Bull snakes bite, albeit on rare occasions, when they feel threatened. They are non-venomous, and the main complication is the possibility of a secondary infection.
Fortunately, bull snakes are not venomous and as a result the bite rarely causes significant danger. Nevertheless, any snake bite does need to be attended to by a professional who can minimize the chances of complications.
Bull snakes are spread all over the United States and Southern Canada. They are quite big, and adults can grow up to 8 feet long. So, it can be scary bumping into one in your backyard, but they rarely, if ever, lead to fatalities.
Important: Secondary infections from snake bites can be serious, and people occasionally mistake the bull snake for more venomous snakes like rattlesnakes. Therefore, it’s important to seek professional attention immediately to ensure any snake bite is checked and attended to appropriately.
Do Bull Snakes Bite?
Bull snakes wouldn’t bite if left unprovoked. They are one of the most docile snakes there are, and if left alone, they are quite harmless.
However, they can get quite feisty and defensive if need be. Bull snakes are cantankerous, a bit difficult to handle, and they strike a lot. Also, they strike very fast.
While they are non-venomous, these snakes are not for newbie hobbyists. They require an experienced hand to be able to deal with them appropriately in captivity. As a matter of fact, it is illegal to keep bull snakes as pets in several states of the U.S.
Are Bull Snakes Dangerous?
Bull snakes pose minimal danger to humans. They are non-venomous and are rarely aggressive. They only strike and bite when threatened, and even then, their bites are non-venomous. Treated well, the bite-wounds should heal well.
If anything, bull snakes are beneficial to humans. They keep the vermin population down as they are rodent-eaters. They eat rats, mice, rabbits, and some types of large insects. Since they are non-venomous, the Pituophis catenifer sayi are constrictors and kill their prey by squeezing them to death, a process that takes only a few minutes.
Also, bull snakes occasionally eat rattlesnakes, which are very venomous and dangerous to humans. The bite of a rattlesnake could be fatal if the appropriate measures are not applied within a short time after the bite.
How Do Bull Snakes Defend Themselves?
Bull snakes are masters of Batesian mimicry, where they pretend to be rattlesnakes to scare away potential predators. It helps that their keeled scales, dorsal pattern, and coloration are very similar to that of rattlesnakes.
Their defense patterns are also almost identical to those of the deadlier species, and they’re often mistaken for rattlesnakes for that reason.
When threatened, bull snakes do a very impressive rattlesnake mimicry. For starters, they hiss loudly, in much the same manner a rattlesnake would. To achieve this, these snakes exhale heavily through their glottis. At the end of the glottis is the epiglottis, which closes and opens repeatedly as air is being released from the serpent’s right snake.
On top of the hissing, bull snakes also assume the defensive posture of rattlesnakes. It will form an “S” posture with their body, which is the rattlesnake’s striking position. They also flatten their heads to make them more triangular, like those of venomous snakes. As scary as this may look, it is merely a ploy to keep a potential predator away long enough for the snake to make a run for it.
They can also make the infamous rattling sound that is associated with rattlesnakes. To make it happen, bull snakes shake their tails vigorously against debris or leaves on the ground. While the sound produced is not exactly a rattle, it is close enough.
If push comes to shove, though, the snake will strike and bite. More often than not, they strike with their mouths closed as if to bite, but not quite. If this does not work, they will bite, then immediately run for their lives.
While the uncanny resemblance to the extremely venomous rattlesnakes is instrumental to the safety of the bull snakes, it can also be counterproductive. This is because many people mistake these snakes for rattlesnakes and kill them. It seems like people can’t tell a bull snake and a rattlesnake apart, especially in a potentially life and death situation.
Related: 12 Least Venomous Snakes in the USA
Bull Snakes are Often Mistaken for Rattlesnakes
Bull snakes are often mistaken for rattlesnakes and vice versa. While a bite from a bull snake might not be dangerous, that is not the case with a rattlesnake. This is one reason medical attention is required immediately if bitten.
Even though they are so similar in appearance and defense mannerisms, rattlesnakes and bull snakes can’t be more different from each other. The main difference is that rattlesnakes are extremely venomous while bull snakes are non-venomous and relatively harmless.
Physically, while coloration and patterns echo each other, the general body structures of bull snakes and rattlesnakes differ. A bull snake’s head and tail are the same width, and the body is long and lithe. Rattlesnakes, on the other hand, have a head that is wider than the tail, and a body that is quite chunky.
One of the most distinguishing features of the rattlesnake is the rattles on their tails, which produce the feared rattling sound. Bull snakes only pretend to have rattles so that they scare away threats.
Related: Bull Snake vs Rattlesnake
Does A Bullsnake Have Teeth?
A bull snake has four rows of small teeth in the lower jaw and another four rows in the upper jaw. The lower teeth face backward and often require the snake to bite prey (or predator) from the back of the mouth to get a good grip.
The teeth often break when the snake is feeding or due to elongated use. However, the snake has mechanisms to start replacing the lost teeth as soon as they break.
Unlike humans, bull snakes do not use their teeth to chew items. Instead, the teeth act as weapons with which to hold prey firmly as the snake constricts and swallows its prey. Also, the teeth help push prey to the back of the snake’s mouth so it can swallow.
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Bull snakes are non-venomous and their bite is not known to kill humans. They are also pretty docile until a human gets in their way. When disturbed and threatened, they become quite feisty and defensive. They tend to strike a lot, and the snake will bite if the situation calls for it.
However, secondary infections from snake bites can be serious, and people occasionally mistake the bull snake for more venomous snakes like rattlesnakes. Therefore, it’s important to seek professional attention immediately to ensure the bite is checked and attended to appropriately.
Fortunately, while it can sting a little, the bite of a bull snake is non-consequential to health. The worst that could happen is an infection, and this is if the wound from the bite is not cleaned and treated appropriately. Bull snakes have several similarities to rattlesnakes which is unfortunate because they get killed for it, even though they are not nearly as deadly.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.