Sonoran Gopher Snake


Pituophis catenifer affinis ( Hollowell, 1852-Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 181)
Photo by John D. Wilson (Specimen below from Cochise County- Arizona)


Below, Christmas Mountain Sonoran Gopher Snake, male adult called "Hooper" 

(Note some call this a Bull snake due to its range in Brewster Co. Texas, but it clearly keys out otherwise as P. c. affinis.)

Pituophis catenifer affinis

Digital Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs, Sunday, October 6, 2019


The Sonoran Gopher Snake

 By Patrick Briggs


The SONORAN GOPHER SNAKE is an accomplished constrictor and one of at least 8 gopher or bull snake subspecies of Pituophis catenifer.  It is Pituophis catenifer affinis. Some individuals of this subspecies can be more beautiful than any of the other subspecies. This form's subspecific term  comes from the Latin word affinis, which means "related to" or "adjacent". Edward Hallowell who was both a physician and a herpetologist in 1852 first called this snake form Pityophis affinis. At first, he described individuals that he had collected in New Mexico,  to possess larger scales along the sides than those above on the back. The blotches on the dorsum were brownish,  subquadrate and each was somewhat concave in front and behind. Three intercalary rows of smaller markings are also present on both sides. Very dark transverse bands are on a short tail with the abdomen and under the tail thickley maculated in dark brown.  Like all other Pituophis subspecies, it has sharp teeth, and although its strike or bite may cause only slight pain, it is harmless to humans. This race is indigenous to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico occurring in different shades of brown,  reddish color, and beautiful morph patterns throughout its range. Just as commonly as many of the other races of catenifer, the affinis race many times intergrades with other races such as annectens and deserticola, or occasionally hybridizes with other species such as Pituophis deppei at geographical borders where the two different forms come together in parts of Mexico. This produces populations at the bordering regions with pattern characters representing either both or one of the other forms.          

IDENTIFICATION: The Sonoran Gopher Snake is a large constrictor with a stout body that as an adult usually is about 3-5 feet in length. Even so, they can reach lengths up to 7 feet (213cm). The tail is reported to be 0.111 to 0.152 of the total body length.  Its snout is neither blunt or pointed, but moderately rounded. This race is heavily keeled throughout the length of the body. These keels or ridges that separate each scale are most defined on the upper rows of scales and weaken or completely fade out on the scale rows of each side nearest the belly. The rostral of this subspecies, (unlike the bull snake) is rather broad, only slightly longer than broad, and only slightly raised above adjacent head scales if it is raised at all. The head is only slightly wider that the neck except when the snake is upset and is deliberately flexing the jaws as a threat display. Also, the head above is light colored and nearly always is dappled with small dots. The Sonoran gopher snake is anteriorly clad with 43-86 separate all brown or reddish dorsal blotches or spots on the body and tail. Anteriorly, the blotches are quadrangular may be grayish to reddish brown. Near the tail end, the blotches darken, may be nearly black, and are more or less saddle-shaped. These blotches are 3-7 scales in length and 9-11 scales in width and are delineated narrowly in black or very dark brown. These dorsal blotches may fuse one with another and with the lateral markings at their ends. Usually, the blotches are reddish and its ground color distinctly prettier than most other gopher snakes, but occassionally, drabbier looking individuals are collected. On each side, there are 3 lateral rows of  smaller markings or spots with the same color as the vertebral blotches. These spots are also outlined narrowly with dark brown or black, and they alternate one with another. The lateral ground color is usually the same color as the dorsum with no ashy wash or suffusion of gray, but sometimes there is spotting. The ventra is pale with a series of dark spots 1-2 scutes in length with a separation of 1-4 scutes. Consistent with most of the genus Pituophis and the other subspecies of catenifer, above the head, 4 prefrontal scales are usually present in Pituophis catenifer affinis. 

BEHAVIOR: These snakes can usually be found lurking about their lairs during the daytime to thermal regulate their own bodies before searching out prey. In the summer, when the temperatures are the highest, they also become active at night, especially from dusk to dawn. Tall grass or bushes are favorites to frequent, but rocky areas or bare ground with lots of holes are also good habitat. By extending and retracting their tongue, and rapidly inserting or touching the bifurcated tips into a paired organ in the palate of the mouth called the Jacobson's organ, they taste and smell scent that leads them to food, water, and possible mates for sex. Much of their prey is found in underground animal burrows. They subdue these animals by pressing them up against tunnels or wall surfaces or by biting down to hold them in place as they coil around and suffocate the prey. In a different manner, young blind and hairless rodents and fledgling birds are usually swallowed without constriction or pressing them beforehand. As temperatures become colder, these snakes will go underground. They usually utilize animal tunnels and chambers, but they are also quite capable of making their own burrows or chambers and may modify a rodent chamber by moving soil or substrate with the upper coils of the body and pushing earth to one side or another using a re-enforced snout, the rostral, so that they may brumate during the winter. Although they tend to be more fossorial, Sonoran gopher snakes are good climbers and swimmers and will search out bird nests for food or even navigate water. If threatened, they may flatten the head and body, shake the tail like a rattler, hiss, strike, bite, or simply, slither to cover.

REPRODUCTION: In the wild, after overwintering, from March to May, as temperatures begin to elevate in the spring, these snakes begin looking for mates by tracking scent as they extend and retract the tongue and touch the olfactory organ in the palate of the mouth.  After locating a mate, sometimes other males may be present and need to be ritually muscled away through intertwining, twisting, and pushing. The established male will slither along its female's side, and attempt to impress her with some rubbing, flexing, nudging,  and intertwining of body and tails. Eventually, he will lie extended with many curves on the length of her back massaging and twitching to stimulate her to mate. Subsequently, the male sometimes will grasp the female by the head or neck and slide the base of tail underneath hers sliding it back and for until she accepts copulation. He next, everts one of his two sexual organs known as hemepenes housed in the base of the tail and inserts it into one of the female's two recepter pouches, also housed within the tail. Mating can be a few minutes or hours and it is usually repeated several times within a few days. Within a couple months after mating, from June-August,  eggs will usually be laid under in modified burrows, or under an object, in a substrate such as sand or ground litter, large stones, old stumps or wood debris, or anything that maintains temperatures from about 78 to about 85 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity (atleast 75%). Many times, a female will hollow out her own nest in an area underground using her snout and coils from the front part of her body. She lays leathery off white tubular like or oval eggs that are able to absorb moisture from the ground. She may stay around for a few days or she may leave immediately after deposition of the eggs. Depending on specific factors such as temperature during incubation, the young snakes should hatch in about two to two and a half months. Young are 13-16 inches. After hatching, baby snakes will appear somewhat darkened, but a few days to a week or so later, they slough off an outer skin layer and will appear as beautifully colored neonate snakes.

FOOD: Like all the others of the Pituophis clade, this race is a powerful constrictor.  It will begin to eat small lizards, young hairless rodents (pinkies), and fledgling birds. As it grows to be an adult, the size of  food animals that it can and will eat will respectively be larger and other types food items will be added such as eggs,  rodents with hair or feathers, such as pocket gophers, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, and birds, and occasionally, small snakes. Adults are usually 50-72 inches long with a record reportedly 92 inches (233.7 cm). 

HABITAT: The Sonoran Gopher Snake frequents varied habitat with cover and food. It can be found near streams and rivers, desert flats, scrub, grass land, and agricultural land. Its favorite areas to frequent are high grass or desert bushes, bare ground with many holes or tunnels, or rocky flat areas. 

RANGE: It can be found in south-eastern California, Arizona, western New Mexico, and extreme western Texas in the U.S.. In Mexico, it occurs in Sonora, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, Western Cohuila, Zacatecas, and San Luis Potosi. Where other subspecies overlap range borders, racial intergradation may occur such as northern Mexico where it intergrades with Pituophis catenifer sayi or in south central California where 3 subspecific borders occur; P. c. annectens, P. c. deserticola, and P. c. affinis. 

CONSERVATION: As previously mentioned, there are currently NO STATUS LISTINGS in the Special Animals List and the Endangered and Threatened Animals List, therefore, currently (2014) California seems to have no serious conservation concerns for this subspecies of Pituophis. 


Original Description:

Species: Pituophis catenifer - (Blainville, 1835) - Nouv. Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, Vol. 4, p. 290, pl. 26, figs. 2-2b 
Subspecies: Pituophis catenifer affinis - Hallowell, 1852 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 181



                 Mid-body scale rows        28-35                   

                 Supralabials                     8-9 (4th or 5th or none contacting eye)

                 Neck scale rows              25-33

                 Anterior to vent rows      20-25

                 Ventrals                           215-260               

                 Infralabials                       11-15

                 Caudals                             51-71                   

                 Preoculars                        1-2

                 Anal                                   entire                   

                 Postoculars                       2-6

                 Prefrontals                         4-7

                 Frontal                               (Usually undivided, but may be split down 

                                                            the center for as much as 1/2 of its length) 

                 Rostral                               (rounded  sharply in front, only slightly longer

                                                            than broad, penetrating 1/3-3/4 of the distance

                                                            between the internasals)

                 Loreal                                 (present and occasionally divided to form 2

                                                             scales on one or both sides)

                 Azygos Scales                    (1 or 2 present usually between the frontal 

                                                             and prefrontals, or a small one on each side

                                                             between the prefontal and the preocular)


The DENTITION of the mandibular teeth are 18-19 gradually becoming smaller in size towards the back. The maxillary teeth are 16-17 also decreasing slightly in size posteriorly. The palatines are 8-10 and are smaller than both the mandibular and the maxillaries. the pterygoids number 10-14 slightly smaller than the palatines and also decrease in size posteriorly. 



Christmas Mountains Sonoran Gopher Snake from parent stock of Brewster County Texas

Digital Image by Patrick Houston Briggs


This is my adult female Christmas Mountain Sonoran gopher snake from parent stock of Brewster County Texas.

Digital Image by Patrick Houston Briggs, 2014 Courtesy Rick Lewis and Debbie Horne


What a NATURAL locality beauty! 

This is my beautiful male Christmas Mountain Sonoran gopher snake from parents of Brewster County Texas.

This is a natural color of this locality Sonoran gopher snake. Many Sonoran Gopher Snakes and Bull snakes from or around the Big Bend region of

western Texas are naturally very light with beautiful reds and yellows. Some intergrade near the geographical racial borders. Although it is often called a

 Christmas Mountain Bull Snake, this form clearly keys out to be a Sonoran Gopher Snake extending its range slightly eastward.

Digital Image by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Mike Roscoe


A Male Christmas Mountains Sonoran Gopher Snake 

Photo by Patrick Briggs


Christmas Mountains Sonoran Gopher Snake from parent stock of Brewster County Texas 

Digital Images below by Patrick Briggs Courtesy Rick Lewis 


Below is another Christmas Mountains in Texas affinis individual, a near adult male bred by Rick Lewis and Debra Horne.

Digital Image By Patrick Briggs, July 2017


 Head view of male Pituophis catenifer affinis from Brewster County Texas stock.

Digital Image By Patrick Briggs, Sunday, October 6, 2019



A young Christmas Mountains Sonoran Gopher Snake 

Digital Image by Pat Briggs



A young Christmas Mountains Sonoran Gopher Snake head study from parent stock of Brewster County Texas

Digital Image by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Rick Lewis and Debbie Horne



Pituophis catenifer affinis  body from Deming, (Luna County) New Mexico

Sonoran gopher snakes like the one below from New Mexico were the first to be described by the physician and herpetologist, Edward Hallowell in 1852.

Digital Image by Patrick Briggs Courtesy Rick Lewis and Debbie Horne

 Below is a Botta's Pocket Gopher Thomomys bottae from Corcoran, California. Gopher snakes get their name from these rodents because they regularly feed on their young and utilize their tunnels and burrows. Large snakes will also kill and consume adult gophers by grasping them in their jaws and holding them with clear curved, needle-sharp teeth before wrapping them in powerful coils and suffocating them through constriction. When the heart and breathing stops, the gopher snake will locate the head and walk its jaws in a side to side motion to pull it into the throat where muscles assist in bringing the food closer and closer to the stomach. If the prey is encountered in a narrow tunnel portion, the snake simply presses the hapless gopher against the tunnel walls to subdue it.

 Digital Image Below By Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Louis Benedetti September 19, 2016



See the handsome natural occurring intergrade affinis x deserticola courtesy Jerry Hartley from Oatman, Arizona below:

Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs 2014


(Close study of head and body when viewed from above of the natural intergrade Pituophis catenifer affinis x deserticola from Oatman, Arizona)

Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Jerry Hartley



 See this angry Sonoran gopher snake from by Gary Nafis.

 /movies/ .



 Pituophis catenifer affinis  upper head study from Deming, New Mexico

Digital Image by Patrick Briggs Courtesy Rick Lewis & Debbie Horne


Pituophis catenifer affinis  left lateral head study from Deming, New Mexico

Digital Image by Patrick Briggs Courtesy Rick Lewis & Debbie Horne



Pituophis catenifer affinis  body from Deming, (Luna County) New Mexico

Digital Image by Patrick Briggs Courtesy Rick Lewis and Debbie Horne




Pituophis catenifer affinis

Scanned slide by Pat Briggs 





  Pituophis catenifer affinis

(from Blythe in Riverside County of the California border)

(note the 4 prefrontal scales touching the single frontal between the eyes) 

Photo slide by Patrick H. Briggs 

Underthroat slide scan of Pituophis catenifer affinis from Texas

Digital Image by Pat Briggs 2014

  Pituophis catenifer affinis White Albino Morph

Photo by Patrick H. Briggs Courtesy Lloyd Lemke

See this angry Sonoran gopher snake from by Gary Nafis.


 See also these sites:    






6. Tucson Arizona Sonoran gopher snake waiting for something to pop out of the hole:[email protected]/6055726999/ 

7. A Sonoran gopher snake swallowing a rabbit: 


9. A pretty "Ghost" Sonoran gopher snake: 

10.  Yavapai County,  Arizona Sonoran gopher snake: 

11. Redfield Canyon, Arizona Sonoran gopher snake: 

12. La Paz County, Arizona Sonoran gopher snake: 

13. Striped Pacific gopher snake, North of San Francisco, California: 

14. Green Valley, Arizona Sonoran gopher snake:[email protected]/2124927579/ 

15.  Yécora, Mexico, Sonoran gopher snake or not: 

16. Alamos, Sonora Mexico, Wild Sonoran Striped Morph gopher snake: 

17. A Sonoran gopher snake in your face!

18. Several morphs

19. Ghost morph Sonoran


Melamine is smooth and easy to clean. I keep bull snakes, gopher snakes, and pine snakes in these cages.

Photo  by Patrick Briggs




Young mice or rats are called "pinkies" or "fuzzies" depending on how far along they are in growth. These are a staple for breeders feeding young snakes. "Hoppers" are a step older with eyes wide open and able to jump or run. 


I keep some of my bull snakes, pine snakes, and gopher snakes in stacked melamine interior and wood exterior cages such as the one below that measure (48" long x 17" high x 23" deep). The two sliding glass doors with locks at the front, easily open so that I can refill the water in the ceramic waterbowls that I have provided for them to drink and soak their bodies. These doors also allow for feeding, access to the snake, and provide a large opening to eliminate dung, replace the old shredded aspen or other substrate, and to clean smears within the sides of the cage.  The back sides are also vented in each unit.The lowest cage unit has wheels or casters at the bottom of these setups to facilitate transport of the whole stack. Inside above, there are 24" florecent lights and 40-50 watt ceramic heat emitters that are easily turned on or off either manually with a switch or automatically using multi-outlet surge protectors with timers. I prefer to keep a simple dual analog thermometer-humidity gauge on at least the warm side of the enclosure, but I usually have one on each end of the cage so that its thermospectrum can be monitored.


 Photo by Patrick Briggs

 <-------------------------------------------48 inches----------------------------------------->

Sub-adult Sonoran gopher snake, San Diego Cnty:

Sayi, Affinis, & Deserticola all in New Mexico





      See TABLE 1. Synopsis of the forms of the genus Pituophis, p. 22.

Also see TABLE 11. Specimens of Pituophis (sayi) affinis examined pages 134-139

Check out REPTILES magazine April 2001 Pituophis Parade: The Bull, Gopher & Pine Snakes By Patrick Briggs

 Pituophis catenifer affinis


  Photo by John D. Wilson (Specimen below from Cochise County--Arizona)

  Another great site for wild California reptilies and amphibians including Pituophis is

Sonoran Gopher Snake

 Pituophis catenifer affinis

Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs

 Selectively Captive bred Sonoran Gopher snake

Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs Courtesy Lloyd Lemke

Below is the late Lloyd Lemke with his wife Sonnie, pioneers for many of the snake species regularly kept today. 

For many years, each weekend, I would photograph many different snakes at the Lemke's snake breeding facility in Visalia, California.

Photo by Pat Briggs



 Photo by Patrick Houston Briggs (Near Blythe, CA below)



Intergrade Pituophis catenifer affinis x deserticola

Locality west of Grand Canyon Caverns Rt. 66 Coconino County Arizona

Photo by Brian Hubbs, added 2021

Pituophis catenifer affinis


Hypo Pituophis catenifer affinis  Photo by Patrick H. Briggs Courtesy Lloyd Lemke

Photo by Patrick H. Briggs





 (Albino) Sonoran Gopher Snake early 1990's stock Photo by Patrick Briggs Courtesy Lloyd Lemke





 Sonnie Lemke

 Photo by Patrick Briggs









Pituophis catenifer affinis SONORAN GOPHER SNAKE juvenile female Christmas Mountains Texas locality parent stock 

Digital Image By Patrick Houston Briggs 2022

Below is some nice artwork by Paige Penrose.
The art brings your mind to the beautiful Sonoran Gopher Snakes that many times sport soft color tones.

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