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Pituophis catenifer facts for kids

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Pituophis catenifer
Gopher snake1.jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
  • Coluber catenifer Blainville, 1835
  • Pituophis catenifer
    — Baird & Girard, 1853
  • Pityophis heermanni Hallowell, 1853
  • Elaphis reticulatus
    A.M.C. Duméril & Bibron, 1854
  • Pityophis hæmatois Cope, 1860
  • Coluber catenifer Boulenger, 1894
  • Pituophis catenifer
    — Stejneger & Barbour, 1917
Common name: Pacific gopher snake, coast gopher snake, western gopher snake, more.

Pituophis catenifer is a species of nonvenomous colubrid snake endemic to North America. Nine subspecies are currently recognized, including the nominotypical subspecies, Pituophis catenifer catenifer, described here. This snake is often mistaken for the prairie rattlesnake, but can be easily distinguished from a rattlesnake by the lack of black and white banding on its tail and by the shape of its head, which is narrower than a rattlesnake's.


The specific name, catenifer, is Latin for "chain-bearing", referring to the dorsal color pattern.


Adults are 36-84 in (91–213 cm) in length. Dorsally, they are yellowish or pale brown, with a series of large, dark brown or black blotches, and smaller, dark spots on the sides. Ventrally, they are yellowish, either uniform or with brown markings.

Great Basin subspecies, coiled


The gopher snake has an odd defensive mechanism, in which it puffs up its body and curls itself into the classic strike pose of a pit viper. However, rather than delivering an open-mouthed strike, the gopher snake is known for striking with a closed mouth, using its blunt nose to "warn off" possible predators. Also, it often shakes its tail, confusing predators into thinking it is a rattlesnake. This works best when the snake is in dry leaves or on gravel. It usually hunts its prey on land, but occasionally ventures out into ponds to hunt frogs.

Life expectancy

Gopher Snake Pituophis catenifer 02
Gopher snake

Wild gopher snakes typically live 12 to 15 years, but the oldest captive recorded lived over 33 years.

Common names

Common names for this species, or its several subspecies, are: Pacific gopher snake, Henry snake, coast gopher snake, bullsnake, Churchill's bullsnake, Oregon bullsnake, Pacific pine snake, western bullsnake, western gopher snake, Sonoran gopher snake, western pine snake, great basin gopher snake, blow snake, and yellow gopher snake.


Subspecies Taxon author Common name Geographic range
P. c. affinis Hallowell, 1852 Sonoran gopher snake
P. c. annectens Baird & Girard, 1853 San Diego gopher snake
P. c. bimaris Klauber, 1946 Central Baja California gopher snake
P. c. catenifer Blainville, 1835 Pacific gopher snake The United States, from Oregon west of the Cascade Range, south into California, west of the Sierra Nevada to northern Santa Barbara County and the Tehachapi Mountains.
P. c. coronalis Klauber, 1946 Coronado Island gopher snake Coronado, California
P. c. deserticola Stejneger, 1893 Great Basin gopher snake
P. c. fulginatus Klauber, 1946 San Martin Island gopher snake San Martin Island, Baja California
P. c. pumilis Klauber, 1946 Santa Cruz gopher snake
P. c. sayi Schlegel, 1837 Bullsnake Central and western North America.
  • Blainville, H.D. 1835. Description de quelques espèces de reptiles de la Californie précédée de l'analyse d'un système général d'herpétologie et d'amphibiologie. Nouvelles Annales du Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle 4: 233-296. (Coluber catenifer, pp. 290–291 + Plate XXVI., Figures 2, 2A, 2B.)
  • Pituophis catenifer at the TIGR Reptile Database. Accessed 4 February 2009.

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