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Gopher Snake
Pituophis melanoleucus deserticola

Gopher Snake
Gopher Snake

  • Other Names: Great Basin Bull Snake, or Desert Gopher Snake.
  • Length: 1 to 2 m; large, heavy-bodied snakes.
  • Tan-coloured body marked with rows of dark brown or black blotches; dark blotches become a series of cross-bands on the tail.
  • Small head; dark lines run from jaw to eyes and across head.
  • Readily distinguished from the Western Rattlesnake which has a broad, triangle-shaped head and rattle at end of tail.


British Columbia Blue List

Special Significance

In British Columbia, the small population of Gopher Snakes is found primarily in the dry valleys of the southern portion of the province. Human development has encroached on many portions of the range of Gopher Snakes and has undoubtedly caused population declines. These snakes may have an important role in agricultural areas where rodents can cause crop damage. Gopher Snakes are protected under the British Columbia Wildlife Act. However, these creatures are vulnerable to needless killing by humans because of their similar appearance to the Western Rattlesnake. The most significant threat to Gopher Snake populations continues to be rapid habitat change as a result of human activities.


  • In British Columbia, found in the Thompson, and Okanagan valleys, the Fraser Valley from Lillooet to Lytton, west along the Similkameen River almost to Princeton, and near Grand Forks.
  • Mainly found in the grasslands and ponderosa pine parklands.


  • Summer range consists of shrub-steppe grasslands adjacent to streams and ponds.
  • Snakes occupy habitats supporting sizable rodent populations.
  • Nesting sites may include sandy, southern exposed slopes, talus and rock outcrops.
  • Hibernation sites are found in southern facing rocky slopes with many deep fissures; large piles of loose rock are also used as hibernating sites.


  • Gopher Snakes emerge from the hibernation site in April and disperse shortly thereafter.
  • Snakes mate in May and lay 2 to 8 eggs in old rodent burrows in late June or early July.
  • They do not incubate eggs so nest site must be warm and moist to allow development.
  • Eggs hatch in late summer; females and juveniles stay active in the summer habitat until mid-October.
  • Annual reproduction is possible if females can regain enough fat reserves after egg laying.

Food Habits

  • Forage primarily at night; daylight hours usually spent underground in vacant rodent burrows.
  • In British Columbia, probably specialize on rodents; larger prey species such as cottontail rabbits are killed by squeezing, smaller rodents swallowed alive.
  • Snakes also eat birds and their eggs, insects, lizards, garter snakes and ground squirrels.
  • Eat only once a week or less; meals can weigh as much as 50 percent of the snake's weight.
  • Positively affected by increases in rodent populations which benefit from agricultural activity.

Interesting Facts

  • Gopher Snakes are British Columbia's largest snake.
  • Able to hiss and make sharp, sudden sounds like the snort of a bull (hence the nickname "Bull Snake" ) or the rattling sound of a rattlesnake.
  • Juvenile snakes follow scent trails of adult snakes, which may assist young snakes in location of den sites.
  • Good climbers; these snakes can sometimes be found in trees.
  • Hibernating dens may be shared with rattlesnakes, racers and garter snakes.


  • When cornered, Gopher Snakes may be aggressive and attempt to bite.
  • Gopher Snakes are not poisonous, and pose no threat to humans.
  • Remember - snakes will leave you alone, if you leave them alone.


  • Extensive land development in the Okanagan has eliminated or fragmented their habitat (including dens and feeding grounds).
  • Dens are particularly susceptible to human development; snakes may not relocate to other areas if dens are destroyed, and availability of suitable winter dens may be limited.
  • Direct killing by humans because of aggressive behaviour and similarity to Western Rattlesnake; indirectly killed on roads.
  • Ploughs and other farm machinery could destroy snake eggs laid in rodent burrows, and pesticides could impact their rodent prey.

Management Considerations

  • Conduct surveys to locate den sites before surface disturbances occur.
  • Identify and protect dens and nesting sites whenever possible.
  • Leave 1 km buffer zone around known den sites and critical habitats.
  • Avoid road construction near talus slopes and around known snake dispersal routes.
  • Avoid disturbing rock and woody debris in potential snake habitat.
  • Maintain good range condition in grasslands for cover and habitat for prey species.


1. Shewchuk, C.H. and H.L. Waye. 1995. Draft. Status Report for the Gopher Snake in British Columbia. Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, Lands and Parks. Victoria, British Columbia.
2. Gregory, P.T. and R.W. Campbell. 1984. The reptiles of British Columbia. British Columbia Provincial Museum Handbook No. 44. Victoria, BC.
3. Orchard, S.A. 1984. Amphibians and Reptiles of British Columbia; an Ecological Review. Ministry of Forests. Victoria, British Columbia.


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