Spotlight on the Great Basin Gopher Snake (commonly called Bull Snake)

Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance  gopher_snake
Latin name: Pituophis catenifer deserticola
Federal Status: Threatened
Provincial Status: Blue Listed


The gopher snake is British Columbia’s largest, non-venomous snake, reaching up to 1.8 meters long. The snake is light tan with dark-brown markings. Along the back are dark rectangular patches (which contrast with the oval or round markings on a rattlesnake). The head is small with a dark line running through the eye and over the forehead. The eyes are pale with a dark round pupil. Their tail tapers gradually to a thin point.

Food habits

Gopher snakes are active hunters who love rodents, climb trees to find birds nests, and also eat lizards, insects and other snakes. They are mainly active at night and spend the day resting in a mouse hole.

Habitat and distribution

The Gopher Snake is widely distributed over Western North America. The deserticola sub-species is restricted in British Columbia to the Thompson, Okanagan, Similkameen and Kettle valleys. Winter dens are located in rocky slopes. In April, the snakes emerge to feed in sage grasslands and forests near streams and ponds.

Shake, Rattle and Bite

The Western Rattlesnake is actually a shy creature that does everything it can to stay out of the way. Snakes cannot hear but are very sensitive to vibrations. If a snake feels something large approaching - like a human walking on a trail - its first reaction is to hide. It may also shake its rattles to warn you of its presence. The rattles are made up of 2 to 16 or more segments made of material like your fingernail. Each segment sits loosely inside the next so that when the tail is shaken the segments buzz and rattle. A tiny young rattlesnake only has only a popcorn-kernel sized button so can’t make any noise. As snakes grow, they shed their skins and a new rattle is gained with every shed. Older snakes have twelve or more rattles but the ends are often broken off.

A rattlesnake bites non-prey only as a last resort when it is close to being stepped on or picked up. Venom is instantly injected out of two large fangs. The venom has a complex chemistry, which in humans can cause disorientation and eventual damage around the site of the bite. Victims should be driven to the hospital so they can be given anti-venom medication if necessary. Not all rattlesnake bites are venomous and require anti-venom.

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