PACIFIC GOPHER SNAKE (Blainville, 1835)

Pacific Gopher Snake from Hanford, California

Digital Image By Patrick H. Briggs, October 30, 2015


 Pacific Gopher Snake



Pituophis catenifer catenifer

By Patrick Houston Briggs


Physical Description:

The Pacific gopher snake is a nonvenomous colubrid ophidian and a robust constricting predator  growing to 2.5 - 7 feet in length (76-213 cm). Its subspecific name catenifer is a derivative of the Latin catena meaning "chain" and ferre which means "to carry". Interestingly, ifera means "bearing"; so, it can be called a "chain bearing or carrying snake". Individuals over 6 feet are commonly found, usually dead on roads "DOR". The Pacific gopher snake Pituophis catenifer catenifer like other forms of  this species, usually has four prefrontal scales above the head and heavily keeled scales on the upper body, becoming smoother progressively along each side towards the belly. It is usually brown-blotched with black accenting against a light straw yellowish ground color,  usually with 3 additional rows of spots or marks and smudgy grayish or brownish suffusion along each of  its sides, but it is occasionally found in a striped phase with similar ground color that ophidian breeders easily and enthusiastically reproduce in captivity. Depending on locality, the number and thickness of the vertebral blotches from this form vary significantly. The number increases in its most southerly coastal range in California along the coast where there may be some intergradation or just north of its southerly range, such as Monterey,  San Luis Obispo, Marin or San Mateo counties. Dozens of digital photo images from many internet contributors validate correction of earlier range reports.  In the wild, if catenifer is striped, it is on both sides of the mid-dorsal line longitudinally, and the venter is unmarked except for the tip of each ventral plate joining the lowest row of dorsal scales. In the common phase, the 47-90 mid-dorsal blotches are dark brown and do not, for the most part, connect with the smaller markings along the sides. The dorsal body blotch counts increase in number for the coastal regions and some northern counties and  seem to decrease inland. The lateral markings become streaks toward the neck and there are 14-31 dark or black tail marks. The ground color may be straw colored or cream with plenty of brown flecking and many times, ashy suffusion throughout the body and underneath the tail. Even so, some individuals sport intense coloration such as russet-brown, brick red, extreme yellows or magnificent orange blends that appear as if they'd been air-brushed by an artist. If they are of the blotched or common phase, the venter is usually light colored with dark square-like markings covering the abdomen. Like many other gopher snake forms, the Pacific Gopher Snake race's head has a brown stripe that begins at rear of  each jaw angling upward toward the back of each upper eye continuing above and straight across the head in front of both eyes with a stripe. Also, the rostral of the snout is bluntly rounded, and although this subspecies averages 4-1/2 to 5 feet long, it often grow much longer. I've come across several individuals exceeding 6 feet, with a few of these near or exceeding 7 feet in length from at least Fresno and Kings counties in California. The head is slightly wider than the neck.


The Pacific gopher snake is one of the most commonly seen snakes in California. Old records of the Pacific gopher snake subspecies trace in its pure form ranging into Washington, the San Juan Island region, and  southeastern British Columbia of Canada, but these populations are said to be currently extirpated due to mans industrial and commercial activities. The Pacific gopher snake P. c. catenifer replaces the San Diego gopher snake subspecies P. catenifer annectens northern range. Current records indicate that they are indigenous around the vicinity north of mid San Luis Obispo County along the Pacific coast with a little bit of intergradation. (Older records used to believe the San Diego gopher snake subspecies' range to be not farther than Santa Barbara county. Many internet photo contributors prove correction ranging with and intergrading the Pacific race in San Luis Obispo and as far north as southern Monterrey County.) Not only does the Pacific gopher snake begin to replace the coastal San Diego subspecies in these coastal counties, but its range widens even more inland northly up to southwest Oregon where its range begins to become less and less closer to the coast, and as its range continues further north, it begins to intergrade with the Great Basin gopher snake from north central and north eastern California, continuing to intergrade throughout central Oregon all the way north within Oregon state, while the pure Great Basin subspecies occupies the eastern part of the state. To the east, the pure Pacific gopher snake race, catenifer is  replaced in much of Washington State by the Great Basin subspecies, deserticola.  From the California's north border, the range continues south along the east side foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains and along the west side and within the lower Coastal Ranges, also continuing south in the great valley region between both which continues southerly throughout the Sacramento Valley of the Great Valley and borders of the San Joaquin Valley. Older reports also have indicated that a Pacific-Great Basin intergradational form exists on the other side south of the mountain pass in Kern County.    



Pet Trade Morphs:

Much of the earlier pet trade predecessors of striped individuals came from the Davis California region of Solano and Yolo Counties. They are still found in these areas occasionally.  In collections, breeders cross striped individuals of Davis or Yolo County snakes with striped individuals of the San Diego form and other races to produce magnificent looking  intergrades. Now as herpetoculturists work to produce morphs of all forms or races,  striped morphs have been developed in nearly all kinds of Pituophis. 



 Original Description:

Pituophis catenifer - (Blainville, 1835) - Nouv. Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, Vol. 4, p. 290, pl. 26, figs. 2-2b 



Pacific Gopher Snake with its prey, "a gopher" 

Pituophis catenifer catenifer

Photo slide by Pat Briggs 


The Pacific Gopher Snake below from Kings County measured 81 inches in length.

By Patrick Briggs



The wild female Pacific Gopher Snake below was found coming out of a gopher

 hole in a freshly dug mound in a residents backyard in Hanford California.

Digital Photo Image by Patrick H. Briggs October 2015.




Kings County adult male over 5.5 foot Pacific gopher snake

Photo by Pat Briggs


Pacific gopher snake riparian habitat in Kings County, California

Photos By Patrick Briggs



  General Info and care of Pituophis:

 Pacific gopher snake habitat in Lemoore, California- Kings County



 Pacific Gopher Snake

 Pituophis catenifer catenifer ( Blainville, 1835 )

 Digital photo by Patrick Houston Briggs (Individual below from south Hanford, California-October 21, 2015)







Below are 23 Pacific gopher eggs laid by a the wild collected female from Kings County California. A small bowl of water for humidity was added to the corner and the lid placed back on just as the eggs sit. Within about 9 weeks, at approximately 85 degrees, they all hatched. One of the neonate hatchlings is in the image below the image of all the eggs.

Photos and slide scans by Patrick Briggs

 A young Pacific gopher snake Pituophis catenifer catenifer hatched from eggs of a wild collected female from Hanford California in Kings County. Image by Pat Briggs

The neonate Pacific gopher snake below was found at Corcoran SATF and State Prison A yard in California.

Digital Image by Patrick Briggs



(DOR) Pituophis catenifer catenifer in a transitional zone, Monterey County side 10 miles west of Priest Valley on the HWY 198.

Found near the area where the counties Benito, Monterey, and Fresno are near each other, Adult female, Total length 47.5 inches

This individual seems peculiar to me in upper neck pattern because the light divisions are narrow and contained within square-like brown markings.

If you look at the P. c. deserticola pages of this website, there is an individual from Lancaster with similar markings from another zone of

 intergradation, where 3 races come together; the Great Basin, Pacific, and the San Diego. Although the markings appear similar, it's more red.

Photo by Patrick H. Briggs May 9, 2015 on a Saturday at about 3:30 P.M. 


DOR Pacific gopher snake from Monterey County near Priest Valley

Digital Image by Patrick Briggs 5-09-15

View of the neck from the same DOR Monterey County female

Digital by Pat Briggs 


Below is an intermediate specimen from Doyle California.

Digital by Patrick Briggs 



Below is a specimen showing intergradation found near the borders of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in Cuyuma Valley California. 

Digital photo by Zachery Michelson 



Young albino (10 months) Pacific gopher snake from Selma, California parents.

 Photo by Patrick Briggs 

Red Phase Manteca, California Pacific Gopher snake

Photo Image By Patrick H. Briggs, Courtesy Pete Marshall



Below is a beautiful reddish morph of a wild collected young Pacific gopher snake from Manteca, California of San Joaquin County.

Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs


Below is another young Pacific gopher snake found right next to the one above from Manteca, California. This individual has normal to slightly anrythristic body color.

Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs



This bright red blotched Pacific gopher snake was found between Livermore and Manteca California.

Digital photo by Patrick Briggs Courtesy Jerry Boyer




Mid-body Scales            29-37                            

Supralabials                  7-10

Ventrals                        206-234                         

Infralabials                   10-14

Caudals                          54-80                            


Prefrontals                    2-6 (Usually 4)

Great Resources Below

(See Olive Griffith Stull, BULLETIN 175, U.S. NTL. MSM. p.22 TABLE 1.--- Synopsis of the forms of the genus Pituophis)

(Also, see REPTILES magazine, April 2001 Pituophis Parade, The Bull, Gopher & Pine Snakes p.48-73 By Patrick Briggs)

(Check out Western Reptiles and Amphibians, Third Edition, By Robert C. Stebbins)

A significant resource is

Two-headed catenifer: 

A beautiful yellow albino Pacific gopher snake: 

San Luis Obispo County, California Pacific gopher snake:

Carrizo Plain National Monument, San Luis Obispo, County California (catenifer morph) Pacific gopher snake: 

San Luis Obispo County California (annectens morph):

Navato, California Pacific gopher snake preparing body to shed:

Pacific Gopher Snake from Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in Washington:

A great photo pic of a Pacific gopher snake eating a mole in the wild:

A hawk carries off its prey, a gopher snake and is attacked by a smaller bird:

Neonate striped and standard blotched Pacific gopher snake:

Reddish wild Yuba County California Pacific gopher snake:

Reddish wild  El Dorado County California Pacific gopher snake:

Washington Pacific gopher snake: 


 Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs   (female specimen below from southern Hanford, California)


Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy John Ginter Pacific Gophersnake Striped Morph

Photo slide below by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Sean McKeown (Wild Snake with a gopher from Hanford, California)


Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Laurence Hope (Wild collected albino from Hanford, California)

Below is a 54' wild collected adult female Pacific gopher snake collected in Hanford California April 2014

Digital image by Patrick Houston Briggs


A close up lateral left side of the head of the same female Pacific gopher snake as above.

Photo by Pat Briggs


Below is another Pacific gopher snake collected on an open gopher snake mound hole on October 21, 2015

Digital Image by Patrick Briggs

(A hatching Pacific gopher snake exiting the Egg)

Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs

Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs (Below, Wild Adult from Hanford, California)


Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs (Robbing a Mallard duck's nest)

Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs

 Photo below by Nancy Briggs

 (Pat holds a Pacific Gopher snake nearly 6 feet from Kings County, Ca "Mid-1980's")

 Digital photo by Patrick Houston Briggs June 22, 2014 (Below, a wild female adult Pacific Gopher Snake Pituophis catenifer catenifer)


Pituophis catenifer catenifer wild female adult

Digital photo by Patrick Houston Briggs




Mountain Pacific Gopher Snake below

This Pacific was collected and photographed March 2015 from a dirt road heading to Jose Basin 20 miles or so from Shaver Lake of the Sierras.

Photo by Patrick H. Briggs 



Pituophis catenifer catenifer

(This animal from a road leading to Jose Basin near (Shaver Lake) in the Sierra Nevadas has much lighter blotching color than the valley snakes. 2007)

2007 Slide photo scan by Patrick H. Briggs  



Pituophis catenifer catenifer


Pacific Gopher Snake (from Jose Basin in the Sierra Neveda Mountains in California)

Photo slide scan by Patrick H. Briggs 

Above slide scan to computer December 2009 caught and photographed 2007    



Pacific Gopher Snake

See the Pacific Gopher Snake somewhat hidden in front of a canal in Lemoore, California 2010. 

Photo by Patrick H. Briggs




Pituophis catenifer caternifer from southern Hanford, California in Kings County.

 Photo digital by Patrick H. Briggs

 Curator of Reptiles Fresno CA Chaffee Zoo Sean McKeown and SJHS President Patrick Briggs below in the 1990's




Pituophis catenifer catenifer Striped-Albino


Photo slide by Pat Briggs Courtesy Lloyd Lemke 


Young California King Snake swallowing a Pacific Gopher Snake

 Photo by Patrick Briggs 






Young Pacific Gopher snake

Photo by Pat Briggs


Pacific Gopher Snake Hanford, CA Photo by Patrick Briggs Courtesy Laurence Hope





Map Range

The Pacific Gopher Snake Pituophis catenifer catenifer



*Note that populations of the Pacific gopher snake in British Columbian Canada and also Washington State in the U.S. may be completely extirpated.

Pacific Gopher Snake

 Photo by Patrick H. Briggs Courtesy Laurence Hope

This wild specimen images below from Hanford, California 2011







 The large female Pacific Gopher Snake from Hanford California measured 81 inches in length!

Digital Image of the snake and Pat Briggs by Nancy Briggs