Also known as:
Subspecies I've seen:
Pituophis catenifer affinis
Sonoran Gopher Snake
Pima County, Arizona—May 6, 2009
This juvenile gopher snake was slowly moving across a road just after dusk. I moved it off to the side of the road, where its camouflage against the desert floor became apparent.
near Benson, Cochise County, Arizona—May 9, 2009
This large and beautiful gopher snake was stretched out across a dirt road upon which I had recently seen my first wild Gila Monster
under the tutelage of my friend Roger Repp. I was on a Gila Monster high and would have been happy if I hadn't seen another herp all day. But I climbed back down to Earth in order to admire this fine snake. It wasn't in a big hurry to get away, but it did make up its mind to meander elsewhere when I got close with my camera. Its front end pulled a slow U-turn and slithered past its stationary back end, until both ends were facing the same way and it vanished leisurely into the desert.
Pima County, Arizona—August 2, 2009
This is just the kind of thing you want to see when you're driving down a dirt road, looking for snakes. In this case, the snake-shaped object in the road was a Sonoran Gopher Snake.
Cochise County, Arizona—August 4, 2009
Another morning in southeast Arizona, another gopher snake in the road. This one was resting all kinked up, which some people think is an adaptation to look less snake-shaped to predators.
Santa Cruz County, Arizona—August 3, 2014
I first saw this gophersnake stretched out across a road in almost the exact same place where I had seen a Sonoran Lyresnake
earlier that evening, and momentarily mistook it for the same snake.
near Rodeo, Hidalgo County, New Mexico—August 23, 2016
This was my last snake of the day shift. I had seen a beautiful Desert Kingsnake
a short while earlier. This gophersnake was kinkily stretched out on the road in the last light of the day. After dark many rattlesnakes
came out to play.
near Animas, Hidalgo County, New Mexico—August 7, 2022
This serious snake was picking up a little warmth from the road at night (thigmothermy!), but didn't want to stop and chat. After this photo it turned and headed off into the roadside scrub.
near Animas, Hidalgo County, New Mexico—August 9, 2022
This snake looked elderly and very skinny. I suspect its basking days are numbered.
near Patagonia, Santa Cruz County, Arizona—August 10, 2022
In contrast to the gopher snake from the previous day, this one looks healthy and fit, ready to decimate the local small rodent population.
Pituophis catenifer annectens
San Diego Gopher Snake
near Campo, San Diego County, California—June 19, 2012
I was out prowling the dirt roads of extreme southern San Diego county looking for leopard lizards
, when I spied this fine-looking gopher snake basking in the early morning sun.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, San Diego County, California—May 13, 2013
Matt Cage and I futzed with this mild-mannered but extremely uncooperative young gopher snake for quite awhile before giving up and moving on.
North of Mike's Sky Rancho, Baja California, Mexico—May 14, 2013
This large and attractive gophersnake was stretched out in the dirt road when we spotted it. We tried to get photos while it was still in that position, but it got nervous and thought it best to head out into the desert. We on the other hand thought it best that the snake arrange itself into a pleasant non-linear shape and allow us to take pictures as long as we wanted. We had to reach a compromise.
Pituophis catenifer catenifer
Pacific Gopher Snake
Pine Ridge Trail, Ventana Wilderness, Monterey County, California—August 23, 1998
This young gopher snake was caught in the act of descending a dead tree trunk. It froze still while I photographed it, nearly vertical.
Fort Ord Public Lands, Monterey County, California—April 10, 2000
Gopher Snakes are exceptionally placid, gentle-mannered snakes. Unless you're a gopher.
Elkhorn Road, Carrizo Plain National Monument, San Luis Obispo County, California—April 21, 2000
This beautiful and well-fed adult had been basking on the dirt road in the late afternoon, apparently sharing the myriad burrowing rodents with the local Western Rattlesnakes
Santa Teresa County Park, Santa Clara County, California—May 7, 2005
This young gopher snake was stretched across a hiking trail at this rural county park where we had stopped to stretch our dogs' legs. A man coming the other way on the trail had just walked over it without noticing its presence when the snaky shape caught my eye.
Coyote Creek Parkway, Santa Clara County, California—May 29, 2005
My friend Fred Harer found this attractively marked Gopher Snake under a fairly small rock. The top picture shows the snake in a typical semi-relaxed pose. The bottom picture shows this harmless snake flattening its head, possibly to look more like a venomous rattlesnake. Gopher Snakes are often mistaken for rattlesnakes, which is unfortunately not really conducive to long life in our snake-fearing society.
Coy Flat, Tulare County, California—June 3, 2005
This large gopher snake was lying partially across the trail in the shady woods. I had already passed right by when my wife spotted it. The day was pleasant but not too warm, and the gopher snake was in no hurry to get out of the way, even with our dog troop passing right by it.
San Mateo County, California—August 5, 2006
Gopher Snakes have a reputation for being nasty, but all the ones I'd ever come across were either calm and gentle or, occasionally, in a hurry to escape. This was my first experience with the legendary Dark Side of Pituophis catenifer. It performed a very respectable rattler imitation by coiling, vibrating its tail against the dry brush to create a nice rattling sound, hissing almost continuously, and striking repeatedly at anything within about a foot (my hand, a small stick, my shoe, my camera, etc.). This snake did not want to be messed with!
Howard Buford Recreation Area, Lane County, Oregon—June 27, 2015
This doesn't look like a particularly well-camouflaged snake to me, but this is where it chose to rest, and it did not move as I took a series of ever-closer photographs. On the other hand, this was along the side of a busy trail, and many people had passed by recently without noticing the motionless snake, so maybe it knows better than I do what good camouflage looks like.
Garland Ranch Regional Park, Monterey County, California—March 20, 2016
Garland Ranch is a busy hiking area, one of the few in the region that allows dogs off-leash. So when I saw this juvenile snake basking on the edge of the trail as I approached with my wife and a friend and eight or nine dogs between us, I thought I should go discourage it from the trail so it wouldn't be harassed by the dog army. I'm pretty sure it was the least discourageable gophersnake I've ever met. I took this photo with my iPhone held about half an inch from the snake's head. Afterwards, I had to nudge it gently with my hand to get it to grudgingly turn around and oh-so-slowly slither off into the brush.
Oregon Badlands Wilderness, Deschutes County, Oregon—July 17, 2016
This gopher snake was using its head and front few inches of its body to excavate a rodent burrow in the sand, presumably trying to reach the inhabitant for the purpose of snacking. While digging, its tail repeatedly twitched.
Carrizo Plain National Monument, San Luis Obispo County, California—May 23, 2021
I spotted this stylish gopher snake on the edge of the road right at dusk. It started moving off of the road immediately, and I pulled over and ran to where it had been. I looked around for a few minutes fruitlessly, and thought I must have lost it, before I saw it stretched out half-in and half-out of the shadow of the roadside berm. Pretty good camouflage for a big, strongly patterned snake.
Pituophis catenifer deserticola
Great Basin Gopher Snake
Bruneau Dunes State Park, Owyhee County, Idaho—June 30, 2014
At dusk my wife and I took our dog contingent out for a walk across the nearly deserted campground at Bruneau Dunes State Park, when I noticed this good-sized gophersnake meandering into the campground from the surrounding desert. I hadn't brought my camera with me on our dog walk, so when the canines had successfully concluded their doggy business and we had returned to our campsite, I grabbed my camera and attached its external flash and went back out to see if the snake was still hanging around.
Indeed it was, but two problems quickly presented themselves: (1) my camera was somehow not successfully communicating with the external flash, so even though the flash was firing, all photos came out black, and (2) swarms of ravenous mosquitos were reducing my inclination to futz with my camera outdoors. I got a quick picture or two using the weaker built-in flash and rapidly retreated to our RV. It took about ten minutes of trial and error to get the external flash working again (I still don't know what the problem was, but attaching and reattaching and otherwise messing with it eventually got it to work). I then gritted my teeth, prepared myself for the winged onslaught, and headed back out to check on my serpentine friend once more.
It took me a few minutes to find it, since I was foolishly looking on the ground where one typically finds gophersnakes, but eventually I expanded my search area and spotted the snake in the process of vertically descending one of the many thin trees that had been planted in the campground in the hopes that in ten or twenty years it wouldn't look quite so desert-y. I came away with the impression that this particular gophersnake had learned long ago that this campground, with its watered areas and small-bird-hosting trees, was a fine place to look for a meal every night.
near Ken's Lake, Grand County, Utah—April 22, 2016
My mom had joined my wife and me for a few days around Moab, and I was hoping to find her a nice snake for her troubles. After a couple of snakeless days, I spotted this pretty gopher snake cruising along near the shore of Ken's Lake, which broke the drought. Ten minutes later we also got a great look at a Desert Striped Whipsnake
. Naturally, mom was pleased.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Kane County, Utah—July 28, 2017
Just an innocent little baby gopher snake, trying to cross the road at night without being harassed.
Humboldt County, Nevada—June 19, 2022
The morning temperature had only climbed to the low 50's (Fahrenheit!) when we drove up to this gopher snake stretched out on a gravel road. On a warmer day it would probably have slithered off before I could get these photos.
Pituophis catenifer sayi
Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, Park County, Wyoming—June 26, 2001
This snake was apparently living in the nooks and crannies of a dried-out area of Yellowstone's biggest hot spring. Mammoth Hot Springs is crisscrossed with boardwalk trails, one of which passed within twenty feet or so of this snake's abode. When I came across it, there was already a crowd of 6 or 8 people oohing and aahing. "It's a rattlesnake!" declared one woman to her family.
Bottomless Lakes State Park, Chaves County, New Mexico—May 23, 2008
My wife carefully avoided squishing this young bullsnake in the road as we headed out of Bottomless Lakes State Park. I went back to photograph it and get it off the road before someone less careful drove by. It didn't seem particularly grateful, and did its best "I am a vicious viper!" impression before I picked it up and released it safely nearby.
- Bartlett, R. D., Tennant, A. 2000. Snakes of North America, Western Region
- Basey, H. E. 1976. Discovering Sierra Reptiles and Amphibians
- Behler, J. L., King, F. W. 1979. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians
- Brown, P. R. 1997. A Field Guide to Snakes of California
- Conant, R., Collins, J. T. 1998. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Third Edition, expanded
- Crother, B. I. (ed.) 2017. Scientific and Standard English Names of Amphibians and Reptiles of North America North of Mexico, with Comments Regarding Confidence in Our Understanding, Eighth Edition
- Degenhardt, W. G., Painter, C. W., Price, A. H. 1996. Amphibians & Reptiles of New Mexico
- Grismer, L. L. 2002. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California Including its Pacific Islands and the Islands in the Sea of Cortés
- Hanson, J., Hanson, R. B. 1997. 50 Common Reptiles & Amphibians of the Southwest
- Henson, P., Usner, D. J. 1993. The Natural History of Big Sur
- McPeak, R. H. 2000. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California
- Miller, A. H., Stebbins, R. C. 1973. The Lives of Desert Animals in Joshua Tree National Monument
- Schoenherr, A. A. 1992. A Natural History of California
- Shedd, J. D. 2005. Amphibians and Reptiles of Bidwell Park
- Smith, H. M., Brodie, E. D. Jr. 1982. Reptiles of North America: A Guide to Field Identification
- Stebbins, R. C. 2003. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, Third Edition
- Stoops, E. D., Wright, A. 1997. Snakes and other Reptiles of the Southwest, 4th Edition
- Wauer, R. H. 1964. Reptiles and Amphibians of Zion National Park
- Wilkinson, T. 1995. Wildlife Watcher's Guide: Grand Canyon, Zion & Bryce