and riparian areas.

Behavior

The Great Basin gopher snake is a great climber, swimmer, and burrower. It is one of the most commonly found snakes when people are hiking or driving on the road. They are easily seen in spring when the male snakes are out and about trying to find a mate. The hatchlings are easily found in late August and September when they emerge from their eggs. Like most animals, Great Basin gopher snakes are not dangerous unless provoked. When defending themselves from predators, they will elevate and inflate the body, and flatten the head into a triangular shape. Loud hissing noises will ensue, along with quick shaking of the tail, mimicking the sound of a deadly rattlesnake. Unlike a rattlesnake, however, the Great Basin gopher snake is nonvenomous.

Diet

The Great Basin gopher snake is carnivorous, and it preys upon a variety of organisms, including insects, lizards, birds and their eggs, and small mammals (pocket gophers).

Reproduction

Subspecies of gopher snakes lay their eggs from June to August, and the Great Basin gopher snake is no exception. After the sexually mature snakes mate in spring, the females usually lay 3-24 eggs, with 7 eggs being the average. It usually takes the eggs 2 to 2.5 months to hatch. When the young emerge, they are usually in the range of 30–46 cm (12–18 in) in total length.

Scientific study

The following link (BJLS) is a study done on gopher snakes (P. catenifer) about their feeding ecology. The study focuses on the contents of the stomachs of more than 2,600 specimens and looks at the most commonly eaten prey.

 

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About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.