When out in nature or just tooling around on your own property you’ll rarely get more of a gut check than you will when confronted with an unknown snake.
The bite of a venomous snake is a life-threatening ordeal, and live or die will usually entail life-changing consequences.
It helps to know what kind of snake you are dealing with, but there are so many species out there is it easy to misidentify them. How about the gopher snake? Are gopher snakes poisonous?
No, gopher snakes are not poisonous. Although large, long and impressively colored, gopher snakes are not dangerous, and very rarely aggressive towards people.
If you live anywhere along the western coast of North America but particularly from Oregon down to Baja California, you’ll probably encounter one sooner rather than later.
You definitely don’t want to mix these up for the far deadlier diamondback rattlesnake, so keep reading to learn more.
What Does a Gopher Snake Look Like?
Gopher snakes are large, long, stout-bodied and impressive, commonly being mistaken for the equally large but far deadlier diamondback rattlesnake.
Adults range anywhere from 3 and 1/2 ft to 7 ft in length, sometimes beyond, and even as hatchlings and adolescents they will usually be over a foot from birth.
Equally impressive as their size and length is their coloration, with most subspecies having a base color that ranges from a dusky tan or yellow to a dark brown, but the sides typically being a contrasting gray color.
Some morphs are spotted, and the spots are invariably a dark brown color.
Some species have more spots, others less, with anywhere from about 50 to 100 spots along the middle part of the body being common, spread across two or three distinct rows.
Also common is a regularly spaced but slightly irregularly shaped saddle marking, known as dorsal blotches, all along the length of the snake.
These colored blotches are well defined, and always a dark color, from brown to black along the uppermost surfaces of the snakes back, or the blotches farther down on the sides maybe lighter brown or even gray.
The belly of the snake is invariably light color, from off-white to pale yellow.
Another typical feature is the narrow, smooth head which is always wider than the neck, and the nose of the snake displays a protruding scale that gives its nose a sharpened appearance.
Is the Bite of the Gopher Snake Poisonous?
No. the gopher snake and all subspecies are completely non-venomous.
Where Do Gopher Snakes Live?
Gopher snakes, more particularly known as the Pacific gopher snake, live all along the west coast of the United States and throughout North America as the name would suggest.
They can commonly be found as far north as British Columbia and Washington, and as far south as the southern reaches of California all the way down through Baja California.
Quite common throughout its range, these snakes are commonly found in low-lying, dry areas, and particularly in overgrown bushland and dry pasturage, so they can be found in open desert, along coastal dunes and beaches, and periodically found in forests although this is atypical.
Most notably, these snakes are rarely found above 2,000 ft in elevation.
Perhaps most notably is that these snakes typically establish a home territory which they will occupy for years unless driven out.
This means if you have one on your property or nearby it could make regular appearances, so be prepared.
How Likely is a Gopher Snake to Bite You?
Very unlikely. Gopher snakes as a rule will prefer to avoid people, but these are also snakes that are known to be generally good natured and passive.
So long as they are handled cautiously, they are unlikely to bite, although you should not make this policy when encountering them in the wild.
As mentioned above, gopher snakes are very commonly mistaken and killed for resembling the diamondback rattlesnake.
Appearance aside, gopher snakes also utilize defensive mimicry by rattling the tip of their tail against the ground or in dry vegetation in an attempt to convince predators that they are, in fact, that far more dangerous cousin.
It is easy enough to tell the adult gopher snake apart from an adult rattlesnake by examining the tip of the tail closely; gopher snakes do not have a rattle.
Is the Bite Painful?
The bite of a gopher snake is not thought to be particularly painful. They do not have large fangs for injecting venom, but these snakes are large, thickly muscled and powerful and their teeth will still cut you up if they bite.
Bites from reptiles, including snakes, are particularly likely to become infected from bacteria, meaning you should seek treatment for a nasty one.
Will Gopher Snakes Attack People?
Gopher snakes are highly unlikely to attack people. In general, they prefer avoidance like most snakes.
It threatened or just unwilling to give ground, they will start their defensive display of beating the tip of their tail against the ground rapidly to simulate a rattlesnake as described above.
Also, gopher snakes are known for their loud and ferocious hissing, the loudest of all snakes.
If that does not convince you to back off and mind your own business and you continue to approach or antagonize the snake, then it is probable it will strike.
Assuming the snake is calm, however, they are generally amenable to gentle handling, particularly if they are handled regularly in captivity.
Will Gopher Snakes Hurt Pets or Farm Animals?
Gopher snakes pose a significant threat to small animals, birds and eggs, though they pose no threat whatsoever to larger animals like goats, sheep, horses, cows and the most dogs and cats.
If you have chickens or ducks, their eggs will be a regular menu item for gopher snakes as will any other small mammals like rabbits and their bunnies, and smaller dogs.
Gopher snakes get their name from their typical prey item, pocket gophers, and any other mammal that is roughly in that size category could be at risk.
Keep in mind that adult gopher snakes are large and powerful, and can easily overpower their prey or potentially startle larger animals into lashing out or stampeding.
Should You Get Rid of Gopher Snakes when You Can?
There is generally no need to hurt or attempt to relocate gopher snakes.
They won’t try to hurt you or most pets, although if you raise chickens or ducks, or have a small dog or cat, they could fall victim to an adult gopher snake.
In such cases, consider trapping and relocating the snake or contacting an animal control service.
Gopher snakes rarely put up much of a fight when it comes to capture and are easy to catch. Since gopher snakes play such an important role in local ecosystems you should avoid killing them unless you have no other choice.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.