Pacific Gopher Snake

gopher snake - John Hanna

Pacific Gopher Snake
Pituophis catenifer

Gopher snakes live throughout the Bay Area in a wide variety of habitats.  When agitated, gopher snakes will mimic the defensive posture of rattlesnakes, flattening out their heads and shaking their tails. When this is done in dry vegetation, it closely resembles the sound of a rattlesnake. They also produce a guttural hiss when threatened and may excrete a foul-smelling musk.

Like all snakes, gopher snakes are carnivores. They kill prey by striking and then squeezing. Although they will eat pocket gophers, they are named primarily for their habitat of living in gopher burrowers. They eat small mammals, birds, and lizards. Gopher snakes are beneficial in that they help control rodent populations, but because of their tendency to mimic rattlesnakes, people often mistakenly kill them.

Snakes do not have ears or eardrums but can hear airborne sounds.  Sounds are transmitted from skin to muscle to bone.  Most sounds are transmitted through the jaw muscle to a bone in the ear. This is most effective for picking up low frequency sounds.

Lindsay Wildlife Experience is home to three Pacific gopher snakes.

Camo came to Lindsay Wildlife in 1997 after being kept as a pet. He was originally found in San Ramon and was deemed too habituated by people to be returned to the wild. Camo is our oldest snake at Lindsay and has been enjoying his newly upgraded enclosure. This new “snake mansion” allows Camo to completely stretch out, which is an important part of snake husbandry. 

Sneakers was found in Newhall Park in Concord and kept as a pet for 10 years prior to coming to Lindsay Wildlife in 2010. Sneakers is a very curious and energetic snake that enjoys going for slithers (since snakes don’t walk!) in the park.

Rocky is our youngest gopher snake and our only female! She was kept as a pet and was about 2-3 years old when she came to Lindsay Wildlife in 2016. She is the most shy of our gopher snakes but is a very gentle ambassador. She has some beautiful orange coloration on her scales which demonstrate how unique each snake can be. We call them her “beauty marks”!

Despite their habituation, returning captive reptiles to the wild has resulted in introducing harmful pathogens to the wild populations. However, there are specialized breeding programs for threatened species so this can be done in a safe, professional manner. Still, it’s better to leave wild animals where they belong: the wild! If you see a snake, admire it in its natural habitat and do not bring it home.