Pituophis catenifer pumilis - Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake
Considered harmless to humans.
Adults of this species can be 2.5 - 7 feet long (76 - 213 cm) but this subspecies is a small or "dwarf" subspecies which only grows to just over 3 feet long ( 91 cm.) Hatchlings of P. catenifer are fairly long, generally around 15 inches in length (38 cm) but those of this subspecies have been recorded at 6.5 - 9 inches.
Heavily keeled scales, a narrow head that is slightly wider than the neck, and a protruding rostral scale on the tip of the snout that is rounded. Ground color is olive, grayish, or brownish with small discrete dark blotches along the back and smaller markings on the sides. The underside is pale and lightly speckled. The back of the neck is dark.
Key to California gopher snake subspecies.
Gophersnakes are generally active in the daytime, and at night in hot weather, and especially at dusk and dawn. They are good burrowers, climbers, and swimmers. A powerful constrictor; kills prey by suffocating them in body coils or by pressing the animal against the walls of their underground burrows.
When threatened, a gophersnake willl elevate and inflate its body, flatten its head into a triangular shape, hiss loudly, and quickly shake its tail back and forth to make a buzzing sound which may be a mimic of a rattlesnake rattle.
You can listen to a recording of a gophersnake hissing here, and watch short movies of a gopher snake hissing and striking here, and shaking its tail here.
Due to the more limited fauna of the islands, Santa Cruz Island Gophersnakes have a less varied diet than other subspecies of gophersnakes. Their diet probably includes mice, lizards, birds eggs and nestlings. Juveniles probably take small lizards, mice, and possibly insects.
As with other subspecies, Mating probably occurs in spring after emergence from winter hibernation, with eggs laid June - August, hatching in 2 to 2.5 months.
This subspecies, Pituophis catenifer pumilis - Santa Cruz Island Gopher Snake, occurs only on two (possibly three) of the Channel Islands south of the Santa Barbara coast - Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Islands. There is also an unverified sight record from San Miguel Island.
The species Pituophis catenifer - Gopher Snake, occurs from the southern edge of Canada in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, south to the tip of Baja California and northern mainland Mexico, and east to Indiana and east Texas, excluding most of Arkansas, Minnesota, and North Dakota, and much of Illinois and Wisconsin. It is also found in the Channel Islands and on several islands off the west coast of Baja California.
Occurs in all types of vegetation found on the islands. Most common in open grassland, dry streambeds, and oak and chaparral woodlands. From near sea level to 2,100 feet (640 m) on Santa Cruz Island.
8 subspecies of Pituophis catenifer are recognized - 2 occur in Baja California, and 6 occur in the United States. It has been proposed that the snakes from Baja California are a new species. 5 of these 8 subspecies occur in California, with one endemic, and one that only occurs in California and Baja California.
Gophersnakes are related to Ratsnakes and Kingsnakes, and they have been known to interbreed with these species.
Conservation Issues (Conservation Status)
The proliferation of feral livestock such as sheep and pigs may have had an impact on populations of this snake by altering the vegetation and landscape. Pigs have also been known to eat snakes. Attempts have been made to remove or eradicate these introduced species.