Pacific Gopher Snake
Pituophis catenifer catenifer

Common Name:
Pacific Gopher Snake

Scientific Name:
Pituophis catenifer catenifer (Blainville, 1835)

Size:
    Hatch: 8-12 inches average; some 12-14 inches
    Adult: 4.5-5 feet in length with a few specimens reaching 7 feet

Scalation: Shannon Hiatt feels that although ranging over a much larger area than the San Diego gopher snake, the Pacific gopher snake's range is bordered by those of other two gopher snake species, and scale counts are of little value. In fact, all three 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.
    Dorsal rows (mid-body): 29 or more with 31-35 being most common
    Prefrontals: Four
    Anal Plate: Undivided   
    Scales: Keeled

By: Shannon Hiatt

Coloration and Description:

General:
Pacific gopher snakes have some of the most variable colors and patterns found in gopher snakes with blotched and striped specimens as well as albino specimens found regularly in wild populations. Straw to straw-gray are the two most common ground colors. The well-defined dorsal blotches are generally dark brown to chocolate brown, although some specimens display black blotches. The smaller side blotches are often indistinct brown blotches in the normally gray lateral coloration. The blotches near the head do not fuse with adjoining blotches as in the San Diego gopher snake but are quite distinct from each other. The mid-body blotches are, however, lighter brown than those at the anterior or posterior.

The variable nature of the colors found in the wild population spills over into the specimens found in captive breeding collections: blotched and striped Pacific gopher snakes in albino, anerythristic, hypomelanistic, and snow (albino and anerythristic gene combination) are commonly available.

Head and Neck:
The Pacific gopher also has a dark line that intersects the eye; another runs from just behind the eye to the supralabials. In some specimens these supralabials are not as distinctly colored (usually with one light supralabial and one dark surpalabial in alternating fashion) as in other Gopher snakes, and the face can be quite devoid of most pattern in a few specimens. The rostral scale is convex and protrudes prominently.

Ventral:
The ventral scales are gray to white.

Range:

From western Oregon into California, making this a species found in coastal areas and into the western foothills of mountain ranges in Oregon and California. The Great Basin gopher snake's (Pituophis catenifer deserticola) range to the east contacts the Pacific gopher's range in southwestern Washington State, in northern California along the Nevada border, and again in southern California in Santa Barbara County. Intergrades exist in all three areas. The San Diego gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer annectens) ranges directly to the south in Santa Barbara County where more intergrades occur.

Habitat:

Found along the coast in varied habitats that tend to be moist and verdant, this species prefers the much drier open fields, meadows, and farmlands around human habitation and is rarely found in dense forests.

Prey:

Mammals, the eggs and young of birds, some lizards, and even bats. It is purported to eat rattlesnakes.

Behavior:

A diurnal (movement during daylight hours) species but also active at dusk and sometimes nocturnal (movement at night) during warm weather. Like all gopher snakes, the Pacific gopher can produce a loud, startling hiss when agitated or fearful. This species flattens the head and body and vigorously rattles the tail in typical Pituophis fashion when on the defensive.

Captive Behavior:

With regular, gentle handling this species usually becomes docile and easy to handle after some acclimation to captivity. Since all specimens are individuals, expect a few to be moody and unpredictable. Observe and know your particular snake's personality quirks. The use of a snake hook is a good idea with large gophers in order to remove them from their cages. Often when the cage lids or doors open, especially for those snakes accustomed to being fed in their cages, they expect prey and react accordingly. Many breeders or the uninitiated have suffered the consequences of offering their hands or fingers as that "prey." If you regularly (I certainly do) "hook" them out of their cage before feeding them, they will also learn that they will be handled before being fed. This, of course, still doesn't preclude an occasional run-in with a snake having a bad day; it does limit that probability somewhat.

Baby Pacific gophers have the inborn tendency to hiss, bluff, and display. This genetic trait is a survival behavior, but they soon become calm with age and some growth. Captive bred adults are easy to manage, despite their size. One large male in my collection will gently take a rat pup from my fingers, something I don't recommend with most Pituophis who have a savage, rapid strike response in the presence of prey.

Captive Breeding:

These gophers need to go through a winter brumation period to improve breeding success. Clutches average 12-14 eggs. Eggs hatch 65 to 70 days later.

Literature Cited:

Bartlett, R.D. and Patricia P. Bartlett. Snakes: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series, Inc, 1998.

Barlett, R.D. and Alan Tennant. Snakes of North America: Western Region. Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing Company, 2000.

Behler, John L. and F. Wayne King. National Audubon Society Filed Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

Mara, W.P. Pine Snakes: A Complete Guide. Neptune City, NJ: TFH Publications, Inc., 1994.

Pituophis, Serpentes-Snakes, The Center for North American Amphibians and Reptiles, 1997 at
http://eagle.cc.ukans.edu/~cnaar/CNAAR/NamesPage/serpentes.html

Rodriguez-Robles, Javier A. and Jose M. De Jesus-Escobar. "Molecular Systematics of New World Gopher, Bull, and Pinesnnakes (Pituophis:Colubridae), a Transcontinenatal Species Complex." Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Vol 14, No 1, Jan 2000, pp 35-50.


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