San Diego Gopher Snake
Pituophis catenifer annectens
San Diego Gopher Snake
Scalation: Shannon Haitt personally
feels that with a limited range closely bordered by the
ranges of three gopher snake species, scale counts are of
little value. In fact, all species have similar average
scale counts. Catching a snake in a specific locale is
the only way to determine the species in hand or whether
it might be an intergrade specimen. Even blotch
characteristics are more accurate in some instances, but
certainly not all.
By: Shannon Hiatt
|Coloration and Description:
San Diego Gopher snakes have a wide range of ground colors: tan, gray, cream, and yellow are all common. The large, generally black or brown blotches on the back are square shaped in many specimens and run the full length of the snake's dorsum. There are smaller blotches on the sides that are of the same coloration as the dorsal blotches. The blotches near the head, which may fuse with adjoining blotches, are often darker than those near the tail. The mid-body blotches may also fuse with adjoining blotches but tend to be lighter than those at the anterior or posterior.
Albino, anerythristic, hypomelanistic, snow (albino and anerythristic gene combination), and striped specimens are commonly available to herpetoculturists. One enhanced version of the albino, selectively bred for beautiful enamel white colors coupled with bright orange-red blotches on a deep yellow, is known as the Applegate phase.
Head and Neck:
There is a distinctive dark line that intersects the eye; another is found just behind the eye and runs to the jaw (supralabials) and is typical in the Pituophis. Some older specimens have a slight bulge at the forehead; this look often generates the term "bull snake" even when the snake in question is not Pituophis catenifer sayi. The rostral scale on the tip of the nose is convex and protrudes prominently and is an adaptation that allows the snake to dig.
The ventral scales are yellow, tan, or off white and some snakes will have dark spots on the edges of these scutes.
In Southern California from
Santa Barbara County into the central Baja region of
Mexico; even though specimens may be found in mountainous
areas, they rarely venture above 9,000 feet with any
regularity. With the range of the Pacific gopher snake
(Pituophis catenifer catenifer) to the immediate north,
the Great Basin gopher snake's (Pituophis catenifer
deserticola) range to the northeast, and the Sonoran
gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer affinis) ranging
directly to the east, expect some variation in the San
Diego gopher snakes found along these ranges where
Seems to prefer the open regions along the coast but
also found with regularity in the inland desert regions
of both California and the Baja. In California they can
also be found in the small mountain ranges scattered from
Los Angeles south to San Diego. This species, like all
gophers snakes, spends considerable time searching
through the burrows of its prey where there is more
humidity than at surface levels. Around human habitation,
they also seek their prey under boards, in trash piles,
and among abandoned buildings.
Mammals with the pocket gopher purportedly being one
of the primary prey animals, hence the name gopher snake.
A good climber and an opportunistic hunter, the San Diego
gopher snake will also take eggs of ground dwelling
birds, eggs and young in nests in low desert bushes, and
some lizards. It is not known to regularly eat smaller
snakes but certainly is capable of doing so.
Generally diurnal (movement during daylight hours);
extremely warm temperatures will force this adaptable
species into forays at dusk and nocturnal (movement at
night) hunting. The San Diego Gopher Snake produces a
loud hiss with the rapid opening and closing of its
glottis. This adaptation is found in all gopher snake
species and forces air out, and through, the glottis and
serves to scare off predators or curious humans. In fact,
along with its tail rattling display, this defensive
behavior often causes great fear in the uninitiated with
drastic results for this harmless snake.
Many wild caught specimens become docile and easy to
handle within weeks. Some, in fact, can be picked up in
the field without consequence. Others never seem to adapt
and continue the S-shaped neck defensive display, loud
hiss, and closed-mouth biting associated with any
perceived threat. Some are moody and might be docile one
time and go into a full-blown threat display the next.
Melissa Kaplan's advice is appropriate. Observe your
snakes and "read" the moods they communicate to
you with their body language. If the head and neck are in
the S-shaped defensive display, back off and let the
snake settle. If there is concern about being bitten by a
large adult, however, always use a snake hook to remove
snakes from their cages.
After a normal brumation period, San Diego gophers
will breed quite successfully. Although some breeders
might entertain adding an extra male to a cage in order
to induce breeding behavior, it is not recommended as few
captive males will display this behavior. The average
clutches produced contain three to 12 large eggs; other
clutches might contain more eggs, up to 24, that are
smaller in size. Communal nests are known in the wild.
Eggs hatch in 65 to 70 days.
© 1998 kingsnake.com