Countdown to Snake Count: 2…

I’ve already dedicated a post to gophersnakes and how I adore them, but since we’re almost certain to see one this weekend, they deserve another mention.

Juvenile gophersnake from central California coast.

Gophersnakes (Pituophis catenifer), or a close relative (bullsnakes, pine snakes), are found nearly throughout the United States. They can be very large (up to 6 feet in length!), but are perfectly harmless and usually quite docile. They mostly eat mammals, which is probably why they’re called gophersnakes.

Like most colubrids, their behavior can be difficult to observe in the wild. Gophersnakes have many predators, including humans, so they usually stop what they’re doing and flee in our presence. But one day a couple years ago Jeff and I got extremely lucky. We came across a trio of gophersnakes, two males and a female, and got to observe combat, mate searching, and courtship – it was pretty amazing! I won’t retell the entire story, because you can read it here and here, but here are a few highlights:

Olive Oyl maintains a wary eye while Popeye focuses on his potential partner.


The first battle between Bluto and Popeye over Olive Oyl.

People perceive rattlesnakes as mean and violent, but when you compare courtship and combat, rattlesnakes seem gentler and kinder than gophersnakes (or most any other animal).

The first Snake Counters have arrived at the preserve and were immediately welcomed by one of our resident diamondback females, Forrestine. Join us!

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