Pituophis catenifer
(Gopher Snake)

Key Characteristics
Keeled scales
Dark blotches dorsally that contrast with light ground color
Round pupils
Dark eye stripes
Large size

General Description:
Gopher Snakes are light colored dorsally (white to beige), with contrasting dark saddles and blotches (brown to black).  Gopher Snakes have a light ventral coloration that may have a dark checkered pattern.  There is a dark line that extends across the snout and on past each eye.  Gopher Snakes have keeled scales, this helps distinguish young Gopher Snakes from juvenile Racers, which have smooth scales.  Gopher Snakes have round pupils, which is different from both Night Snakes and Western Rattlesnakes.   These two species could be confused for Gopher Snakes, but both have vertical pupils.  As with any species, there are color mutations that can occur in Gopher Snakes.  I encountered such a snake in Toule County, Utah.  This snake had the light ground color but lacked the blotches and dark markings.

Gopher Snakes are the largest snake species in Idaho, reaching lengths of up to 170 cm  (>67 in.) (Charles R. Peterson pers. com. 1998), but they can be longer in other parts of their range; over 2.5 m (~100 in.) (Stebbins 1985).   However, Western Rattlesnakes may have the largest mass.

Gopher Snakes mate in the spring, laying 3-8 eggs, neonatesClick word for definition usually appear in September or October (Storm and Leonard 1995) and the young resemble adults.

Gopher Snakes may be the most frequently encountered snake in Idaho.   They can be found in a variety of habitats ranging from desert shrub lands to low mountain areas.  Like the Racer, Gopher Snakes are also frequently found in agricultural areas, utilizing the abundant prey available.

Idaho Distribution:
In Idaho, Gopher Snakes can be found in appropriate habitat across most of the state, with the exception of the northern portion.  From southwestern Canada south to northern Mexico.

Eats rodents, rabbits, birds and their eggs, and occasionally lizards and insects (latter 2 items are more common in diet of juveniles than adults). In southwestern Idaho study, primary prey included rabbits, ground squirrels, voles, kangaroo rats, and several species of mice.


Terrestrial, fossorialClick word for definition, and arboreal. Often forages underground. Generally diurnalClick word for definition, but may be active at night in hot weather. HibernatesClick word for definition/aestivatesClick word for definition. Active from about April to October in northern range, and from March to November in northern Texas. Idaho study determined that males emerge from hibernation prior to females. Utah study estimated home range at 1-2 ha. Idaho and Utah study estimated population density at 0.3-1.3/ha. May nest communally. In Idaho, birds of prey, especially Red-tailed Hawks, are important predators.

In Idaho, mating occurs in April and May. Female lays 1-2 clutches of an average of 7 eggs. Eggs hatch in 50-79 days. Utah study found that males reach sexual maturity in 1-2 yr, females in 3-5 yr.



Unprotected nongame species

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Important State References:
Diller, L.V. and D.R. Johnson. 1988. Food habits, consumption rates, and predation rates of western rattlesnakes and gopher snakes in southwestern Idaho. Herpetologica 44:228-233.

Design optimization and revision by Ean Harker ©1999, 2000
Original images provided by Charles R. Peterson and John Cossel Jr. ©1998
Original work by John Cossel Jr. © 1998