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Pituophis catenifer

Pituophis catenifer (Source)

Superregnum: Eukaryota
Cladus: Unikonta
Cladus: Opisthokonta
Cladus: Holozoa
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Superphylum: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Megaclassis: Osteichthyes
Cladus: Sarcopterygii
Cladus: Rhipidistia
Cladus: Tetrapodomorpha
Cladus: Eotetrapodiformes
Cladus: Elpistostegalia
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Cladus: Reptiliomorpha
Cladus: Amniota
Classis: Reptilia
Cladus: Eureptilia
Cladus: Romeriida
Subclassis: Diapsida
Cladus: Sauria
Infraclassis: Lepidosauromorpha
Superordo: Lepidosauria
Ordo: Squamata
Subordo: Serpentes
Infraordo: Caenophidia
Superfamilia: Colubroidea

Familia: Colubridae
Subfamilia: Colubrinae
Genus: Pituophis
Species: Pituophis catenifer
Subspecies: P. c. affinis – P. c. annectens – P. c. bimaris – P. c. catenifer – P. c. coronalis – P. c. deserticola – P. c. fulginatus – P. c. insulanus – P. c. pumilis – P. c. sayi – P. c. vertebralis

Pituophis catenifer (Blainville, 1835)

Pituophis catenifer — Baird & Girard, 1853: 69
Pituophis wilkesii — Baird & Girard, 1853
Pityophis heermanni — Hallowell, 1853
Elaphis reticulatus Duméril, Bibron & Duméril, 1854: 246
Pituophis mexicanus — Duméril, Bibron & Duméril, 1854: 256
Coluber catenifer — Boulenger, 1894: 67
Pituophis catenifer rutilus — Van Denburgh, 1920
Pituophis catenifer stejnegeri — Van Denburgh, 1920
Pituophis catenifer coronalis Klauber, 1946
Pituophis catenifer fuliginatus Klauber, 1946
Pituophis melanoleucus catenifer — Hirschkorn, 1986
Pituophis catenifer — Liner, 1994
Pituophis melanoleucus catenifer — Bol, 2007


Blainville, Henri Marie Ducrotay de 1835: Description de quelques espèces de reptiles de la Californie précédée de l’analyse d’un système général d’herpétologie et d’amphbiologie. Nouv. Ann. Mus. Hist. Nat. Paris, 4: 232–296.
Baird, S.F. and C. Girard. 1853: Catalogue of North American Reptiles in the Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Part 1.-Serpents. Smithsonian Inst., Washington, xvi + 172 pp.
Hallowell, E. 1852: Descriptions of new species of reptiles inhabiting North America. Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, 6: 177–182.
Pituophis catenifer at the New Reptile Database. Accessed on 04 oct 2008.

Vernacular names
English: Gopher Snake

Pituophis catenifer is a species of nonvenomous colubrid snake endemic to North America. Nine subspecies are currently recognized, including the nominotypical subspecies, Pituophis catenifer catenifer, described here.[5] This snake is often mistaken for the prairie rattlesnake, but can be easily distinguished from a rattlesnake by the lack of black and white banding on its tail and by the shape of its head, which is narrower than a rattlesnake's.


The specific name, catenifer, is Latin for "chain-bearing", referring to the dorsal color pattern.


Adults are 36-84 in (91–213 cm) in length.[4] Dorsally, they are yellowish or pale brown, with a series of large, dark brown or black blotches, and smaller, dark spots on the sides. Ventrally, they are yellowish, either uniform or with brown markings.[1]
Great Basin subspecies, coiled


The gopher snake has a unique defensive mechanism, in which it puffs up its body and curls itself into the classic strike pose of a rattlesnake. However, rather than delivering an open-mouthed strike, the gopher snake often strikes with a closed mouth, using its blunt nose to "warn off" possible predators. Additionally, gopher snakes vibrate their tails in a manner similar to rattlesnakes. One paper found that gopher snakes on islands lacking rattlesnakes vibrate their tails for shorter amounts of time than gopher snakes in mainland California, which is home to numerous rattlesnake species.[6] This suggests that gopher snake tail vibration may in fact be rattlesnake mimicry since the behavior appears to be breaking down in areas without rattlesnakes, perhaps because predators on these islands have no reason to evolve to avoid tail-vibrating snakes (rattlesnakes are venomous, gopher snakes are not).
Life expectancy
Gopher snake

Wild gopher snakes typically live 12 to 15 years, but the oldest captive recorded lived over 33 years.[7]
Common names

Common names for this species, or its several subspecies, are: Pacific gopher snake, Henry snake, coast gopher snake, bullsnake, Churchill's bullsnake, Oregon bullsnake, Pacific pine snake, western bullsnake, western gopher snake, Sonoran gopher snake, western pine snake, great basin gopher snake, blow snake, and yellow gopher snake.[4]

Subspecies[5] Taxon author[5] Common name Geographic range
P. c. affinis Hallowell, 1852 Sonoran gopher snake
P. c. annectens Baird & Girard, 1853 San Diego gopher snake
P. c. bimaris Klauber, 1946 Central Baja California gopher snake
P. c. catenifer Blainville, 1835 Pacific gopher snake The United States, from Oregon west of the Cascade Range, south into California, west of the Sierra Nevada to northern Santa Barbara County and the Tehachapi Mountains.[4]
P. c. coronalis Klauber, 1946 Coronado Island gopher snake Coronado, California
P. c. deserticola Stejneger, 1893 Great Basin gopher snake
P. c. fulginatus Klauber, 1946 San Martin Island gopher snake San Martin Island, Baja California
P. c. pumilis Klauber, 1946 Santa Cruz Island gopher snake
P. c. sayi Schlegel, 1837 Bullsnake Central and western North America.


Boulenger GA. 1894. Catalogue of the Snakes in the British Museum (Natural History). Volume II., Containing the Conclusion of the Colubridæ Aglyphæ. Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History). (Taylor and Francis, Printers.) London. xi + 382 pp. + Plates I.- XX. ("Coluber catenifer", pp. 67-68.)
Stejneger L, Barbour T. 1917. A Check List of North American Amphibians and Reptiles. Harvard University Press. Cambridge Massachusetts. 125 pp. (Pituophis catenifer, pp. 85-86.)
The Reptile Database.
Wright AH, Wright AA. 1957. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. 2 volumes. Comstock Publishing Associates. (7th printing, 1985). 1,105 pp. ISBN 0-8014-0463-0. (Pituophis catenifer, pp. 588-609, Figures 171.-175., Map 46.)
"Pituophis catenifer". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
Allf, Bradley C., Sparkman, Amanda M., Pfennig, David W. "Microevolutionary change in mimicry? Potential erosion of rattling behaviour among nonvenomous snakes on islands lacking rattlesnakes" Ethology Ecology & Evolution (2020). DOI: 10.1080/03949370.2020.1837962

Hiatt, S. "The Pituophis Page". Retrieved 7 December 2012.

Further reading

Blainville, H.D. 1835. Description de quelques espèces de reptiles de la Californie précédée de l'analyse d'un système général d'herpétologie et d'amphibiologie. Nouvelles Annales du Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle 4: 233-296. (Coluber catenifer, pp. 290–291 + Plate XXVI., Figures 2, 2A, 2B.)


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