Pacific Gopher Snake: a non-venomous Reptile of West Coast

Scientific classification

Discover the intriguing characteristics of the Pacific gopher snake, including its non-poisonous nature, habitat in California, care requirements, and more. Explore the wonders of this reptile on Animal Planetory.

The Pacific gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer catenifer) is a captivating reptile that inhabits the western regions of North America, particularly California. Known for its striking appearance and intriguing behavior, this non-poisonous snake species has gained popularity among reptile enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. In this article, we delve into the world of the Pacific gopher snake, exploring its classification, appearance, habitat, behavior, diet, and its relationship with humans. So, let’s embark on an exciting journey to discover the wonders of this remarkable serpent.


The Pacific gopher snake belongs to the family Colubridae, which encompasses a diverse range of non-venomous snakes. Specifically, it falls under the subspecies Pituophis catenifer catenifer. This subspecies is known for its adaptability and widespread distribution throughout the western United States.

Quick Facts

  • The Pacific gopher snake is often mistaken for a rattlesnake due to its similar coloration and defensive behavior.
  • It can reach an impressive length of 3 to 6 feet, with some individuals even exceeding 7 feet.
  • This snake species exhibits a wide variety of color patterns, including shades of brown, black, yellow, and cream.
  • Pacific gopher snakes are diurnal, meaning they are primarily active during the day.
  • They are excellent burrowers and often utilize abandoned mammal burrows as shelter.

Appearance of Pacific Gopher Snake

The Pacific gopher snake boasts a visually striking appearance, characterized by its distinct patterns and colors. Its body features a base color that can vary from light brown to dark brown, complemented by large blotches or patches of black along the back. These blotches may be interconnected, resembling a chain-like pattern, hence the name “catenifer.” Additionally, the snake’s belly is typically a lighter shade of cream or yellow.

Distribution and Habitat

Pacific gopher snakes are primarily found along the western coast of North America, spanning from southern British Columbia in Canada to Baja California in Mexico. Within the United States, they are especially prevalent in California, where a diverse range of habitats supports their survival. These habitats include grasslands, shrublands, woodlands, and even urban areas. The adaptability of the Pacific gopher snake enables it to thrive in various environments, ranging from coastal regions to inland valleys and mountainsides.

Biology of the Pacific Gopher Snake

The Pacific gopher snake possesses unique biological traits that contribute to its survival and success as a predator. Its slender and elongated body allows for efficient movement through different terrains. Moreover, it has specialized heat-sensing pits located on its upper jaw, aiding in locating warm-blooded prey.

Behavior of Pacific Gopher Snake

Pacific gopher snakes exhibit fascinating behavior patterns that distinguish them from other snake species. When threatened, they can mimic the defensive behaviors of rattlesnakes. By coiling their bodies, vibrating their tails, and producing a hissing sound, they create the illusion of being venomous. However, unlike rattlesnakes, Pacific gopher snakes lack venomous fangs and pose no direct threat to humans.


Diet of Pacific Gopher Snake

The diet of the Pacific gopher snake consists primarily of small mammals, including rodents such as gophers, ground squirrels, and mice. They are known for their impressive hunting skills and often employ constriction as a means to subdue their prey. By coiling around their victims and applying pressure, they effectively suffocate their prey before consuming it whole. This feeding strategy enables them to consume relatively large meals compared to their body size.

Life Span of Pacific Gopher Snake

On average, Pacific gopher snakes live for approximately 12 to 15 years in the wild. However, with proper care in captivity, they can live up to 20 years or even longer. Factors such as habitat quality, availability of prey, and protection from predators can influence their lifespan.


Pacific gopher snakes engage in sexual reproduction, and breeding typically occurs during the spring or early summer months. Males actively search for females, and courtship involves a series of intricate behaviors, including rubbing against the female’s body and intertwining their tails. After successful mating, females lay a clutch of eggs, usually numbering between 6 to 24. These eggs are deposited in burrows or other sheltered locations. Incubation takes approximately two to three months, after which the hatchlings emerge.

Relationship with Humans

Pacific gopher snakes play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance by controlling rodent populations, which can otherwise cause significant damage to agricultural crops and property. However, due to their resemblance to rattlesnakes and defensive behaviors, they are occasionally mistaken for venomous snakes. It is essential for humans to understand their non-venomous nature and appreciate their ecological significance.

Predators of Pacific Gopher Snake

Despite their formidable appearance, Pacific gopher snakes face predation from various predators. Natural predators include raptors, such as hawks and eagles, as well as larger snakes and mammals like coyotes and foxes. While they possess effective defense mechanisms, such as their rattlesnake mimicry, some predators have adapted to distinguish between the two species.


The Pacific gopher snake is a captivating reptile that showcases the wonders of nature with its remarkable appearance, adaptive behavior, and ecological importance. Despite its resemblance to venomous rattlesnakes, this non-poisonous species plays a vital role in controlling rodent populations and maintaining a balanced ecosystem. With its ability to thrive in various habitats across the western coast of North America, the Pacific gopher snake serves as a resilient symbol of nature’s diversity and adaptability. By understanding and appreciating these intriguing reptiles, we can foster a harmonious coexistence with the fascinating wildlife that surrounds us.


Are Pacific gopher snakes poisonous?

Pacific gopher snakes are non-poisonous. They lack venom and are harmless to humans.

Can Pacific gopher snakes be found in the Portland area?

While the Pacific gopher snake is not native to the Portland area, its range extends to parts of Oregon. However, it is less likely to be found in urban areas.

Do Pacific gopher snakes bite?

Like most snakes, Pacific gopher snakes can bite if threatened or handled improperly. However, their bite is non-venomous and typically only causes minor injuries.

How big do Pacific gopher snakes get?

Pacific gopher snakes can reach lengths of 3 to 6 feet, with some individuals growing even longer.

What does an aggressively Pacific gopher snake mean?

The term “aggressively Pacific gopher snake” is contradictory. Pacific gopher snakes are not typically aggressive towards humans unless provoked or threatened.


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