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Aug 172012
gopher snake

photo: © 2005 Jeremiah Easter

Description: Gopher snakes are predominantly tan or light brown, with three rows of dark brown or black blotches along their heavy bodies. Commonly called bullsnakes, they can be from 36 to 80 inches long and pose no danger to humans or pets. They use constriction and suffocation-rather than venom-to kill their prey. However, because the patterns on their backs are similar to rattlesnakes and because they coil, vibrate their tails, and even strike when threatened, gopher snakes are often mistaken for rattlesnakes. Look for these differences:

  • Gopher snake tails taper to a thin tip and lack rattles; rattlesnake tails always have rattles (or immature buttons), unless the rattle has broken off.
  • Gopher snake heads are usually narrow, while rattlesnake heads are always triangular.
  • Gopher snake eyes have round pupils, while rattlesnake pupils are vertical.

When alarmed, gopher snakes make hissing or buzzing noises with their vibrating tails; rattlesnakes make rattling noises. Experts can readily tell the difference, but novices might not.

Native habitat: Gopher snakes can be found in all parts of the state except northern Idaho. Their very diverse habitats include desert shrub lands, low mountain areas, and farm fields.

Behavior: Gopher snakes are generally active by day, preying on rodents, rabbits, and birds. When the weather turns hot, they hunt during the night and rest — often on warm rocks or pavement — during the day. They hibernate during the winter and are out and about between April and October.

Managing conflicts: Voracious rodent-eaters that can chase their prey both above- and underground, gopher snakes will help you control your pest problems. Odds are you won’t have their services for long because they’re not likely to linger in your yard. If you’re not certain whether your serpentine visitor is a gopher snake or rattlesnake, call in a description to a wildlife expert. If it’s clearly a gopher snake and you spot it repeatedly, you can choose to either let it be or take steps to reduce your yard’s attractiveness to snakes.

Ways to manage nonpoisonous snakes can be found in the chapter, Nonpoisonous Snakes, found in Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage.

Information courtesy of:
  • Idaho Museum of Natural History Digital Atlas, Gopher Snake
  • “Idaho’s Amphibians and Reptiles,” Nongame Wildlife Leaflet #7, Idaho Department of Fish and Game
 August 17, 2012