Pituophis catenifer is a species of nonvenomous colubrid snake endemic to North America. Six 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.
Adults specimens are 36-84 inches (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.
The gopher snake has an odd defensive mechanism, in which it will puff up its body and curl 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 will often shake 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.
Wild gopher snakes typically live twelve to fifteen years, but the oldest captive recorded lived over thirty-three years.
Common names for this species or its several subspecies are Pacific gopher snake, Henry snake, coast gopher snake, bull snake, Churchill's bull snake, Oregon bull snake, Pacific pine snake, western bull snake, western gopher snake, Sonoran gopher snake, western pine 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. 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. deserticola||Stejneger, 1893||Great Basin gopher snake|
|P. c. pumilis||Klauber, 1946||Santa Cruz gopher snake|
|P. c. sayi||(Schlegel, 1837)||Bullsnake||Central and western North America.|
- Boulenger GA. 1894. Catalogue of the Snakes in the British Museum (Natural History). Volume II., Containing the Conclusion of the Colubridæ Aglyphæ. Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History). (Taylor and Francis, Printers.) London. xi + 382 pp. + Plates I.- XX. ("Coluber catenifer", pp. 67-68.)
- Stejneger L, Barbour T. 1917. A Check List of North American Amphibians and Reptiles. Harvard University Press. Cambridge Massachusetts. 125 pp. (Pituophis catenifer, pp. 85-86.)
- The Reptile Database. www.reptile-database.org.
- Wright AH, Wright AA. 1957. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. 2 volumes. Comstock Publishing Associates. (7th printing, 1985). 1,105 pp. ISBN 0-8014-0463-0. (Pituophis catenifer, pp. 588-609, Figures 171.-175., Map 46.)
- "Pituophis catenifer". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
- Hiatt, S. "The Pituophis Page". Retrieved 7 December 2012.
- 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.)
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