Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Nature Watch: "Gopher Snake"


Last updated 7/18/2023 at 12:26pm

I get it. There are lots of people out there who don't like snakes of any color, size or type.

And while only the rattlesnake is potentially dangerous in this area, there are many species of snakes in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park that are quite beneficial.

One of these is the gopher snake, a large reptile that can reach lengths of more than 7 feet but are more commonly in the 3- to 5-foot range when mature.

Their coloration might mimic a rattlesnake, but they are not poisonous and lack the tell-tale rattles of a buzztail. Color variations can range from dark patterns to lighter brown or reddish patterns on a cream-yellow body.

Gopher snakes are docile, generally slow-moving animals that can be found throughout the desert Southwest in desert flats, rocky hillsides and thick vegetation. Their range extends to grasslands and forests at elevations of 8,000.

The primary foods for gopher snakes include small rodents, such as rats, mice, and squirrels, but also rabbits, gophers and insects. They can also be found climbing in trees in search of bird eggs.

One unique defensive behavior of the gopher snake is to mimic a rattlesnake when threatened.

They will puff up their body, curl into a striking pose with their mouth open, vibrate their tail with rapid movement and produce a hissing sound. This will often be enough to drive away predators.

The best policy if you are not sure about identifying a snake is to simply let it be. Even rattlesnakes prefer to be left alone and their unsettling rattle is simply a warning to back off.

Snakes are protected in the state park, so enjoy seeing them, perhaps taking pictures, but otherwise leave them alone.

This time of the year you may often see reptiles on roads at night or in the early morning hours trying to take advantage of the heat absorbed by the pavement.

Try to avoid them if you can.

If you encounter one around your home, remember they are an important element in maintaining a balance by feeding on mice, rats and gophers.

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