Cape Gopher snake a beautiful Baja California Mexican form, Pituophis vertebralis vertebralis
Digital Photo Image by Patrick Houston Briggs August 2018
Jessica Briggs holds up a large adult male Black Pine snake Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi.
Photo by Patrick H. Briggs April 20, 2015
(*See additional range map for Pituophis lineaticollis and deppei at the bottom of this home page.)
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This is the ultimate site on Gopher snakes Pine snakes, and Bull snakes, this genus.
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Below is a hybrid Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi x Pituophis catenifer sayi Black Pine snake and Bull snake
Digital Photo Image by Patrick Houston Briggs on August 23,2018
Below is a young male Pituophis lineaticollis gibsoni of wild collected parents from Antigua, Guatemala.
Digital image below by Patrick Houston Briggs
The digital image below is a young female Yellow-orange phase Pituophis deppei jani from Northern Mexican parent stock.
As it matures it will progressively become more yellow and the blotches darker to become a shocking beauty. See the male a few
images below this one to get an idea just how beautiful they become as adults.
Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs
Here's a beautiful red morph bull snake Pituophis catenifer sayi produced by breeding similar snakes from the state of Texas.
Digital Image by Pat Briggs and Pete Marshall
Photo by Patrick H. Briggs
Cape Gopher Snake from Baja California stock
Pituophis catenifer vertebralis=Pituophis vertebralis
Photo by Patrick H. Briggs
Northern Mexican Pine Snake (the author's large male Yellow Phase jani below)
Pituophis deppei jani
Photo by Patrick Briggs
Photo by Patrick H. Briggs
Below is a hatchling bull snake from Illinois parents.
Photo by Pat Briggs
Patternless Southern Pinesnake Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus
This form is also called the Florida Pinesnake
Two-headed San Diego Gopher Snake (wild from Santa Barbara California)
Photo below by Patrick H. Briggs
Christmas Mountains Sonoran Gopher Snake from parent stock of Brewster County Texas
Digital Image by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Rick Lewis and Debbie Horne
Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs (Below is an upset Pacific Gopher Snake 5 feet 5 inches long from Hanford-California)
Gopher, Pine, and Bull Snakes-The Genus Pituophis
By Patrick Houston Briggs
The genus Pituophis pronounced "pit-chew-oh'-fis" is a collection of constrictors with similar characteristics classified within the ophidian family Colubridae. These reptiles are commonly known as the gopher snakes, pine snakes, and bull snakes. Like all the snakes, they are scaled ectotherms that many refer to as cold-blooded, and biologists, as poikilothermic, meaning that their body temperature becomes nearly the same as the environment nearby, and so they are dependent upon their immediate surroundings; they must thermal regulate their bodies to manage cooler or warmer temperatures. This means for wild snakes on cooler periods, for example, they may find a warmer spot on a rock or on the ground warmed by the sun, and remain there until they achieve a comfortable body temperature. On the other hand, if they are too warm, they might relax in a shady area, slither into a stream, or they may burrow or escape down a rodent hole to become cooler. They must do this to carry on normal body functions including digesting food. These snakes seem to function best in temperatures from about 78 to about 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Like other snakes, they have no external ears and they have no moveable eyelids, but instead, each eye is protected by a clear layer of skin called a brille. Each month or so, as the brille becomes scratchy from pushing against rocks, wood or through sand and soil, it will be renewed to its clarity only after the snake sheds or sloughs its outer skin including the head and the eye brilles or caps. Snakes shed or slough their outer skins periodically as they grow larger or soon after a serious injury. The number of times they do this depends on factors such as weather, food consumed, and growth. Before sloughing off the outer skin, their eyes will cloud up to murky blue color due to the lubricating fluids that separate the outer skin from the newer underneath. The body color also darkens and is less vivid. Gradually in about a week or so, the eyes clear up and the body becomes nearly its normal color. The snake may choose to soak in water to help separate the skin more efficiently. Soon after this step the snake will rub its snout on rocks or other objects to loosen the skin to slide it backward and inside out like a sock being rolled back toward the rear of the body. If the outer skin on the body is wet enough, the skin will be cast off in one or two pieces, but if is not, it will come off in many pieces.
Currently, taxonomists do not agree on everything regarding the systematics of this genus. So, until all authorities are unanimous regarding these taxa, 7 species with 19 subspecies will be recognized on this Pituophis website. Some authorities attribute the scientific name Pituophis to the Latin word pituitarius referring to phlegm or mucus which could be associated with the raspy hissing produced by these snakes when they become upset. Others believe that because Pitys is Greek for "pine" and Latin for "pine-cone", it is very appropriate for the the pine snake species, therefore, it is assigned to this genus. The ophis portion of this scientific name is Greek for snake. Holbrook, actually, established the first Pituophis in 1842 upon the northern form of pine snake which previously, Daudin called Coluber melanoleucus in 1803. Coluber is Latin for snake.
Many ophidian species can be identified by scale number, arrangement, and other characteristics. The scales on the bodies of the Pituophis group are heavily keeled above becoming less so progressively down each side towards the belly. Also being noteworthy for identification is that although most Colubrid individuals have only 2 prefrontal scales, within the genus Pituophis, with the exception of a few species, and some individuals, there is usually a trademark of 4 prefrontals, at least on most individuals. Others may vary a little within a species, with some individuals deviating from the rule, having only 2 widened, and others having azygous or intermediate scales between the prefontal and frontal or preoculars especially within geographical intergrade zones. It can be confusing sometimes; intergrade zones many times are broad, and these areas may also produce not only combinations of bi-racial scutellation, but also distinct intergrade pattern morphs sporting color and pattern of both races that are very consistent within that respective area of intergradation. Internet images from specific areas where Pituophis are found allow us to see many species, races or bi-racial patterns by locality that were unavailable not too long ago. Some examples of regular intergrades are the bull snake and Sonoran gopher snake races, Pacific and Great Basin gopher snakes, San Diego and Pacific gopher snake, Florida and Northern pine snake, and Northern Mexican and Mexican pine snake races. See the site maps where some of the intergrade zones appear as smudgy gray. (CONTINUED)
The snake below is a perfect example of geographical borders of two subspecies overlapping in Oatman, Arizona.
Below you can see pattern characteristics of both Pituophis catenifer deserticola and Pituophis catenifer affinis. The
individual below is a natural occurring intergrade, an evolutionary test for the area of individuals with varying patterns.
April 2014 Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Jerry Hartley
The animal below is an additional example of a natural occurring intergrade blend of Pituophis catenifer races in northeastern California.The snake is from
Doyle, California in a broad region of intergrading characteristics of both Pituophis caternifer deserticola and Pituophis catenifer catenifer.
Photo by Patrick H. Briggs Courtesy Jerry Hartley
Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Lloyd Lemke (Below is a large powerful female Northern Pine Snake)
The first image below on the left is the upper head of Pituophis deppei deppei and clearly shows only 2 pre-frontal scales making contact with thfrontal scale (the center plate beween the eyes). The right side image shows a light patternless morph of Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus with 4 pre-frontal scales contacting the frontal scale. With the exception of Pituophis deppei and Pituophis lineaticollis, most Pituophis species have 4 that normally contact the frontal scale or plate, but individuals from any of these are ocassionally found with azygous scales called azygos. When this occurs, only two or three may contact the frontal plate, and there will be additional scales more than 2 or 4 total pre-frontal scales.
Photo print scans by Patrick Briggs
Pituophis deppei deppei MEXICAN PINE SNAKE 2 Pre-frontal scales Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus SOUTHERN PINE SNAKE 4 Pre-frontals
Below is a Black pine snake (Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi) indigenous to extreme southeastern Louisiana, southeastern Mississippi,southwestern Alabama, and extreme northwestern Florida where it intergrades and lightens up in color with the Florida pine snake. The individual below has an azygous scale forming 5 prefrontals,
3 including the azygo at the middle are contacting the the frontal scale (the big scale between the eye scales), the other two are cradling the azygo. Also, take note of
the suture half way up the center front of the frontal scale on this female individual and the concave-like depressions on the supra oculars (upper eye scales).
Photography by Patrick H. Briggs
Here's another upper head study of a different Black pine snake individual below with the normal 4 prefontal scale arrangement without azygous scales.
Digital Photo Image by Patrick H. Briggs
The Black Pine Snake Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi
Digital Image Below By Patrick Houston Briggs, October 23, 2015
below is the Mexican Lined Bull Snake or Mexican Lined Cincuate (Seen qua' tay)
also called the Mexican Lined Pine Snake Pituophis lineaticollis lineaticollis
Photo by Patrick H. Briggs May 2014
The Mexican Lined Bull Snake or Mexican Lined Cincuate (seen qua' tay)
Photo By Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Thomas Moisi (Specimen below is Cuerno Vaca, Mexican Stock)
Gopher, Pine, and Bull Snakes-The Genus Pituophis Pat Briggs article continued...
Pine snakes, gopher snakes, and bull snakes are nonvenomous and although a bite from a snake defending itself may be painful due to its small, sharp teeth, the bite is harmless to humans. Most, except a few island forms, can grow to be robust, powerful constrictors that usually hunt rodent prey such as gophers, rats, mice, very young rabbits, and squirrels. They will also take small birds, the fledglings, and their eggs, especially, ground nesting birds. The younger snakes will feed on lizards, very young rodents, and occassionally, frogs or smaller snakes. Because they have found them in the stomachs of dissected Pituophis, there are a few biologist that believe that insects are also eaten; I believe that those insects found inside these snakes, were in the stomachs of the prey that had been consumed. I've actively worked with, researched, and observed these snakes for over 40 years. I'm quite sure that Pituophis don't actively search out insects for food. Nevertheless, if you rubbed the wet mouth of a young mouse or "pinkie" or the blood of a lizard's severed tail on to an insect or some small object, because its alluring scent, it may trigger the feeding instinct in a captive snake, causing it to actually take it in its jaws and possibly, swallow it. This is because the snake is readily able to recognize the food scent and taste through a paired olfactory mechanism called the "Jacobson's organ" located above and inside the mouth merging into the nasal region. It receives particulate molecules when the forked tongue is extended and retracted back into the mouth. To a snake, this mechanism is paramount and it is assisted by a bifurcated tongue that is more useful for object recognition and for finding its way about than its eyesight! The snake could survive without its eyesight, but not without its tongue and the mechanism within the mouth that assists it.
One of the author's bull snakes eats a small rat.
Photo by the author, Pat Briggs
The image below is a bite from the exact Cape Gopher snake pictured high above beginning this site. It bit my left hand on the palm below the thumb base joint. Although it was slightly painful, and a small clear sharp tooth was found within the wound, it was harmless and healed fast.
The Genus Pituophis Pat Briggs article continued...
Bull snakes, gopher snakes and pine snakes all have a reenforced snout scale called a rostral. Because of their fossorial (burrowing) habits, a rostral nose plate to assist in moving about through the soil, gravel, or sandy substrate is necessary. Within the pine snake group melanoleucus, ruthveni, and to some degree, the bull snakes Pituophis catenier sayi, this snout shield or scale is exaggerated and is raised much higher than adjacent scales to give it additional strength.
Generally, Pituophis are clad in light ground coloration with dark blotches and spots, but wild individuals have been found in nearly every race that occurs blotched, to occassionally occur with a striped pattern morph (phenotype). Not only are aberrantly patterned individuals common, but color and pattern variation is extreme, both at the specific and subspecific levels of Pituophis. In the pet trade, snake breeders benefit by specializing in many varieties of aberrations that are striking and beautiful, and so they select specific individuals with common striking mutations to breed together. Furthermore, a few, such as Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi lose their pattern completely as they mature, and become completely "melanistic" dark brown or black as adults. Many Pituophis also have darker markings toward the rear and front of their bodies while they are much lighter at the mid-body which makes them appear as two or three different kinds of snakes in one body.
As taxonomists and herpetologists try to better understand and classify the Pituophis group, some taxa with differing geographical patterns, such as Pituophis vertebralis also called (P. catenifer vertebralis) formally having subspecies, are now being relegated by some authorities as one species with "pattern classes" and a different species name, while others continue with their plural "subspecies" status and the same scientific names.
A beautiful Cape gopher snake Pituophis vertebralis vertebralis from parent stock taken from extreme southern Baja California Mexico.
This is another one of my beautiful breeders. How can someone not appreciate the beauty of an ophidian such as this reptile?
Digital Image by Pat Briggs
Photo by Patrick H. Briggs
Below is a Botta's Pocket Gopher Thomomys bottae from Kings County in California. Gopher snake species and subspecies are named after these tunnel digging rodents. These snakes eat mostly the young of these creatures by swallowing them live and head-first, and if these snakes are large enough predators to consume adult or near adult gophers, they will suffocate them usually by pressing them against the sides of the tunnels, but if they find themselves hunting where the burrow is widened, they will constrict and subdue the hapless prey by first, grabbing it in their jaws and subsequently, utilizing their muscular body coils.
Digital Image by Patrick H. Briggs Courtesy Louis Benedetti-October 17, 2016
Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy John C. Ginter (Below is a striped-morph Pacific Gopher Snake)
Watch and Listen to Pituophis striking, hissing, and vibrating the tail Click below:
Above Courtesy Gary Nafis (http://www.californiaherps.com/)
A wild collected father Bull snake Pituophis catenifer sayi, with his hatchling daughter face off for the camera.
Digital head study image by Pat Briggs
Snake advise: http://www.boatips.com/bullsnakes/
Here's the Flickriver site with over 300 wonderful pituophis images! http://flickriver.com/photos/tags/catenifer/interesting/
Here's hundreds more beautiful Pituophis pics from flickr from Yahoo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hghjim/sets/72157603233540189/detail/
Bull snake (and other Pituophis) sexual dimorphism report: http://www.herpconbio.org/Volume_4/Issue_3/Kapfer_2009.pdf
More Pituophis images from Superstock photography http://www.superstock.com/stock-photography/Gopher+Snake
Another Pituophis Site: http://www.kingsnake.com/pituophis/species.html
Pine Bull and Gopher snake Index Click this site: http://www.herp-pix.org/pituophis/index.htm
By Patrick Briggs
Temperament of different Pituophis can vary just as much from one individual to another as it can from different species or races. I've always been impressed at the tenacity of some of these reptiles that have been cornered in their lair or feel threatened. Indeed, if one that has a nasty temper is agitated, heavy breathing and muscular coils are deliberately flexed and relaxed by its sinuous body, and it may slowly slither along on large half loops, and with the head boldly raised and flattened, and the rear of the jaw spread further apart, the tongue might extend and slowly rise and lower, or the bifurcated tip may droop downward. At the same time, an intense raspy hissing is amplified as inhaling and exhaling of air is emitted through an air hole that passes by a cartilaginous membrane flap or pre-glottal keel (epiglottal keel) jutting upward and down the center from the front of the glottis opening. The glottis is an air opening at the floor of the mouth behind the base of the tongue. Furthermore, as penetrating eyes of the pivoting head focus intently on the movements of the intruder, the tail, like a rattlesnake without its rattle, shakes and rapidly vibrates against the ground with determination, and may produce sound to intimidate an intruder. All of these adaptive behaviors and survival tools work in conjunction one with another to become part of a bluffing strategy and effective mechanism to fool any menacing predator into believing its potential prey is an irrascible creature or a scaly devil far too trecherous to manage. If that isn't enough, repeated strikes to bite, sometimes lurching the body forward and off the ground towards the intruder should hasten a decision for it to retreat and search out other prey. This predator diversion allows the magnificent ophidian to finally pacify, and slowly slither away, and having again, survived, go on its merry way. Most captive Pituophis that are regularly handled will stop this bluffing or striking, and become easily handled shortly after capture They may temporarily return to this bluffing or striking again if placed outside on the ground in the sun for few minutes or so and an attempt is made to grab them as they escape and tire. If an attempt to pick them up is made when they are exhausted, the tail will shake and they will usually strike.
(Click on to the pink and green high-lighted sites above this paragraph to see this happen.)
Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs (Below is the pre-glottal keel or flap that amplifies the hissing sound coming from the airway)
Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs
(Below can be seen on this patternless and leusistic Northern Pine Snake, being a subterrainian species, the ROSTRAL
scale that is reenforced on the snout surface asssists in burrowing in the ground )
Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs (Below is a wild male San Diego Gopher Snake from Arroyo Verde Park in Ventura, California)
Below is a Great Basin Gophersnake Pituophis catenifer deserticola
(from Dove Springs near Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert)
Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Chris Hooke
Pituophis catenifer affinis body from Deming, (Luna County) New Mexico
All Known Pituophis in the World
Click the Menu @ the top of this Home Page Site for Any of These Snakes
1. Pituophis catenifer affinis (Hollowell, 1852) Sonoran Gopher Snake
2. Pituophis catenifer annectens (Baird & Girard, 1853)
3. Pituophis catenifer catenifer (Blainville, 1835) Pacific Gopher Snake
4. Pituophis catinifer coronalis (Klauber, 1946)
5. Pituophis catenifer deserticola (Stejneger, 1893)
6. Pituophis catenifer fuliginatus (Klauber, 1946) San Martin Gopher Snake
7. Pituophis catenifer pumilis (Klauber, 1946)
8. Pituophis catenifer sayi (Schlegil, 1837) Common Bull Snake
9. Pituophis deppei deppei (Dumeril, 1853) Mexican Pine Snake
10. Pituophis deppei jani (Cope, 1860) Northern Mexican Pine Snake
11. Pituophis insulanus (Klauber, 1946)
12. Pituophis lineaticollis lineaticollis (Cope, 1861) Cincuate Bull Snake(Mexican- Lined bull snake)
13. Pituophis lineaticollis gibsoni (Stuart, 1954) Guatamalan Bull Snake (Gibson's bull snake)
14. Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi (Blanchard, 1924) Black Pine Snake
15. Pituophis melanoleucus melanoleucus (Daudin, 1803) Northern Pine Snake
16. Pituophis melanoleucus mugitus (Barbour, 1921)
17. Pituophis ruthveni (Stull, 1929)
18. Pituophis vertebralis bimaris (Blainville, 1835) Mid-
19. Pituophis vertebralis vertebralis (Blainville, 1835) Cape Gopher Snake
*Vertebralis and Bimaris are sometimes considered Pattern Classes of Vertebralis. (e.g. L. Grismer 2002)
Other authorities place them as subspecies of catenifer. I've listed them as vertebralis species and bimaris & vertebralis subspecies.
In the future, we may soon find other Pituophis warranting nomenclatorial distinction. Please send interesting images to me.
Patrick H. Briggs, Reptiles writer, Officer, photographer, SJHS President and Sean Mckeown, Curator of Reptiles Fresno CA Chaffee Zoo in California and the Honolulu Zoo in Hawaii, author of several books and editor for various magazines including Reptiles Magazine.
San Martin Island Gopher Snake Louisiana Pine Snake Guatamalan Bull Snake
Coronado Island Gopher Snake Channel Islands Gopher Snake Northern Mexican Pine Snake
Cedros Island Gopher Snake Mexican Pine Snake Mid-Baja California Gopher Snake
Northern Pine snake
Black Pine snake
Sonoran Gopher snake
San Diego Gopher snake
Mexican Cincuate or Lined Pine snake
Baja California or Cape Gopher snake
Pacific Gopher snake
Great Basin Gopher snake
Southern or Florida Pine snake
Here's a great work on Pituophis by Olive Stull printed in 1940 and again in 2005 by CNAH previously ( CNAAR ).
The book below is a must for serious Pituophis people.
Photos above by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy J. Ginter and T. Moisi, SDSNH, & SBMNH
If you have any current information, want to contribute great pituophis photos, or if you see some errors on any of the pages of this site, please
Contact me: PATRICK BRIGGS @ email@example.com
Hablo, escribo, y leo español, por lo tanto, en el futuro, también, haré este sítio de Pituophis en español.
Bonnie-Mikelle Bair (Briggs) Stephanie Briggs, and Jessica Briggs 2015
(Married 31 years 2013) Patrick and Nancy Briggs with three daughters, Bonnie, Stephanie, and Jessica 2013
Below in July 2018 Patrick Briggs with one of his Grandsons, Aiden
If you have a clear pituophis image with a valid geographical location or significant information, Send it to me. I will attempt to post it.
Below is Nancy and Patrick Briggs with the youngest, Stephanie 17 in back with her tongue out.
Below I have my Texas Indigo, probably around 1991.
Click here for Canadian Range map only: http://canadianbiodiversity.mcgill.ca/english/species/herps/herppages/Pit_mel.htm