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Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Gophersnake - Pituophis catenifer

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Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS:
BLM:
FWP Conservation Tier: 3


 

External Links





 
General Description
The Gophersnake or Bullsnake is Montana’s largest snake and can reach a length of 7 feet; most range in length from 3 to 5 feet. It can be readily identified by a series of large black to brown blotches that run down the back, and another series along the sides. The blotches, which are set on a yellow background, become more widely spaced toward the tail. The dorsal scales are keeled (have a ridge running down the center). A black band can usually be seen on the head in front of and extending below the eyes. The belly is yellow to white, often spotted with black. Dorsal coloration varies geographically, but in most areas has numerous dark blotches on a cream or yellowish background.

Diagnostic Characteristics
Differs from other similar species by having the following combination of characteristics: keeled scales, 4 prefrontals, and an undivided anal plate. Rat snakes (Elaphe) and kingsnakes (Lampropeltis), have only two prefrontal scales. Also, Elaphe has a divided anal plate. Whipsnakes (Masticophis), racers (Coluber), and indigo snakes (Drymarchon) have smooth body scales.

General Distribution
Montana Range



Western Hemisphere Range

 


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 1225

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

 

(Records associated with a range of dates are excluded from time charts)



Migration
Non-migratory.

Habitat
Gophersnakes are associated with dry habitats, including open pine forests. They feed on rodents, rabbits, ground-dwelling birds, and to a lesser extent lizards. They sometimes hiss and vibrate their tail when alarmed, producing a sound similar to that of rattlesnakes. They occasionally climb trees. Females lay 2 to 24 eggs in summer. North-central MT: of 12 records, 9 in river valley, 1 in coulee, 2 on prairie (Mosimann and Rabb 1952). One found in rocky sagebrush area north of Arlee, MT (Franz 1971). Common in southeast Alberta in brushy coulees, sage flats, and along roads (Lewin 1963).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at bmaxell@mt.gov or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Active forager by searching.

Ecology
Overwinter survival in northern UT greater than 88% (adults), 25% (juveniles) (Parker and Brown 1980). Densities of 1.3 snakes/ha reported for ID (Nussbaum 1983).

Reproductive Characteristics
Mate in late May to June; lay eggs late June to July; hatch late August to September (Hammerson 1982). Clutch size averages 12.4 (Fitch 1970). Hatching success in northern Utah was 92% (Parker and Brown 1980).

References
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View WorldCat Record   View Online Publication
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Gophersnake — Pituophis catenifer.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on August 28, 2014, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/detail_ARADB26020.aspx
 
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