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Bullsnakes vs. Gopher Snakes (Behavior, Diet, Habitat, Pet Care)

The Bull Snake is a subspecies of the gopher snake; however, the Bull Snake’s behavioral characteristic at times differs from the gopher snake. Additionally, they differ in appearance, location, and skin color tone. For example, gopher snake’s skin is yellow or pale brown, while bull snakes are brownish-yellow in color.

bullsnake vs gopher snake

Considering that bull snakes are a subspecies of a gopher snake, they inevitably share several characteristics. For example, they are both large snakes and can grow to a length of about eight feet. They have a similar diet and prefer to reside in sandy habitats. Furthermore, they are effective in rodent control, thus rather than harming them, they should be left to wander off.

Disclaimer: This is information for entertainment and educational purposes only. Do not approach a wild animal and keep your distance. Only professionals should handle wild animals. Seek professional help immediately if you have been bitten or otherwise harmedConsult your local wildlife authority for the right advice for your situation and locality.

Gopher Snake Overview

They are mainly found in western North America and prefer living in deserts, forests, and savannahs. However, they prefer to reside in a land that is well-drained and contains sandy surfaces. Mature gopher snakes can reach up to nine feet in length, however, the most common ones range from 4-6 feet.

They have very beautiful yellow or pale brown skin characterized by tan blotches on their back. What makes them more appealing is how the tan blotches fade into smaller patches on their side. The snake belly does not have blotches, and it’s yellow in color. 

Gopher’s main diet includes small warm-blooded animals, including rats, birds, and eggs. Although they are commonly found in the wild, they can also survive well under captivity, provided that they are placed in places mimicking their natural habitats. 

When under threat, the snake usually makes a hissing sound, which makes people confuse it with rattlesnakes. Although not venomous and dangerous as the rattlesnake, it is generally killed by humans who confuse it with rattlesnake due to the hissing sound it makes.  

Bull Snake Overview

Although most people often refer to gopher snakes as bull snakes, bull snakes are a subspecies of the larger gopher snake species. Bull snakes are the largest in the gopher snake species. Bull snakes are very large and can measure up to two and a half meters in length.

They are heavy-bodied, with small heads and an enlarged nose shield. The enlarged nose shield is mainly used to dig for prey or dig a burrow to lay eggs. 

Compared to the gopher snake, the bull snake has a brownish-yellow back that contains red blotches. Additionally, its tail has black bands. An interesting fact about the bull snake is that you can find albino and white snakes in this species. 

Fun Fact: Although bull snakes are fossorial, they usually climb trees to look for prey, such as rodents, birds, and lizards. 

Comparison Between Bull Snakes and Gopher Snakes

1. Behavioral Characteristics

It is very hard to distinguish the behavioral characteristics of these two snakes as they are closely related.  However, the Gopher snake’s behavior is almost similar to that of a rattlesnake. When in the wild or captivity, the snake usually reacts to a threat by producing loud hissing sounds and shaking its tail. Furthermore, they typically raise their head to try and scare away any danger.

To distinguish a Gopher from a rattlesnake simple observe its tail. Its tail does not have black and white banding like those found on the tail of a rattlesnake. 

Gopher snakes usually mate in July and August. After the female lays the eggs, its role ends there, and after hatching, the young ones typically fend for themselves. The snake has a long life span of almost fifteen years in the wild, but as pets, the snake can survive for up to thirty years. 

Most snakes usually use venom to kill their prey; however, gopher snakes usually kill prey through constriction. It is important to note that, gopher snake diet is highly dependent on its location, and at times it might even eat lizards. 

Similar to the gopher snake, when threatened, bull snake usually produces a loud hissing sound and vibrates its tail. However, unlike most Gophers, the bull snake can be aggressive and they usually bites. However, its first line of defense is to flee, but due to its size, it cannot move quickly, thus it results in reiteration.

As with gopher snakes, bull snakes females lay eggs and deposit them in burrows they excavate or those deserted by other animals. Additionally, the parental obligation of the female ends after it lays eggs. It takes ten weeks for the eggs to hatch, and the young bull snakes can hunt without any assistance from the parents. 

The breeding season is usually during spring after they come out of hibernation. Similar to gopher snakes, they also have a long lifespan in both the wild and captivity. After hatching, baby bull snakes live 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. 

2. Diet 

Both snakes are non-venomous and thus kill their prey by constricting. They mainly prey on small mammals including, rats, squirrels, mice, and rabbits. Additionally, they also feed on ground-nesting birds and their eggs. In certain circumstances, they prey on other reptiles, such as lizards. 

In cooler weather, both snakes are highly active during the day. However, during warm weather, they prefer to hunt during the night. 

On the other hand, during extremely cold weather such as winter, the snakes usually hibernate in underground burrows to protect themselves. In addition, they can come around homes and find a place to hide, especially if there are rats and mice around.

3. Can You Pet a Gopher Snake

Despite of their huge length, gopher snakes make excellent pets. However, you would require building a vast shelter that effectively mimics its natural habitat and provides a safe place for it to thrive. 

Gopher snakes are not venomous and well-behaved if not threatened. However, when they feel threatened they usually adopt defensive measures to drive away from the danger. For example, they produce a loud hissing sound and similarly vibrate their tail as the rattlesnake. 

In most Gopher snakes do not bite, but they can attack. They attack using a closed mouth, and therefore it poses no danger. Nonetheless, when they feel cornered they can unleash a very painful bite. Therefore, if you notice any of the above defensive strategies, it is important to back off and leave the snake alone. 

4. Can You Pet A Bull Snake

Similar to the gopher snakes, bull snakes are non-venomous. The snake has a length of about eight feet and can live for close to twenty-five years. But, unfortunately, the bull snake is banned as a pet in several states.

It is also not dangerous, but unlike gopher snakes, it can bite when threatened, which can be extremely painful.  Another thing you should note is that these snakes became more aggressive when approached from the front and tend to be comfortable when approached from the side.

5. Which Makes the Best Pet?

They are both excellent pets because they are nonvenomous and do not often bite. However, some considerations should be made when choosing which type of snake to keep as a pet.

For example, if you are a first-time snake pet keeper, the best choice would be the gopher snake. They are not expensive to maintain and require minimal care compared to bull snakes. Gopher snakes can survive very well under room temperature and even over ten degrees. 

Additionally, they are not as huge as an adult gopher snake measuring 5 feet in length. Also, if well taken care of, gopher snakes can live up to thirty years. 

On the other hand, while bull snakes can make excellent pets, they are more suitable for experienced snake handlers. This is because when threatened, they can bite. While the bite might be harmless, it is excruciating.

Furthermore, they have a length of up to eight feet, especially when placed under perfect condition and with proper feeding. Lastly, they require a huge terrarium, making ownership rather costly. 

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Conclusion

Bull snakes are a subspecies of gopher snakes and, thus, share several similarities, mainly in diet, behavior, and characteristics. However, they also differ in terms of length, body-color, and how they behave when threatened.

They both make an excellent pet, but the choice in which to keep depends on you. However, we would advise that a novice snake keeper to start with the gopher snake. But for experienced snake handlers, the bull snake would be the best bet.