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Bullsnake vs. Rattlesnake (Behavior, Diet, Habitat, Pet Care)

Bull snakes are often confused with rattlesnakes due to their similar defense techniques. They tend to make the same rattling sound like a rattlesnake and also mimic its posture. Nonetheless, these two snakes are entirely different.

bullsnake vs rattlesnake

The Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer) is a colossal colubrid snake that is non-venomous and kills by constriction. It is classified as a gopher snake subspecies (Pituophis catenifer). The bull snake is one of North America’s and the United States’ largest and longest snakes, reaching lengths of up to 8 feet. They are often yellow, with brown, white, black, or reddish blotching.

On the other hand, Rattlesnakes are venomous snakes belonging to the Crotalus and Sistrurus genera in the subfamily of the pit vipers. They are predatory creatures that eat small creatures like birds and rodents in a variety of environments.  Rattlesnakes are endemic to North America, but they can also be found in Southwestern Canada, parts of Mexico, and central Argentina.

Bullsnake Overview

Bull snakes are one of the most common types of gopher snakes. They usually average around 4-6 feet in length. However, specimens taller than 9 feet have been found. These snakes are mainly found in central and northern Mexico and Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the desert parts of British Columbia in southern Canada. They are usually found in fields, bushlands, and grassland with sandy soils.

In terms of appearance, it resembles a whip, and its head is round. It also comes in a wide array of colors. However, their typical color is generally yellowish-brown or cream-colored, with dark blotches. Their usual weight is 1 to 1.5 kg, but larger species can weigh up to 3.5 to 4.5 kg. Lastly, they are non-venomous and live for around 12-25 years.

Rattlesnake Overview

Rattlesnakes are venomous pit vipers. Its pits can detect temperature variations as minor as one-third of a degree Fahrenheit, which aids the snake in nighttime hunting. The majority of rattlesnake species like to live in open, rocky environments.

They can also be found in various settings, such as forests, grasslands, scrub brush, swamps, and deserts, and they are adept swimmers. Rattlesnakes can also nest under logs, wood heaps, or rock during winter.

These snakes are found throughout North and South America. However, the majority of them are endemic to the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. The average rattlesnake lives for 10 to 25 years and only grows to five feet long. The body of a rattlesnake is dense and has a comprehensive appearance. It has a flat, triangular head.

Fun Fact: Although most rattlesnake species have a stable population, some species, such as the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, are federally listed as endangered.

Comparison Between Bull snakes and Rattlesnakes

1. Behavioral Characteristics

When threatened, bull snakes usually produce a loud hissing sound and vibrate its tail. Most people confuse it with rattlesnake due to its defensive strategy and its aggressiveness. Bull snakes are excellent mimics, which is essential for their survival.

The breeding season for these snakes is usually during spring after they come out of hibernation. A female bullsnake lays eggs and deposits them in burrows they dig up or those deserted by other mammals. However, the parental obligation of the female ends after it lays eggs. It takes ten weeks for the eggs to hatch, after which the young ones are left to fend for themselves.  

After hatching, baby bull snake lives for up to two years to attain reproduction age. In the wild, a bull snake can live for almost twelve years, and in captivity, it can live for more than twenty-five years. Bull snakes attack by constricting their prey. When defending themselves, these snakes have a powerful bite. Therefore, it is vital to handle them with care.

On the other hand, Rattlesnakes are generally not as aggressive as bull snakes and will not pursue you.

They only attack when provoked, mishandled, or accidentally stepped on. Nonetheless, they are still one of the most dangerous snakes due to their venom.

If the bite is not treated, it can cause serious medical complications or even death. Unlike bull snakes which kill their prey by constricting them, rattlesnakes use venom to overcome them. Some of the defensive mechanisms used by this snake include rattling and hissing to scare aware predators. They can also coil their bodies and raise their head in a defensive position.

Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous, which means that females carry fertilized eggs inside their bodies for around 90 days. After which they give live birth to their young.

2. Venom

Rattlesnakes are venomous and have facial pits between their eyes and nostrils. The rattlesnake pits can detect temperature variations as minor as one-third of a degree Fahrenheit, which aids the snake in nighttime hunting.

The venom of a rattlesnake is particularly very dangerous because it contains hemotoxins and neurotoxins. The hemotoxins, which make up most of the venom, target your tissues and blood causing necrosis and hemorrhaging.

On the other hand, neurotoxins attack the nervous system and which results in paralysis. Therefore, if left untreated, a bite from a rattlesnake can be fatal.

Despite their intimidating appearance, bull snakes are non-venomous. They attack their prey by constricting them. However, the bite from one of these snakes can be excruciating.

3. Diet

The diet of bull snakes and rattlesnakes is almost the same; the main difference between them is how they kill their prey. Bull snakes constrict their prey, while rattlesnakes inject them with toxic venom.

Rattlesnakes prefer to feed on small rodents and lizards. Most of the time, they do not track down their prey but ambush them. According to the San Diego Zoo, they tend to wait for any potential victim to appear before striking at speeds of five-tenths of a second.

The prey is paralyzed by their venom, which allows the snake to devour them whole. Similar to every other snake, rattlesnakes become weak and slow after a meal. Therefore, they tend to hide and wait for the digestion process to be completed, which might take several days. Adult rattlers eat every two weeks on average.

Bull snakes are constrictors and have a more comprehensive selection of prey due to their larger size.  They tend to feed on gophers, mice, voles, ground squirrels, and tree squirrels, among other small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

Bull snakes feed more than rattlesnakes. Also, bull snakes tend to hunt for their food.  They use their chemosensory tongues to track down food distances away. Therefore, they’re always looking for food, and they do it during the day.

4.      Habitat

Rattlesnakes are primarily found in the deserts of the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. However, they can still be found in Southern Canada and Central Argentina.

The majority of rattlesnake species like to live in open, rocky environments. They can also be found in various settings, such as forests, grasslands, scrub brush, swamps, and deserts, and they are adept swimmers. They also nest in large numbers under logs, wood heaps, or rock during winter. 

Bull snakes can be found in the United States’ western, southern, and southeastern regions. They prefer to live in open fields, bushlands, and grassland with sandy soils. They are frequently seen entering or exiting burrows dug by the native pocket gopher.

5.      Appearance

Rattlesnakes come in various colors, from brown, gray, black, yellow, cream, rust, olive, and pale pink. A rattlesnake’s skin may have a striped, diamond-shaped, or speckled pattern. However, other species have no distinguishing pattern at all.

Bull snakes have light brown or straw-yellow bodies with dark brown or reddish-brown markings. Near the head, the speckled pattern is less noticeable, but it gets more prominent near the tail, which has black or reddish-brown bands.

Their chin and belly are pale yellow, with multiple squares or rectangular dark markings on the belly. Juvenile bull snakes have a close resemblance to adults, but their overall color is paler.

Another way to distinguish the two snakes is by checking their tails. Rattlesnakes are known for their rattles which are found at the end of the snake’s tail.  Each time the snake sheds its skin, a new one is added. The tails of bull snakes do not have rattles and taper to a point.

Lastly, even though both snakes have spherical eyes on both sides of their heads, their pupils distinguish them. Rattlesnakes’ pupils are vertical and cat-like, but Bullsnakes’ pupils are rounder.

6.      Which One Can You Pet

Snakes can feel an affinity for humans. Nonetheless, it is very difficult to be sure about the temperament of snakes. That is why it is always recommended that you pet a snake that poses no potential danger to you in case it becomes aggressive. 

Between the two, the best one to pet would be the Bullsnake. Bull snakes are pretty simple to maintain in captivity, mainly if they are captive-bred. Once they’ve become accustomed to being petted, they make excellent pets. They are non-venomous and rarely attack humans.

However, some bluff by bending their tails fast while whistling in a way that sounds like pressurized steam escaping from a partially closed valve, but they rarely bite. In contrast to hatchlings, adult bull snakes rarely bite.

Lastly, their lighter color and mottled pattern make them more colorful compared to rattlesnakes.

Rattlesnakes can be domesticated, but you should totally avoid them if you do not have adequate space and knowledge about the species. These snakes are venomous, and their bite can lead to death if the wound is not treated.

Rattlesnakes are members of the viper family and act more on instinct than other venomous snakes, making them more dangerous.

7.      Cage Climate

Rattlesnakes enjoy sunbathing and should be allowed to do so in temperatures ranging from the upper 80s to the low 90s.

Temperatures should be in the low 80s throughout the day, with a 10-degree dip at night. Make sure the snake’s cage has enough space for it to thermoregulate appropriately.

The cage climate for a bull snake should be 70 to 75 ° F at night and 80 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the day. The basking place temperature and duration of winter can be set to the mid-60s at night and the low 80s during daytime.

8.      Lifespan

The average rattlesnake lives for 10 to 25 years. Rattlesnakes are ovoviviparous and give birth to live neolates. Before giving birth to live young, the female carries the eggs for around three months.

Bull snakes are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. When they emerge from their winter hibernation in March and April, they begin mating. After an incubation period of 50 to 80 days, the hatchlings emerge in early fall. Their lifespan is between 20 and 25 years after they are laid.

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Conclusion

Rattlesnakes and bull snakes share the same habitat and may even hibernate together. It’s relatively easy to tell them apart if you keenly observe them. However, since the bull snake mimics the rattlesnake, many people cannot distinguish the two.

A bull snake’s hue is more of a pale yellow/cream tone, but a rattlesnake’s color is much darker. Some bull snakes are known to be aggressive, but they can make good pets when they are accustomed to being handled.