A Hillbilly Guide to Snakes: Bull Snakes
Pituophis catenifer sayi... The Bull Snake
Also refereed to as the gopher snake, bull snakes are a common snake in the United States. They are large, act tough, and are often mistaken for rattlesnakes.
The bull snake has a base color of yellow with an overlay of spots that are usually brown but can be reddish or black. This coloring pattern along with their color scheme often gets them mistaken for rattlesnakes... Which of course often causes them to be killed by humans.
They are one of the largest snakes in the United States with an average length of around 6 feet, but it's not completely uncommon for them to get above 8 feet. It's not just their length though, these snakes have impressive girth as well and can weigh several pounds.
Is the snake pictured above a bull snake or a rattlesnake? Answers at the bottom.
When you consider the appearance of the bull snake it makes sense that they prefer to live in grasslands where they can blend in easily with their surroundings. This makes them common to find on farms, where farmers either mistake them as rattlesnakes and kill them or recognize them and love having them around to help control rodent populations. They can also be found in woodlands as well of course.
Bull snakes are common throughout most of the United States, and some parts of Mexico and Canada.
As mentioned bull snakes eat rodents, and with such a large size they can put a down a lot. This makes them very popular farmers and other people that don't want large rats around. They also will eat small mammals, birds, eggs, etc.. In fact, they've actually come under scrutiny before for their ability to find wild duck eggs. At their size even mammals as large as rabbits or squirrels can become victim to the large snakes.
Bull snakes are constrictors which means that they wrap themselves around their prey and choke them to death. Bull snakes are not venomous.
Interactions with humans
It's not just looks that causes the bull snake to mistaken as a rattlesnake, but somewhere along the line they seemed to some how realize that they looked liked rattlesnakes and learned to behave similarly. When approached in the wild a bull snake has a tendency to act tough and whack it's tail on the ground to make predators think that it is in fact a deadly venomous rattlesnake.
To tell them apart there are the first obvious differences between a venomous viper (Rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins) and nonvenomous snakes. This is of course with the exception of the coral snake which carries the features of the nonvenomous snakes. First of all the vipers all have large triangular shaped heads. This is because of the giant venom glands that run beside the mouth and kind of puff their cheeks. The nonvenomous snakes have small round heads. The venomous snakes also have an extra set of nostrils called pits. The nonvenomous snakes do not have these. The venomous snakes have slit cat like eyes while the nonvenomous snakes have round eyes more similar to humans.
If you happened to see either a bull snake or rattlesnake out in the wild it might be hard to tell these differences from a safe distance. Fortunately, they have a give away. The rattlesnake makes the well known rattle sound by sticking their rattles up in the air and shaking them. The bull snake on the other hand is only emulating this sound and has to smack their tail against something. So if you are following my logic... The rattlesnake will have it's tail up in the air, while the bull snake will have it's tail down on the ground.
As far as how aggressive the bull snake is once in human hands I've heard different things. Some people say they are pretty aggressive and have a lot of attitude while others say that they become pretty docile when handled. Grab on to a wild one at your own risk! Seriously though, it's better for both you and the snake to leave them alone if you stumble across one in the wild.
Is the snake pictured above a bull snake or rattlesnake? Answers at the bottom
Question 1: Bull Snake... The roundness of the eyes and shape of the head are a dead giveaway that this can't be a venomous pit viper such as a rattlesnake.
Question 2: Rattlesnake... You can't get a good look at the eyes, but the large venom glands puffing up his cheeks give it away.