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Bull Snake Vs Gopher Snake: How Do They Compare?

You’ve heard about bull snakes, and you’ve heard about gopher snakes. Perhaps you’ve looked at pictures of each, or you’ve seen them both in real life–and you think to yourself, they look exactly the same! So, are they the same type of snake? What are their similarities and differences? And if you’re looking to keep one as a pet, which one should you choose? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions as we compare the bull snake vs. the gopher snake.

Are Bull Snakes and Gopher Snakes the Same?

Are Bull Snakes and Gopher Snakes the Same
Gopher Snake

The short answer is yes… and no!

Bull snakes and gopher snakes are closely related, but they are not exactly the same. Bull snakes are, in fact, a subspecies of the larger family that encompasses all gopher snakes–so they are basically cousins.

Before we discuss their similarities and differences, let’s take a closer look at each type of snake.

Bull Snakes

Bull snakes are nonvenomous constrictors found throughout the central, southern, and parts of the southwestern United States.

These snakes can grow up to 8 feet long. They are usually brightly colored, with patterns of yellow, yellow-brown, and black covering their bodies.

Bull snakes eat a variety of small mammals, lizards, and birds. They kill their prey by wrapping their bodies around it and suffocating it, then they swallow it whole.

Bull snakes are generally harmless to humans and can be good to have around because they help control rat and other pest populations. Some people keep them as pets.

Gopher Snakes

There are several subspecies of gopher snakes, most of which are found in the western and southwestern United States as well as northern Mexico.

Depending on subspecies, most gopher snakes grow between 3 and 7 feet long, with the majority being between 4 and 5 feet. Their skin patterns are similar to bull snakes, but gopher snakes tend to have more pale or muted colors.

Gopher snakes eat many of the same foods as bull snakes: small mammals, lizards, and birds. They are also nonvenomous constrictors that kill their prey by suffocation.

Because they help control pest populations and are harmless to humans, they are also seen as good to have around. They tend to be somewhat less aggressive than bull snakes, and they are also sometimes kept as pets.

Bull Snake Vs. Gopher Snake

Bull Snake Vs. Gopher Snake
Bull Snake

According to experts, all bull snakes are gopher snakes, but not all gopher snakes are bull snakes.

Confused?

As mentioned above, bull snakes are a subspecies of gopher snakes. 

To be exact, both bull snakes and gopher snakes fall under the Pituophis catenifer genus, which contains multiple subspecies; only one of these subspecies is referred to as “bull snakes,” while all the others are known as “gopher snakes.”

As you might imagine, bull snakes and gopher snakes have many similarities, but they also have their share of differences. Let’s explore these similarities and differences below.  

Similarities

  • Same family: As noted, both bull snakes and gopher snakes are members of the Pituophis catenifer genus; as such, they are both nonvenomous constrictors.
  • Skin pattern: The markings and patterns on their backs are remarkably similar, and these markings sometimes lead to both bull snakes and gopher snakes being confused with rattlesnakes.
  • Diet: Both bull snakes and gopher snakes hunt the same types of prey, and both kill and eat their prey by suffocating it and swallowing it whole.
  • Nonvenomous: Both bull snakes and gopher snakes are nonvenomous constrictors that are generally harmless to humans.
  • Behavior: Bull snakes and gopher snakes tend to behave similarly when threatened–they will hiss, shake their tails, and coil their bodies in an effort to make themselves look like rattlesnakes.

Differences

  • Scientific distinction: Though members of the Pituophis catenifer genus, bull snakes are a separate subspecies–Pituophis catenifer sayi. Gopher snakes fall under various other subspecies, including Pituophis catenifer deserticola and Pituophis catenifer affinis.
  • Location: Bull snakes are found mostly in the central and southern United States, while gopher snakes are found throughout the western and southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. Their territories barely overlap, as you can see in this distribution map.
  • Skin tones: Though both have similar colors and patterns, bull snakes tend to have brighter tones, while gopher snakes tend to have more muted tones.
  • Size: Bull snakes are generally larger than gopher snakes, as they can grow up to 8 feet long. Most gopher snakes are between 4 and 5 feet long.
  • Behavior: Bull snakes can be a bit more aggressive than other gopher snakes, though they will only attack if they feel threatened. Gopher snakes tend to tolerate more movement from above them, while bull snakes will feel threatened unless you approach them slowly from the side.

Which Snake Makes a Better Pet?

Both bull snakes and gopher snakes make great pets, so the answer will depend on what you’re looking for in a pet snake.

If you’re a first-time snake owner, it might be better to start off with a gopher snake. They tend to be smaller and more mellow than bull snakes.

However, if you’ve owned snakes before and you’re looking to own a larger snake, then a bull snake may be the pet for you. They are not only longer but tend to be thicker and stockier than gopher snakes as well.

Check out this video for more information about owning bull snakes, gopher snakes, and the similar-looking pine snakes.

Conclusion

Bull snakes belong to the same scientific family as gopher snakes, but they are a separate subspecies. 

Both bull snakes and gopher snakes are nonvenomous constrictors that eat the same prey and are sometimes kept as pets. That said, they live in different regions, are different sizes, and may have slightly different coloring and patterns on their skin.

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